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The Challenge of Turning UPA into a Global Association

Silvia C. Zimmermann

Silvia C. Zimmermann is the current UPA Vice President and UPA Europe 2008 Co-Chair. She is the elected UPA President 2009 and lives in Switzerland.

Challenges for a Global Organization

Outside the United States of America the UPA is often perceived as an US-centric association. Do we as an association want this? And if not, what counteractive measures do we need to undertake to avoid this perception?

Of course, one counteractive measure could be to hold the UPA Annual Conference outside the United States to reach out to local UPA members around the globe. But would that be enough? And would we be able to reach out to all regions equally? And how would people who live in a different cultural setting where a different language is spoken perceive a typical UPA annual meeting which is being held in their area without attaching any local regional flavor to it? Do they want to pay the meeting fees in USD although they live in an environment where the Euro, for example, is the primary currency? And also, is the UPA itself ready to bridge the cultural and logistical gaps?

As soon as you get into the details you'll find many questions which have to be answered before you make any decision about what is best to turn the UPA into a truly global association where all members around the globe have similar membership benefits.

Ever since I joined the UPA Board of Directors I've had this dream of the UPA turning into a global association with many decentralized yet connected hubs around the globe. For example, for me personally, UPA China is an equivalent partner of UPA North America, both of which are alliances of UPA-I (UPA International), the overall international organization which is headquartered in Chicago. The same is true for UPA Europe or UPA Latin America. But this notion requires a change in our mind because it implicitly suggests adapting and expanding existing values and beliefs. Let me explain what I mean by talking a little bit about the UPA Europe 2008 conference as a case study.

UPA Europe 2008 in Turin, Italy - A UPA-I Case Study

Since I am a true believer in piloting strategic concepts and ideas, my colleague Michele Visciola (President UPA-Italy and my fellow Co-Chair of UPA Europe 2008) and I convinced the UPA-I Board of Directors back in June 2007 to pilot a regional UPA Europe conference in 2008. In case this is not obvious: This is a huge step for the UPA-I because it implicitly suggests changing the the model of having one annual UPA-I conference in North America.

Here are some of the more important lessons learned.

Achievements

  • One of the factors that got us off to a successful start with our pilot was that the Conference Co-Chairs consisted of a UPA-I board member and a local UPA member from Italy. That way we were able to make the UPA Europe 2008 conference look and feel like a UPA branded conference.
  • Compared to UPA-I conferences which usually attract a majority of attendees from North America, the first UPA Europe 2008 conference generated attendance from over 23 different European and Middle East countries, plus also from Singapore, Korea and North America.
  • The program was very dynamic including a great variety of speakers from around the globe from the US as well as from many different European and Middle East countries. This is also a change to the UPA-I conferences. Consequently, 98% of the attendees suggested continuing with UPA Europe conferences, because the content of the conference was perfectly aligned with their local needs.
  • The local program management team could make use of the UPA-I branding and marketing power while still greatly supporting the regional flavor. As an example, the UPA Europe 2008 was paper free (!) because of the local need to make the conference sustainable.
  • The UPA Europe 2008 conference created value not only locally but also for the UPA-I.
    • There was an increase in UPA-I membership, since we allowed attendees to join the UPA-I to benefit from lower UPA Europe conference fees.
    • The conference generated the desire to establish at least four new European UPA-I Chapters.
    • Due to the good press coverage, the UPA-I is now generally better known throughout Europe.

Eye Openers/Challenges

My eye openers are more related to UPA-I, rather than to the local conference. They are:

  • The first UPA Europe Conference was a huge success! However, European Chapters asserted a need for closer collaboration within the European UPA chapters, not between the local chapters and UPA-I.
  • The UPA-I was not yet in a position to provide the local team with the support needed payment settlement in different currencies. This needs to be changed if we want to serve the entire UPA membership equally around the globe.
  • Because of the momentum of usability and user experience, UPA-I related conferences will take place around the world, regardless of UPA-I involvement as an association. See China, Russia or Germany as an example.
  • The UPA has enormous outreach potential, but to be successful the association needs to consider structural changes. I.e. the model where everything is centralized in North America needs to be re-considered.

Conclusion

Because of the widespread global membership of the UPA it is not enough to hold the UPA Annual Conference outside North America to reach out to all local UPA members equally. Instead we as an association should facilitate our membership with different regional annual conferences around the globe. In that way we create a win-win situation for all.

However, if we want to continue with regional events, such as UPA Europe Conferences in the future, then I see two options:

  1. We establish the UPA Europe, for example, as a legal entity with a mirroring infrastructure similar to the UPA-I. -Or-
  2. We prepare the UPA-I infrastructure to deal with international UPA projects around the globe in all details.

Succeeding with either option gives us a scalable model available to turn the UPA into a truly global association.

For more information, see the regional UPA Europe conference site.

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