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Category: Member Services

Mar 31 2014

Challenge of Expanding & Managing Chapters in Emerging Markets – Middle East Case Study

EM will drive global growth


This article was developed from a presentation made by Ajay Bhojwani, deputy managing director MCI Middle East at the CESSE Annual Meeting in 2013.

In 2001, advanced economies dominated the world economy, contributing around two-thirds of global GDP.  The expectation is that much of the future global output will be produced in the emerging world. The pace of this shift is a testament to the growth of these countries. Thanks to globalization virtually all developing countries are catching up.

Since 2001, emerging markets have become the world’s economic engine with annual GDP growing an average of 6 percent and a rapidly growing consumer class, driving corporations to compete for market share.  More than 1,000 companies headquartered in emerging markets have reached at least $1billion in sales annually demonstrating that robust private sectors made up of indigenous businesses are taking root.

For US associations, finding ways to build and grow chapters and components in emerging markets will play an important role in defining locally relevant member value. 

This article takes a look at how one emerging market region – the Middle East (specifically the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council) – is experiencing growth and how some associations are benefiting from this growth using chapters to build and sustain a vibrant presence.  Two video case studies from Middle East chapter leaders from  the American Society for Quality and Project Management Institute offer insights into building the right local chapter strategies for growth in emerging markets.

International Component Models / Frameworks

We see the following models that can have potential to develop and sustain chapters:

Alliances & Partnerships with Local National /Regional Associations – working with local societies and using them as extended chapters or building chapters through them

International Affiliates/Representatives – having business partners and representatives to build business and partnerships

Chapters/Local Member Communities – regular chapters operating with proper operational capacity to achieve objectives

Subject-based Virtual Components – subject focused by regions and countries sometimes only certain topics a relevant

More Customized Models – Hybrid, etc – full flexible based on business requirements

Middle East Growth & Forecasts

Despite the political unrest in some Middle East countries, the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) continue to be amongst the fastest growing economies of the world as well as safe for business.  Each of them is moving at a rapid pace to achieve the strategic objectives set by them in their vision for the next 10 – 15 years.

Over 177 million people live and work in GCC countries (median age of only 25 years) which include:  Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.   It is known for its oil and gas industry wealth which represents 44% of the world’s crude oil reserves.   But it may be less well known that these countries are in the top 50 countries listed in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index which measures the ease in which businesses can operate around the world.

The key drivers behind the GCC growth come from several factors:

  • Sovereign Funds – UAE, Kuwait and Qatar rank in the top 9 countries in investment projects and job creation globally
  • Financial Strength – built from energy industry these countries are rapidly working to diversify
  • Infrastructure Development – many of the world’s leading civil engineering projects are under development in this region
  • Tax Free Environment – tax free zones have attracted businesses from around the world to establish regional and global headquarters
  • Oil and gas industry – which has funded much of this effort to date

GCC non-oil GDP

A lesser known fact is that the region is working hard to diversify its sources of revenues away from the oil and gas sector:

  • Utilities and transport: Governments will continue to support and invest in sectors that cater to their growing population, including power, water, electricity and transport. In Qatar, General Electricity and Water Corporation is considering expanding its power network that will cost $18 billion in the next seven years.  About 45 percent of the Dubai budget has been earmarked for infrastructure and public transport, with beneficiaries being the Road and Transport Authorities, Dubai Metro, Dubai Municipality projects and Dubai Ports Authority.
  • Financial services: Will continue to be a major contributor to the region’s economy, as it aspires to become a regional hub and will represent significant growth area.
  • Industrial and manufacturing: In the UAE, the sector grew by 40 percent within the past four years with the investment volume more than doubling. A recent statement by the UAE Minister of Economy reflected UAE’s ambition to become the preferred destination for investments in high-tech and heavy industries for global investors.
  • Health care and education: There is significant need for investments in these areas, considered still underdeveloped to serve a growing young population. Projects contributing to ensuring access, quality and capacity building are given priority.
  • High-tech: GCC also aspires to develop into a centre for technology. The region is working on establishing more research and development platforms, including opening new research centers

GCC diversification by sector

How People Do Business in GCC Region

Working in a multicultural environment, Dubai has a diverse work force with a number of corporations who are located here as regional hubs. So the work environment tends to provide enormous opportunities to learn and adapt to various cultures. The city is as busy and buzzing as New York, USA or Mumbai, India.

