Shannon M. Watson is the Director of Meetings & Events at Rotary International. With over 20 years of experience as an association executive, Shannon supports the impactful work of professional societies, trade organizations, and social-good enterprises. She is dedicated to driving engagement by facilitating meaningful in-person interactions that foster impactful relationships, offering digital opportunities for international collaboration, and ensuring a welcoming, safe environment for all participants.

Shannon M. Watson
Director, Meetings & Events, Rotary Intenational

Shannon’s Story: Discovering My Passion for Associations

Working in international associations is an invaluable opportunity to see the world through others’ perspectives. In recent years, our top content has focused on the areas of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging; Environmental Sustainability; and Mental Health and Wellness. Each of these critical topics is approached differently in different cultures. The open-ended thinking required to present information that is compelling in a cross-cultural environment encourages the creativity needed to find effective solutions.

Shannon’s Approach: How to #InspireInclusion through Our Work and Actions

I go back to Jim Collins’ book Good to Great – “Do we have the right people on the bus?”. Diversity of perspective brings power and authenticity to decisions. Whether I’m building a formal project team, a committee, or seeking a less formal feedback group, that question guides my consideration of who else might offer valuable perspectives.

Shannon’s Perspective: On the Importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Associations

Associations need to keep diversity, equity, and inclusion as guiding principles for the future. Diversity of thought, perspective, background, and experience has been demonstrated to yield stronger teams, better decisions, and more effective results. Associations that do not act with this in mind are in danger of falling behind and losing their impact on their community.

Shannon’s Initiatives: Actions and Inspirations for Fellow Association Leaders

As one example from our major events, we have focused on making sure our audience can “see themselves on stage” – that they feel included and seen as a valuable member of our community. We have searched to include subject matter experts for our programs that represent the broad diversity of our membership – beyond gender and ethnic diversity. We have had speakers who are visually or hearing-impaired, use mobility assistance devices, are neuro-divergent, or have had mental health issues – and many of them spoke about topics unrelated to their accommodation. They were experts sharing their expertise with our audience to inspire and motivate awareness and change. This has opened opportunities for members who require accommodations to engage in club- and district-level activities and leadership in a more robust way.