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Leading & Managing in 2021: Africa’s Top Association Leaders Share their Experiences and Lessons


Apr 01, 2021

In 2021, most associations have evolved after successfully working from home, transitioning to online activities, overcoming challenges, and employing different strategies to keep their members engaged. These are some of the key predictions from association leaders in our past event, (Africa) Outlook 2021: Preparing Your Association for the New Year.

Fast forward a year later, many leaders are still navigating their teams through these changes and are planning to continue to do so as the world slowly opens up. At our thought leadership webinar, Association Leaders:Leading & Managing in 2021, our panel of Africa’s top association leaders dove into an in-depth discussion of how they are successfully leading remote and virtual teams, effectively managing change, keeping high team morale, and actively engaging members.

Here are the experiences, lessons, and predictions that they shared on association management. For more on our upcoming events, visit our events page.

Learning from experience: Managing remote and hybrid teams

"Flexible, remote, and hybrid working are terms that have gained prominence in the last year or so. It’s really about finding out what works for your organization. We have been trying to blend hybrid and flexible working into our system to keep our doors open by essentially using the best of what we have given movement restrictions. As the world began to open up we started to see the benefits of remote working. One of the major realizations that we have made from this whole experience is that it’s not really the number of hours you put in but focus on output."

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“Here at the society, we’re going to adopt hybrid working until everyone is vaccinated. In my opinion, I cannot give an assurance that we are going to operate normally but we can employ technologies such as shared communication platforms and signing documents online and also probably have physical meetings. As we have moved away from the culture of office working hours, it’s going to be a hybrid working environment where some will work virtually and some in the office with limited interactions.”

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"The pandemic did not impact us as we were good to go. Because of the nature of the travel industry, the implications of the lockdown were massive when cash flow was switched off in such a manner. Our initial role at the time was to support our members and the industry as people took different actions after recognizing the need to adapt quickly. Some of the primary actions we took included shifting in-house to external resources, reducing overheads, focusing on output, assesing staffing requirements and fixed costs."

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What to expect during the next transition

“Despite the vaccines, I do not believe we’ll revert to the normalcy we once knew. As a result, there are several changes we will need to permanently incorporate into our business environments, such as space, engagement, hand sanitizing, masks, etc. Until we achieve a high level of immunity, the pandemic will persist, and we will continue to deal with variants. Therefore, we must consider our staff's safety and well-being even as we incorporate in-person meetings into our plans and strategies. We must leverage technology better to minimize contact and maximize engagement. There is also a need to apply more mainstream media pressure on leadership to encourage better streamlining and coordination across the board.”

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“Communication, operating with purpose and organization values. These three things must come out clearly in everything we do. Organizations need to find their core and discover how they can be impactful in helping the economy, the government, and the people recover from COVID-19 by getting vaccines. With the world in chaos, associations and organizations need to rise and ensure the values they stand by have an impact and can help the economy.”

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“Leaders should consider how to generate revenue by looking at joint ventures, strategic alliances, and other network-based options to help realize business objectives. In 2020, our revenues increased by 20% as a result of the partnerships and strategic alliances we have and this is what we have carried into 2021. These personal relationships will determine the survival of professional bodies until everyone is vaccinated and we can go back to a sense of normalcy.”

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The State of Business and Governance

“The majority of organizations have realized technologies and assets, especially in meetings, exploring business opportunities, marketing, sales, and engaging potential customers. People moved to digital advertising such as radio and television, and as I mentioned, the culture shifted from the usual office working hours. Here at the secretariat, we try to meet once a week to carry on with the face-to-face culture we are all missing. As the CEO, I often check on my people and make sure that in-person meetings continue to happen. I see organizations carrying on a similar strategy until everyone is vaccinated.”

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“We had to learn how to engage differently. We set up calendar routines for one on one engagement and also collectively as a team. Additionally, my team also takes their own initiatives to come together and engage with each other face to face. We get together as often as we can to ensure everyone understands the outputs, their roles, and recognizing what we need to do strategically as an organization. We reviewed our strategy and ensured we understood from a budget point of view what we can achieve. Having gone fully remote, I believe moving forward, we’ll begin to incorporate in-person meetings. We will also leverage our relationships with other members and suppliers who have the facilities to accommodate the need for physical meetings for us. ”

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“What the pandemic will bring long term is reducing the cost of governance. Additionally, digitizing payments is an opportunity for the government to save costs and reduce corruption. We can also use this opportunity especially in Africa to move some of the services that involve a lot of in-person meetings online.”

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"In Kenya, the government is moving towards digitization, but we are not there yet. I believe this will be a push for the Kenyan government to fast-track the process. However, it may take time and costs to digitize huge volumes of government documents and records, and challenges associated with taxes, revenue, and bureaucracy will arise."

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Bold predictions for end of 2021

“The key thing the pandemic has brought is the need to be flexible. I boldly make a prediction for December this year that we’re going to be more flexible. We’re going to see what works for the organization and also for the individuals. Individuals matter. It’s time to make what people say ‘People are the greatest assets’ count. There’s going to be a lot of hybrid plans and a lot of changes but flexibility is key.”

“I agree that different industries will recover at different stages. I believe this will be underpinned by leadership, whether at the government level, company, industry, or association levels. We need to realize that we lead people, and the decisions we make or don’t make affect people’s lives. Leaders must discover how to impact the nation’s development and economy even as they zone in on their organization’s purpose and core values. Leaders need to think towards the purpose of the organization and how it fits into the global economy and what they can do to help in the recovery of the economy.”

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“Industries are going to come back at different stages and paces. No doubt in my mind that the key driver to rebuilding confidence is going to be led by the vaccination process and the ability of governments to roll out vaccination strategies as quickly as possible. As an association, one of our key roles from a lobbying and advocacy point of view is to continue to apply pressure on the government. If successful, we hope that within our industry we’ll start to see some recovery in the economy.”

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“Leaders must set up an emergency plan focused on results by establishing a clear performance matrix, enabling communications and collaboration by providing the right technologies and building a strong company culture to drive the society and the society’s business.”

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We did it last year, we can do it again

The onset of the pandemic was an unprecedented social-economic crisis that demanded remarkable responses from association leaders. Despite the challenges of shifting to remote teams and online activities, associations across Africa adapted with new strategies, alliances, and technologies such as Glue Up’s Association Management Suite.

This year brings new challenges, more changes, but most of all, hope that we will end the year with a newfound sense of normalcy thanks to the rolling out of COVID-19 vaccines. As Glue Up, we feel for associations worldwide and are here to help.

Get a demo of our association management suite and discover how Glue Up can help simplify your back-end association management and help keep your members happy through these unusual times.


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