As part of the work force, one needs to be careful and flexible as one will need to change their approach and business formats when dealing with different cultures, even if it is within the same company. For example:

  • Men should not offer handshakes to ladies, unless offered a hand by them.
  • One needs to be patient when dealing on a local level and a lot of times contracts are established and work is done by handshakes and verbal confirmation without having anything in writing.
  • Work hours depend on industries and can be long at times.
  • Friday is a weekend, however being a work day in other parts of the world depending on the industry one needs to be available for work queries.

What are the absolute Do’s and Don’ts when doing business?

  • Be Patient
  • Do not discuss politics and religion with business people
  • Men should not offer a handshakes to ladies, unless offered by them
  • Friday and Saturday are government weekends, however people are very open to discuss business during weekends
  • Security is of paramount importance and one should take care not to break any rules and is fully aware about the legislation
  • When in a meeting with Arab never discuss business first off.  Always build rapport – 10 to 15 minutes minimum
  • Be flexible as lot of times written contracts don’t apply
  • When holding meetings in the region, participation from the government agency to get government buy in is important
  • It is not recommended to discuss financials right at the start
  • One needs to be prepared to operate last minute as a lot of times client queries and requirements come in last minute

Read more on how to conduct business in the region from MCI Middle East’s managing director Ajay Bhojwani .  http://growglobally.org/?p=44

Challenge of Volunteerism in Emerging Markets

Many associations experience barriers to making their volunteer leader system work in emerging market countries for a variety of reasons.  In the MENA region and specifically for GCC countries you should be aware of the following issues so that alternative approaches can be implemented to take advantage of the local strength and capabilities of local leaders.

  1. Volunteerism:  what’s in it for me? – You must be prepared to adapt your standard methods in emerging markets as local leaders with the means to organize and rally locals often come forward to give to the industry unless there is personal gain and something that answers what’s in it for them.
  2. City / State and National / Regional Boundaries – Care must be taken to choose chapter territories correctly.  Associations sometimes cover too large a geographic area which makes it more complicated for these chapters to operate and govern.
  3. Governance – Democratic or King’s Rule – Quite a few markets are under a king’s rule or under specific government policies, which impacts memberships of associations. In lot of cases these memberships are compulsory, which is why there is no drive by associations or its volunteers to make it work.
  4. Local Vs Expat Members – This is for Middle East specific – too many expat members who sometimes do not have any interest in developing the profession in that country. So it becomes a challenge to have the right mix of local and expat members aligned with the services locals might want or need.

The following video case studies that follow should offer further insights into how building a healthy chapter can be managed.

Interview – American Society for Quality MENA Chapter Leader

In this interview with Mr. Sunil Thawani, ASQ Country Counselor – UAE & Global Committee Member, Past Chairman, Continual Improvement Group, Dubai Quality Group, we learn about the chapter’s history & current operation, comments on legal framework/regulation, challenges faced,  opportunities in the region, and the role of Association HQ to support the chapter.

Interview – Project Management Institute UAE Chapter Leader

In this interview with Mr. Reyadh Ayesh, CEO, Smart World (a joint venture of Etisalat & Dubai World Central) and the President and co-founder of UAE Chapter – Project Management Institute, we learn about how the chapter was formed, its structure and activities, the challenges faced and recommendations for international associations.

