In April 2010, Jodie Slaughter joined the Study Mission of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) to study associations in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Sao Paulo, Brasil. Here are some of her thoughts and reactions.
Why did you decide to go on the study mission?
I had two main objectives for the mission. First was about service to our existing clients. So many are interested in global opportunities. To really help them we need to fully understand the opportunities and challenges of working outside of the US. Plus, we thought there might be opportunities for McKinley to serve associations based in the regions we visited.
Did your expectations for the trip materialize?
Absolutely. We learned so much about going global from a variety of perspectives. We had presentations in Argentina and Brazil from people charged with bringing business to their countries as well as a meeting with a representative from the US Commercial Service who spoke about doing business there. We also heard from the head of the Sao Paul Chapter of the Project Management Institute, a US-based association with mature global initiatives. Local business people delivered presentations about conducting business and workplace practices in Latin America and lawyers taught us about legal structures and taxes for non-profit membership organizations. In short, I learned much about doing business in the region. We were also exposed to the history and culture of the two countries we visited. In a broader sense, I also learned about how associations can be effective outside of the US. So part one of my goals was definitely reached. As for part two, conversations continue with at least one association in the region (in Spanish thanks to the wonderful translations conducted by of one of our McKinley staffers). We’ll see what might materialize there.
Can you summarize what you saw as essential to be effective outside of the US?
I learned so much but have two main take-aways — localization and education. US associations must localize if they wish to be really successful. I learned that associations can achieve some success by delivering content from their US headquarters in English, but to be really successful, associations must translate materials and figure out how to localize the member experience. And translation must be done carefully, ideally with a member committee from the region, to ensure it is correct and appropriate. Spanish, for example, is very different in Mexico, compared to how it is spoken in Argentina or Spain. You can’t have local credibility if your materials are in the wrong dialect. And for some groups, technical terms might differ as well – an important consideration. The second major opportunity I saw is related to education. While both Argentina and Brazil have growing middle classes and free college-level education available, education is still an area that needs a lot of work. So designations and certifications coming from US-based organizations are likely to be highly prized. This is a huge opportunity for associations that can invest in localizing their content and delivering it in ways that will work in their target regions.
What’s next for McKinley and global initiatives?
We are currently working on two projects to help our clients deliver value outside of the US. For both we are interacting with global members and customers to gather their needs before recommending how the associations proceed. Next year the ASAE Study Mission goes to Beijing and Shanghai. I would be extremely excited to have a sound business reason to go again. Everything about the mission was enlightening through unique experiences and a lot of fun, too. What I haven’t mentioned yet is the group of people I was fortunate to travel with — smart, seasoned association professionals, all with a great sense of fun, made the trip truly memorable.
Jodie would love to take your questions, share more about the mission or hear your insights on going global.