Meetings industry has ‘global awakening’ as professionals heed call to serve a greater purpose at Convening Leaders in Pittsburgh.
“An event isn’t simply a piece of business, it’s a platform for social and economic change,” declared PCMA president & CEO, Sherrif Karamat.
Speaking this week at PCMA’s annual Convening Leaders event in Pittsburgh, Karamat urged business events professionals to embrace their role as change-makers.
“When people meet face-to-face, they see eye-to-eye… and this transcends language and cultural barriers so we can truly connect,” he said.
Twelve months into his role as president, Karamat, together with the PCMA board of directors, is pushing a powerful message – that meetings and events can change the world.
Under the theme ‘Disrupt and Deliver’, this year’s Convening Leaders conference sought to encourage meeting and event professionals to look at the big picture. An event shouldn’t be summed up by its immediate economic injection to the host destination, or even the CSR activities that take place onsite. The focus, instead, should be the resounding social and economic implications that can be felt long-term.
“We’re almost at a turning point in our history, where there is an ‘awakening’ of what our potential is,” Karamat said.
“Organisations don’t transform, people do. And connecting people together can change things. This is the mindset shift that we need. If we focus on why we do what we do, we can achieve much greater things. We need to be having this discussion.”
He added: “The business events industry is a US$1.07 trillion industry – yes, it’s big, but that’s not the story. Numbers don’t matter if we’re not doing well. We need to keep doing good things and should not be afraid to take small steps.”
An extensive educational programme supported this notion, along with two new forums: The Leadership Forum and the Forum on Economic and Social Progress, which were open to a select group of industry professionals. Here, delegates were encouraged to think beyond strategy and lead change. To take responsibility, and push for wider transformation.
Singapore’s Fintech Festival and the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne (2014) were presented as case studies of events that spurred economic and social transformation in their respective countries.
With inspirational speakers such as marketing guru Seth Godin; 20-year-old activist and founder of the Period movement, Nadya Okamoto; tennis legend and gender equality campaigner Billie-Jean King; and a surprise appearance by Hollywood hunk and proud Pittsburgher, Joe Manganiello (an inspiration in itself for many in the room); there was a buzz about the event.
Much more than mere eye candy, speakers encouraged delegates to become agents for change. Godin specifically talked about balancing creativity and fear in order to do “small experiments often” and take responsibility, whether they succeed or fail.
“A plane is off-course until it lands, and events are the same,” he said.
Leading by example
Putting words into action, PCMA led a number of social initiatives during the conference. This included the Hospitality Helping Hands project, which teamed up with local charity Beverly’s Birthdays to provide 200 ‘baby essentials’ kits to mothers in need.
Other onsite social impact projects included assembling 5,000 care kits for local first responders and troops overseas; 2,000 menstrual kits for homeless women on behalf of Period.org; and 240 street outreach bags for victims of human trafficking.
During the event, PCMA proclaimed its commitment to combat child exploitation by signing The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism.
In partnership with ECPAT-USA, The Code is the only voluntary set of business principles that companies and organisations in the travel, business travel and tourism industries can implement to prevent and eradicate the trafficking and exploitation of children.
The association’s commitment to The Code and partnership with ECPAT-USA, which engages with the private sector to drive innovation in protecting children around the world, will see the world’s largest network of business events strategists advocate, build awareness and act on the issue.
PCMA Foundation Chair and President of Maritz Global Events, David Peckinpaugh, said: “As an industry, we have the power of advocating and raising awareness of the human trafficking epidemic, and have a stronger voice for the vulnerable, whose opinions and opportunities have been taken away from them.
“Together with ECPAT-USA and other participating organisations, we are committed to doing everything in our power to end human trafficking.”
In 2018 the PCMA Education Foundation provided US$664,000 to support four research projects and 156 scholarships to students and business event professionals around the world.
Deanna Varga, founder of Sydney-based event consultancy, Mayvin Global, was one of 10 international professionals to win a scholarship to attend Convening Leaders 2019.
For Varga, the first-time experience was inspirational. “Fundamentally, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do this without the scholarship. The APAC reception was so valuable, where I not only made real connections, but tangible opportunities,” she said.
“The diversity of knowledge and calibre of the motivational speakers was mind-blowing, and the way the Pittsburgh story was integrated into the programme was outstanding.”
Photo credit: Jacob Slaton