Final Thoughts for International Component Management

  • Flexibility around chapter formation and structure – be prepared to deal with different laws and regulations as well as market sizes. One needs to be flexible around chapter regulations and bylaws.
  • Local Activity Support – Support for key chapter activities is often crucial to help grow the chapter with speed to reach its potential which could come from HQ or preferably a local source.
  • Local / Regional Marketing Outreach – Have this in place as the brands for many associations are not strong when going into new markets and you must activate demand based on local relevance to your selected products and membership.
  • Administrative Assistance – The higher the management positions of local volunteers in emerging markets the greater the need for admin assistance or else they fail to achieve their objectives.
  • Is Your Value Proposition Relevant – the need for making your membership benefits locally relevant. A lot of US association benefits are not adjusted to local needs and often have less relevance for international members which is why they do not feel the need to keep their membership going.

May 24 2013

Deep Dive Emerging Markets Session Video Recap & Announcement of ASAE/MCI 5 Year Global Research Initiative


deep dive panel

ASAE Panel from Deep Dive Emerging Market session held last week at ASAE’s International Conference in Washington DC:  (left to right)

  • James Ott, SVP, International Programs, American College of Physicians, Philadelphia, PA
  • Tarnbir Kaur, Director, Association Management and Consulting, MCI Group- MENA and India
  • Eryn Carter, Director, Global Markets, Million Dollar Round Table, Park Ridge, IL
  • Nikki Walker, Global Vice President, Association Management and Consulting, MCI Group
  • Brantlee Underhill, Director, Membership and Communities, Project Management Institute, Newtown Square, PA
  • Gina Van Dijk, Deputy Director, MCI Brasil, Rio de Janeiro
  • Greg Dummer, CEO, Society of Laboratory Automation & Screening
  • Florence Chua, Director, Association Management and Consulting, MCI China, Beijing

[important] Part 1 Interview – Deep Dive Session – Click Here  [/important]

Nikki Walker shares insights into the popular 3 hour session on China, India, MENA, and Brazil at ASAE International Conference 2013.

[important] Part 2 Interview – Announcement of New ASAE/MCI Multi-Year Research Effort – Click Here  [/important]

In Part 2, Nikki announces MCI’s new partnership with ASAE Foundation on a multi-year collaboration to support the study of associations’ global strategy and operations.  The Establishing and Maintaining Global Markets:  Global Management Series research initiative is designed to describe association globalization best practices, and to identify effective strategies associations employ to develop and sustain global growth outside their US market.

Oct 14 2012

How An Integrated, Locally Relevant Marketing, Sales, and Member Service Strategy Drove Massive Growth



In 2008, MCI completed a research project for the government of Abu Dhabi.  A critical outcome from this effort was capturing how US-based and EU-based associations reflected on the challenges and opportunities to enter and grow a specific regional market.  Most notably, we found that both cohorts found the following to be significant barriers to international growth:


  1. Lack of experience and knowledge of a region
  2. Lack of a commercial business license and bank account to collect revenues in local currency
  3. Weak local volunteer leadership support to develop local activities, products, or promotions
  4. Inability to gain local government endorsements and promotion support through sustained contact
  5. Distribution of marketing, communication, social media and business development tactics that are not adapted to local customs

This data  simply confirmed what we knew previously through our client work over 25 years.  Associations are under resourcing their business activities at the point of sale in the regions they target for growth.

How an Association Overcame Challenges to Expand in MENA

Here is an excellent illustration of how a US-based professional society serving mid to senior level business professionals reassessed their approach and ultimately deployed a new “integrated and locally relevant” marketing, business development, and member/customer care strategy that optimized resources for dramatically improving market penetration.

The results they achieved in their Middle East region showed significant improvement within 12 months of implementing their new strategy in 2011:

  • Growth in certification candidates of over 90%
  • 40% increase in membership over the 3 year period and addition of almost 2,000 members through promotions
  • Nearly doubling the number of training provider partners for expanding access to test preparation courses
  • Added corporate partners in the region as well as cooperative relationships with local associations in the region
  • Significant increase in programs from four local chapters while adding two new chapters and another 4 under development
  • Handling over 300 member and customer requests per month while building a new prospect database of 1500

Critical to the success of this association’s success was :  building a more robust membership engagement model and internal system that could address the needs of local members and customers, fundamentally rethinking their approach to serving members and developing local offerings, and using customer intelligence to design successful membership recruitment, retention and engagement campaigns.

