Congrex Americas: "Associations are both subtle and powerful"

15th Feb, 2024

Panama's stand at the 2023 Fiexpo Tradeshow

During some sessions at FIEXPO 2023 (see report on page 30), HQ got the opportunity to meet some of the speakers who made this event a dynamic space for sharing knowledge and experiences. Javier Montilla Q. (on the right) is Managing Director of Congrex Americas, a full-service provider of meetings, conferences, events and association management solutions for the corporate, government and association sectors in the Americas. Javier is a professional conference organiser with more than 30 years of experience, having directly organised more than 400 events in Latin America. Strategic planning in the meetings industry is also one of Congrex's key principles, and the FIEXPO Policy Forum addressed this around matters such as effective leadership, association relevance and economic and social impact on destinations.

HQ took the opportunity to brainstorm how to harness the potential of association leadership, managing partnerships that lead to social legacies, and how the tradeshow's educational programme contributed to their thinking on sustainability, new bidding and destination marketing.

1) Could you describe in a few words the mission of your organisation?

Our mission is to provide comprehensive online and in-person meetings, conferences, events and association management solutions for the corporate, government and association sector in the Americas. This mission is accompanied by our brand promise to “create opportunities for communication, collaboration, education and growth” for our employees, clients, business and institutional partners. Not forgetting the community that moves our industry and participates in the events we organise or the associations we manage.

2) How do you assess the overall picture of the events sector in this post-pandemic period with all these new requirements and criteria in place?

The outlook is promising, positive and encouraging. The demands are not so new; what is new are the applications to meet those demands. The need for innovation, technology, immediacy of communication and sustainability over time are not new. What is new is that the tools are available at little or no cost to a wider range of audiences. Our customers are also much more informed and connected to each other. We live in fast-moving times where immediacy and putting people at the centre of the strategy is no longer an option.

During our conversation in Panama we also talked a lot about the barriers and hurdles of Latin American associations and how they can best represent their members and sectors today.

I have used several times a quote from Jim Rhon (an American entrepreneur and author) who assures that “associations are both subtle and powerful” because we humans, as the social beings we are, naturally come together and these associations influence us in subtle ways. Carried forward into formal associative life (entities called “associations”), they influence their members in subtle ways through knowledge, experiences and information, having a powerful impact on their environments. For this reason, associations need to create that influence and positive impact, always using an inclusive and participatory approach.

3) You also recently collaborated with #Meet4Impact on how to harness the potential of association work for social legacies and long-term impacts, using the Pan American League of Associations of Rheumatology (PANLAR) and its congress as a case study. Tell me more about this experience...

We saw GenevieĢ€ve’s (Leclerc) presentation at FIEXPO 2022, and were surprised to learn that we were so aligned without knowing each other. The alliance came naturally at a time when the PANLAR’s Development and Impact Plan was rushing to its end (2016 to 2022), so we decided to present this option to this very important client of ours. As we delved into the specifics of their work, we and our client decided to move forward and redefine the future with an even more inclusive angle (patients, physicians, undergraduate students and the community at large), keeping people at the centre, and seeking sustainability for the association. Creating respect for the environment, creating a practical and achievable legacy and aiming to incorporate the destinations where the events (sustainable and purposeful) would take place as a tool for dissemination and implementation.

Our first challenge is the PANLAR Congress in Barranquilla in April 2024 where the alignment between the Mayor’s Office, the investment promotion agency ProBarranquilla, suppliers, ICCA (as facilitator), the event organiser MCI Argentina and us will use this implementation to set a milestone in establishing a legacy in public health by bringing rheumatology to the streets and anticipating the diagnosis of musculoskeletal diseases. This action aims to improve the quality of life of people who do not know they suffer from rheumatology and aspires to encourage more young people to study medicine and specialise in rheumatology.


4) How can a destination, as a centre of science, academia, development and research, attract more valuable events and social dissemination to Latin America?

I think the question answers itself. Through science and academia, research and development projects are leveraged, which can benefit the communities of a destination. All these projects start in meetings of different sizes and are disseminated to communities through purposeful events. Having a hub of professional associations in the region will put Latin America on the map, showing the quality of the professionals who make life on this side of the world and the value of meetings in our region. The creation of this hub − like the Panama Association Hub launched in the framework of FIEXPO − can foster innovative, scientific and technical development spaces, attracting interest to generate large meetings with purpose and socio-economic relevance that positively impact our industry and the destinations where they take place.

5) Finally, on a professional level, what did you see and bring with you that was new and relevant from this edition of FIEXPO 2023?

What is new and relevant is that FIEXPO served to consolidate the teamwork of different professional associations in our industry in favour of generational networking, allowing in a unified way many young people to have access to information and training relevant to their future in the meetings industry. The International Associations Forum (i.e. our clients) allowed for a series of practical exercises where the knowledge of colleagues in the meetings industry could facilitate working together in teams with real problems that they can now solve with a fresh and renewed angle. These association professionals of diverse interests (doctors, engineers, consultants, managers, etc.) took home challenges and concerns that they will be able to solve in terms of sustainability (not only environmental), institutional marketing, strategic alliances and management of their associations; ideally through the contracting of companies in our sector.

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