Silke Schlinnertz
Head of Growth, Euroheat & Power

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

Associations can be found everywhere and touch my live and the lives of most people on a daily basis – whether it be through the Council of European Dentists and their advise on the usage of whitening toothpaste, a monthly donation to the Fondation du Cancer or an evening’s attendance at a local Greenpeace meeting. Associations are everywhere, serving a multitude of industries, professions and causes – in short it is impacting our daily life and business even if we do not necessarily realize it!

Working for and with association is quite unique, as it is the entire community that strives for the success and awareness of a specific topic. When starting at UITP, I immediately felt this special atmosphere and more importantly I could relay to the value and mission: promoting sustainable transport worldwide (nowadays I still use primarily public transport, if it is thanks to UITP or my natural incline for a sustainable lifestyle, I leave this up to you to decide).

Throughout my career I have learned so much – laughed, faced challenges, cried, lived up and downs, and I’m fortunate enough to have also experienced some very special moments that will be embedded forever in my memory. I’m driven to share what I know, help and provide solution to the ‘members’ who are part of ‘my association’ and ‘my community’. It is not only focused purpose but also focused collaboration, which makes it truly special and very-open minded compared to some other commercial industries.

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

Our whole life is based on communities. Our existence is full of passage through organisations of all types:. Hospitals, supermarkets, public transports, industries. We all belong if we realise it or not to a community for example through a membership with the local supermarket, the monthly public transport subscription etc. for some we have no choice and for others we have chosen to be part of.

This is where the association come into play. The definition of an association is pretty close to the one of community!

Any association is a group of organisations or people who voluntarily come together to solve common problems, meet common needs, and accomplish common goals—as well as to learn about and from each other = A community is a small or large social unit (a group of living things) who have something in common, such as norms, religion, values, or identity. Communities often share a sense of place that is situated in a given geographical area (e.g. a country, village, town, or neighborhood) or in virtual space through communication platforms.

Being better together!

Members joining an association adhere to the values and mission and are generally driven by passion for this specific topic and they want to be involved! The associations serve to enlarge the network, are often a door-opener, enable to discuss openly a difficult matter. The members try to find connections between their different businesses and experiences and the more involved they are the more vibrant your community is. Associations can achieve exceptional things with exceptional members!

Sharing is caring and we’ll all be better together and this to me can be facilitated big time through the work of associations – that’s my view!

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

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” unknown

The technology came gradually into my life and oh my gosh this was a revolution, just fantastic! From the mid 90th I could simply text a friend to meet up and there was no longer the need to find a phone or wait till we bounced into each other… Nowadays, I can research anything anytime, which for a curious nature like me, is great. All this technology improvements are great and move so fast, so I’m wondering what will it mean for us in general and more specially for us associations.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) for example, less then ten years ago we couldn’t image how life would be impacted by a smartphone (which is almost glued to our hands) and now we hardly can imagine a life without. I’m not a clairvoyant, so I can not say what the future has in stock for us – nor how far AI will develop…. It’s a part of our life and hence our associations* – how much it will influence us, who knows. What I know though don’t be insane and grab all the opportunities and remain curious! As one says: ‘either undergo changes or go under!’ Improvements and remaining up to date and, more importantly, being relevant to our community, can only happen if we keep trying out new things and keep challenging!

*Euroheat & Power is using for the first time an AI-powered event networking software

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

It’s a good news, bad news situation. There is greater awareness that there’s a problem, but we are nowhere near where we should be in terms of balanced boards (gender, cultures…) for example. I know only a couple of associations which have diversity and inclusion initiatives incorporated in their bylaws or integrated in the organisation’s strategic plan with results evaluated or communicated.
Diversifying associations needs a systemic change and will take time, patience and, to me the most important, thoughtful, sustained action which at the same time must meet the needs of the members.

I’d be more than happy to be proofed wrong and #ChooseToChallenge: If you believe that many associations are diverse and inclusive – we are all talking about that and know it’s important – can you name a single trade association board which 1) is genderandgeneration balanced 2) is culturally diverse and 3) includes people with disabilities?

I would like to highlight though that the responsibility of diversity and inclusion lies not (only) with the association but rather with the entire association community and the society as a whole.