Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl
Director General, Digital Europe

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

I think an association is a lot like a family. Everyone has their own opinions and there can be disputes, but ultimately we are stronger together. Bridging gaps, finding common ground – this is the essence of Europe and something I admire about the EU.

I find it inspiring that we can bring together all these different viewpoints into a coherent narrative, and that policymakers trust us to give a balanced opinion that has Europe’s long-term interests in mind.

DIGITALEUROPE is unique in the crowded digital policy space because we are an association with an international outlook firmly rooted in European values. We represent global giants and SMEs from all parts of our continent. In total we are 36,000 companies in 35 European countries– all united in the vision of creating a stronger, innovative and more inclusive digital Europe.

I joined as Director General after 25 years as a business leader but also as an active board leader. I knew from my time in Denmark that we need to act as a continent if we are to create a Europe where companies can scale up and be successful. But I also saw that DIGITALEUROPE was not making full use of its national association members.

We have strengthened this and these associations are now well represented across all of our policy groups. We have also run several campaigns leveraging their connections in the member states – notably on the recovery funds, where we successfully called for 20% of the stimulus package to be spent on digital.

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

To make an impact you need to combine the big thought leadership pieces with the expertise and knowledge.

You need that ability to see the bigger picture and also put in place the processes and personnel to make sure the little things don’t slip through the gaps. I think my previous business skills are useful here.

For many, this is a new way of working, but we have really built a diverse world class team and I am very proud of them. We take our role very seriously – digitalisation is changing the way we live, do business and work, and we have an obligation to share our knowledge to policymakers in a respectful and fact-based manner.

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

My challenge to everyone is to embrace the benefits of the digital transformation and not forget what we’ve learned during the crisis!

Because of who DIGITALEUROPE represents and the measures I put in place when I joined, we had a head start when it came to digitalisation. I think in many ways we work smarter than before, although I of course miss the physical contact. Working online is very different, so we have implemented several initiatives:

  • We decided we needed to bring back the social dimension of being a team, so we start Mondays with 30 minutes of fun, quizzing and having a good laugh.
  • We have helped to establish home offices and enabled people to do more physical activities.
  • To keep an eye on our employees’ wellbeing, we have implemented a regular survey system to get feedback on how they are doing.

More and more associations are seeing the benefit of digitalising their processes – all of us had to make a digital leap during lockdown. We hosted out main event the “Masters of Digital 2021” and 3000 people registered and two EU presidents delivered great speeches online.

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

Diversity and inclusion is something that all of us have to keep returning to in order to help move society forward.

We recently did a survey and it turns out our team speaks 19 different languages, both European and from further afield. We span from 22 to 72 years of age, an equal number of men and women, and employees from 18 countries across three continents.

Different perspectives mean we keep challenging ourselves and we push each other forward. I really think it boosts our impact.

More than anything I believe in the power of setting a good example – walking the talk. Like many other associations, we took the time after the Black Lives Matter movement started to assess how we were doing on diversity. We have taken unconscious bias training and nominated diversity champions at board level.