Caroline Teugels
CEO, PodiatryInternational / Treasurer, ESAE

Why do you invest your time & efforts in association work?

The beauty of associations and associations’ work is that you are surrounded by people that with you believe in ‘making the world a better place’. I found this very inspiring.

The not-for-profit values, the higher good, the community advancements: Associations are relevant by their very nature. Volunteers invest time and effort for ideas that are greater than themselves, by being stronger together when advancing a common cause: None for profit and all for purpose. This is my leitmotif.

I’ve been around association work since I was 15 years old, when I co-founded a Belgian association to represent high school kids. At that the time, the Flemish Minister for Education wanted to implement major changes in the education system and the first stakeholders involved (the students) weren’t represented. I even had the opportunity to defend our view points in the Parliament.

What are the top three success factors of impactful association work?

In my view, first and foremost, the success factor to being impactful as an association is visionary long-term leadership. The mission and vision of an association aren’t just words on a website to look good. They are the mantra guiding the work of boards and staff members

Through inspiring and visionary leaders, the association will gain transparency (another success factor) and trust (a third success factor) from the many stakeholders involved in their work.

To quote Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”

I guess that these factors are common for all organisations to be successful. The advantage associations have is that they don’t need to take profit nor shareholders into consideration in their decision making and can focus on the mission of the association.

What should we #ChooseToChallenge when it comes to association work?

For me #ChooseToChallenge refers to challenging the status quo. I say this loud and clear: Let us be our own disruptors! Let us not wait until someone else starts changing the rules. Let us dare to implement new ways of serving our members not only through new technology but also by challenging the rigidity of governance or leadership that can be found in some associations.

Associations can be very agile, thanks to less rigid legal structures and the (often) amazing collaboration between boards, staff and expert volunteers. With all of these noses pointing in the same direction and working towards the common goal, association governance structures, policies and procedures should be empowering instead of limiting.

How is the association sector dealing with diversity and inclusion? Has it changed?

I am an advocate for talent-based boards in associations. By looking at the skills and expertise needed to advance the mission of the association, diversity will more naturally find its way into the structures of the association.

Being aware of unconscious bias and building up awareness are the first steps towards real change.