Challenges to Growth

A few years earlier the association embarked on a strategic plan to establish its certification as the global standard for its profession and determined that the Middle East could be a significant growth market. Success in this market helped make it the #1 region outside the US, but many challenges similar to those expressed by the associations in the survey above helped to slow this growth:

  • Sizable number of members were not completing test preparation courses or were not passing the exam (lowest pass rate in world).
  • Organizing chapter activities were problematic and chapter attendance was low.
  • Volunteer leadership system was not strong enough to support good programs, promotion, and chapter administration
  • Member retention was higher than desired as many were losing interest.
  • Language barriers reduced the ability to drive home the association’s value proposition in a locally relevant manner.
  • A lack of local business development placed too much responsibility on weak volunteer system.
  • Need for more government contact and partnerships with 3rd parties were not being driven.

Part of the problem was at the time there wasn’t sufficient resources to address these challenges inside the region.  The situation called for stronger local support but besides some training provider partners who didnt have the capacity or inclination to address these issues, the association had only one staff member on the ground.  So they chose to consider bring in a new partner with a better aligned set of core competencies and who could work seamlessly with their existing training partners.

Rethinking How to Serve Members & Customers

MCI Middle East  worked very closely with this association to develop an integrated solution to address the needs in the region:

  • Provide a dedicated member service team with local language speakers to proactively answer member and customer queries as well as exam related questions to speed their completion of the exam process
  • Provide a toll free number to encourage customers and members to reach out
  • Execute targeted new member campaigns to call members one month and six months after they joined to ensure that they were maximizing their member benefits and to offer them support.
  • Target a member retention campaign for members to reach every member in the region to reduce overall attrition
  • Conduct on-going calling campaigns to update contact details of the members and customers to ensure integrity of the Middle East database
  • Maintain regular reports to HQ capturing the frequently asked question as well as identifying any challenges within specific areas
  • Developed a robust social media engagement plan to engage members and attract non members

In addition, the association also needed to tap the huge potential of customers in the Middle East that they knew existed but didn’t have the resources to develop the kind of local customer engagement necessary to turn this supply of prospects into paying customers and members.

So a multichannel marketing approach was developed that included:

  • Measuring the growth of social media and website
  • Creating lead nurturing programs based on prospect profiling
  • Conducting statistical analysis of marketing interactions
  • Conducting market research to develop messaging

The Middle East customer support team worked closely with the HQ Marketing team to identify members and credential holders who were passionate and would be interested in being interviewed or would provide testimonials for the regional websites and social media communications channels.

MCI Middle East  conducted search engine optimization (SEO) to optimize the locally hosted website around high-value search terms and worked to expand the number of inbound links to improve search rankings.   Virtual online job fairs were used to drive traffic to the regional association website from UAE, KSA, Egypt, Kuwait, and Qatar where visitors could be registered and offered of some study material to help prepare for the association’s certification program.  Visitors who filled in the registration form were considered a potential lead for follow up directly by local business developers.

Leads received special communications introducing the benefits of membership.  They are also included in all future outbound promotions for such things as free webinars, etc.  Benefits communication were sent to almost 1,000 leads and nearly 50% opened the communication.

The integration of the regional website and the social media helped to create an additional channel of contact with prospects and members to be managed actively.

Face to face opportunities were also pursued.  Promotion of the association’s global brand via customer engagement at strategically important conferences were identified and attended.

Working with the association’s course providers, joint branding and awareness initiatives were also pursued.

Over 1300 new leads were realized in just two months. Website traffic increased over 60%. Outbound marketing will become even more effective as marketing will be working off a qualified list of prospects.

Local Relevance & Muscle Prevails

In 2011, through the partnership between the association and MCI Middle East :

  1. Over 6,500 customers are served via calls and email inquiries.
  2. Over 3,000 new members were acquired.
  3. Membership retention rate increased by 53%.