Maria Teresa Scardigli has been the Managing Director of Kellen’s European office since 2022, where she oversees the strategic direction of Kellen on a European level and manages a team of 45 professionals serving 35 trade associations on both European and international levels. With over 20 years of experience in European public affairs, interest representation, advocacy, and strategic management of trade associations, she specializes in the food sector and helps associations in achieving their vision and mission. She is also the Executive Director of the International Stevia Council, which represents the interests of the entire stevia value chain globally.
Maria has a Law Degree from the University of Rome and a Post-Master’s degree in European and Community Law from the European University Center of the University of Nancy in France. Her personal interests include travelling, experiencing new cultures, and learning from the experiences of others.
What inspired you to work in the international association sector? Would you recommend this career to others? Why/ why not?
Associations are the voice of an industry and a sector, thus legitimately participating in the democratic process of making legislation. Trade associations provide policymakers with information, data, scientific evidence, knowledge, and expertise specific to the industry they represent. They promote the benefits and added value that the industry brings to the economy, society, and the environment.
Managing and representing trade associations at the European and international levels allows me to combine my legal background of working with policy and legal aspects with the international aspects of meeting people of different cultures and languages. It also enables me to adapt to their different views and diverse positions. Facilitation, consensus building, and bridging several views to reach a common position have always fascinated me, along with the opportunity to do interest representation and advocacy.
I highly recommend the profession of association manager combined with that of public affairs and interest representation. It provides an ideal opportunity to contribute and participate in policymaking and the creation of specific initiatives through the broad representation of an industry at the EU and/or international levels.
How do you/ your association #EmbraceEquity? Does giving a voice and a space to diverse groups make for better results? What are the challenges you encounter? Did you solve them?
At Kellen in Brussels, we are almost 50 professionals, with an equal split between females and males. We have more than 15 different nationalities and backgrounds, and equity and inclusion are strictly interlinked in Kellen. Providing equal opportunities is essential if you want to have a cohesive team and attract and retain the right talents. Inclusion is a key factor to ensure appreciation and commitment by all, respect and trust for each other.
Everyone at Kellen has the opportunity to express their opinion, their point of view and to bring forward added value, which contributes to making the company thriving. Misunderstandings and divisions have hindering effects, so creating safe spaces is vital to allow colleagues to be themselves, express their opinions openly knowing there are no judgements, and make positive contributions. It is important for me that my colleagues know and feel supported.
A way to contribute to equity and inclusion is by supporting everyone in their initiatives, in allowing entrepreneurship, in letting professionals fly with their own wings. But it also includes giving them flexibility, such as remote working opportunities, which allow people to plan their working day according to their lives/plans and achieve the right work/life balance.
How important are diversity, equity, and inclusion for the future success of associations? What initiatives, projects and ideas can you share that help other understand the real value of DEI?
As the Managing Director of Kellen and the Executive Director of the International Stevia Council, I believe it is my duty to speak about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In my experience, the combination of different people, skills, backgrounds, and perspectives is extremely enriching and has a true impact on making the team outperform. People are the ones behind the success of a trade association. It is therefore important to set up a diverse Secretariat, Board of Directors, and Working Groups. Different opinions, expertise, and experiences can make the association achieve impactful results.