Creating a bigger pie

Risks and opportunities for international industry associations. By Saskia Stolk, Paul de Ruijter, Constantijn Dolmans and Jules Lejeune.

As a contribution to the 2010 annual meeting of the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) in Los Angeles, Saskia Stolk, Paul de Ruijter, Constantijn Dolmans and Jules Lejeune would like to stress the importance of internationalization for industry associations and business federations. We argue that it requires a global scale to tackle challenges like global governance, scarcity of commons, climate change and financial stability in an integral way. Only with united efforts it will be possible to create a bigger pie.

The world is constantly changing. Again and again, companies and other organizations find themselves confronted with – sometimes sudden – changes in their environment. Instead of short-sightedly struggling for a bigger share of the pie, companies can also try to take the long view and join hands to create a bigger pie. We can make the pie bigger by combining collectivism and entrepreneurship. This combination is often found in Europe and can be brought to practice in self chosen communities, of which industry associations are an excellent example. Industry associations can turn risks into opportunities by identifying, managing and mitigating them, for example with the help of an instrument like scenario planning. However paradoxical it may sound, an important reason for a company or association to seek international cooperation is to be able to compete better.

As a matter of fact, The Netherlands combines a communitarian approach, including the association as a popular form of organization, with a commercial spirit and respect for individualism. This spirit has contributed to the success of the European Union, as the economic and the political viability of the EU has been built upon a close relationship with business associations. As a small country with major commercial interests in and outside Europe, we have no other choice than to be open to internationalization. The blend of openness to internationalization and the popularity of the association as a form of organization has lead to the fact that the Netherlands has become a center of knowledge with regards to international association management.

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