A passionate design thinker and non-profit innovator, Benita has dedicated her professional career to helping non-profits make an impact. She started her international association career at the European Science Foundation (ESF), where she led the ESF Conference Scheme as the youngest-ever Head of Unit and launched long-impact series such as Graphene Week and the European Gender Summit. As a board member of the European Society of Association Executives (ESAE), Benita created the ESAE peer-learning education track, providing European association leaders with a platform to share their ideas, concerns and experiences in an engaging format. As Head of Interel Association Management, Benita has been updating the outdated AMC model to offer agile support, smart solutions and strategy design to international alliances, societies and associations. Her unique blend of strategic innovation and deep sector knowledge helped launch and grow associations such as ELSA Alumni, the Cloud Signature Consortium and ENRIO. A passionate speaker and trainer, Benita believes in the innovative power of diversity and inclusion, the importance of smart strategic management and the power of associations to advance our society
1. Why are you investing your time & expertise in (an) association(s) and its advancement?
To me, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing great ideas come to life. In my experience, it’s nearly impossible to find more passionate, creative and service-minded people than those who voluntarily choose to dedicate their free time to advancing the mission of an association. However, while these people never lack great ideas, they often lack the know-how, means and tools to transform them into reality. I see myself as the facilitator that helps transform their vision into concrete strategies, projects and actions that have a real impact on their sector. It’s a wonderful privilege to work with non-profit leaders & visionaries across sectors and countries – and there is not a single day that I’m not inspired or learn something new.
2. In your experience, what are the 3 success factors for advancing associations?
Boldness: In order to advance, to innovate and to make an impact, we have to be bold enough to try new things, to take action and to risk failure. This is a challenge in any setting, but much harder when running a global non-profit as a college of temporarily elected volunteers.
Teamwork: While innovation, change and action is often instigated by one bold and visionary leader, it can only transform into long-term results when backed by a strong leadership team and actively supported by association members. Associations – with their complex governance structures – react like large ocean liners: a change in direction takes all hands on deck – and a surprisingly long time.
Grit: Associations, as diverse, volunteer-based and participatory structures, are slow, stubborn, irrational and highly complex. Those who aim to lead them need to be able to maintain their determination and motivation over long periods despite experiences with failure and adversity. Those who persevere may find out that associations can equally be innovative, supportive and impactful.
3. Has the AM world changed when it comes to diversity and inclusion?
When I started getting access to association boardrooms, I was always the only woman in the room, and was expected to make sure that lunch, coffee, photocopies, etc. were delivered on time. I vividly recall a variety of reactions to me actually getting involved in the conversation – ranging from disbelief & amusement to good-natured tolerance and curiosity. I am still often one of the few women in the room, but it has become much easier to get my voice heard. This may be mostly due to my increased experience. At the same time, I do believe that there is a much stronger awareness that the ability to add value to an organisation does not depend on gender, age or race.
4. What advice would you give the next generation of association leaders who want to make an impact?
Congratulations, you just discovered the secret spot where you can make a real impact in an area you deeply care about. Association leadership roles are a little like being elected class speaker: it’s considered a little dorky, rather unpopular, often underappreciated and certainly not for the cool kids. However, you may be given the opportunity to make the world a little better for the people you care about, while shaping the future of your field. How to transform this opportunity into reality: Develop grit, teamwork and boldness (see above) – in this order. And talk to other association leaders – it’s a cathartic and eye-opening experience.