Professional Associations need to Rethink their operating model

“A man only learns by two things; one is reading and the other is association with smarter people.”

– Will Rogers

Over time I’ve passionately advocated for and championed the role of professional associations in serving the membership i.e. professionals both by advancing the specific sectors in which they operate through mentorship & coaching as well as through welfare programs. On this account, leadership is key as I earlier discussed here. Subsequently, I’ve continued to learn and explore ways of deriving value from professional associations beyond the mainstay operational matrix of continuous learning and welfare programs such as investment vehicles e.g. SACCOs. Following my last article that came up yesterday, reflecting on the knowledge economy with focus on our journey to self reliance, I believe there’s more to professional associations in advancing professions and promoting welfare of members.

As I earlier alluded to in my article on Mentorship Part II and as is common knowledge, unemployment is a growing worry across the world and even more pronounced in Kenya/Africa considering the high population of youth with minimal job opportunities. While this is the case, there are corresponding challenges in every sector ranging from weak health systems, food insecurity, infrastructural shortfalls including mushrooming shacks/slums among others. The key question I’ve had is on how best we could suit our professional associations not only to further the interests of those already enjoined considering most will not join when they are not able to pay the membership fee, not meaningfully employed or even working in the sector. Such experiences will then be killing the professions and professional networks thus the need to rethink ways of engaging professionals, creating value including employment for junior members to engage them onwards to grow the profession.

In rethinking professional associations operational model, I believe we need to adopt alternative approaches based on the fact that members of the profession possess specialized knowledge in these specific professions. Some of the approaches that I believe are key for the future of professional associations in serving their members, advancing growth of industries/sectors and delivering value are:

  • Establishing project offices dedicated to proposal developments to support in execution of research and implementation science projects in their expert domains leveraging on the qualifications of senior professionals and enjoining junior professionals as project associates, interns and project officers. This will help in developing knowledge-base for the profession, open new avenues and create employment opportunities for junior professionals who are currently struggling with unemployment.
  • Mobilize resources through special purpose investment vehicles with a focus on revolutionizing service delivery in the sectors in which they operate e.g. for pharmacists investing in pharmaceutical production, supply chain, education & training, pharmaceutical care facilities among others. Through these special investments, jobs are created for members of the profession, quality services are delivered to the clientele and best practices are fostered as these are guided by code of ethics as espoused by these professional associations. This will take the place of SACCOs or complement these as they are focused on an area of professional strength rather than mere returns. At the same time these investments help investors including professionals generate income from their investment in the professions’ growth. Putting their money where their mouths are.
  • Design and operationalize a knowledge-repository that can guide the development of the industry/sector in which they operate within leveraging on the principles I argued for with regard to the knowledge economy. By structuring such models, we are able to revolutionize practices, generate innovative ideas and leapfrog human development.
  • Finally, professional associations serve as knowledge cross-pollinators. By having professionals engage objectively on matters of the profession new knowledge emerges and these become the innovations of the future. Failure to associate is recipe for disaster for our professions that we must avoid by restructuring our associations’ operating models.

These are some of the approaches that will help in addressing societal challenges, advance professions and safeguard the welfare of professionals today and into the future. Deliberate and strategic investment in professional associations for impact is key.

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