CEO of the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres (MECSC) and a member of Boardroom Advisory Board, David Macadam has been instrumental in making his organization grow, taking advantage of a booming economy and resources to be found in the MENA region. In our third instalment with the Global Association Hubs Partnership (GAHP), he recalls how far the MECSC has come from and where it’s heading.

Words : Rémi Dévé – BOARDROOM

It’s not secret; we hear it day in, day out. Associations need more members, and, additionally, they need to retain them for longer. Most of the time, you get new members through your association with industry groups and conferences that you run within your industry. But there are many more strategies to increase member acquisition, and some associations are finding ways to both recruit broadly and target narrowly, resulting in high-value returns.

Taking over the leadership of the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres (MECSC) in mid-2013, the organization was in disarray. Financially as an association we were losing money and the member morale was at an all-time low. A common refrain from our low membership base was the question, what is your value proposition? Why should I become a member of the MECSC? Being based in Dubai, branded as a ‘shopping paradise’ the world over, surely helped, but it was not good enough.


Growth strategy

At that time the value proposition for becoming a member of the MECSC was not clearly defined. Reasons to become a member of the MECSC were few. Leading the organization from this unsatisfactory low point was the challenge which I had signed up for. Developing a growth strategy for your association takes time. Hours can be spent on debating the best methods to use to reach prospective members, and days of content creation and campaign management. But what tactics are effective? Member retention? Member acquisition? A balanced, comprehensive growth strategy will include a mix of both.

At the same time, it is impossible to develop successful, sustainable long-term strategy without understanding the future in which your members will live and work. Whether through strategic planning or value proposition design, research confirms that associations must develop strategy based on the anticipated future of their industry or profession if they want to be successful. And this is precisely what we understood at MECSC. As we created partnerships and coalitions, as well as additional products and services, we became successful.

The MENA region is a good arena for the growth of nonprofit organizations because few currently exist in the region. Retail professionals from every corner of the region are looking to become more effective in business. Information sharing, education programs, conferencing, networking events are all important aspects of international associations. Not for profit associations in the region fulfill that promise. With a younger demographic population in the MENA region of nearly 400 million, the opportunity for growth is boundless.

Additionally, Dubai is a natural fit for hosting international associations, as it provides a platform that allows individuals and organizations alike to network, as well as tap into potential sectors that aim to serve the overall industry progression and contribute to the UAE’s economic development. In this context, Dubai Association Centre (DAC), since its establishment in 2016, has evolved to become a gateway for international associations that are looking to take advantage of a rapidly transforming city. As far as we are concerned, DAC has been very helpful to the MECSC team. The knowledgeable and talented people in the DAC provide thoughtful support and provide resources which enable growth of international associations, who stand to benefit from the innumerable opportunities the city has to offer, as well as from the growth mindset that Dubai embodies.


Marching orders

In 2013, the positive financial support from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) in New York was in place, but was not overly patient. The benefit of our relationship was that the ICSC, being a US based nonprofit, was focused single-mindedly on the US retail industry. Varying forms of support from afar were available but it was clear that we were on our own. The marching orders from New York were simple: we had to make money to become financially self-sufficient and build your membership.

We first had to find the right people on our team. By August 2013 we had a small new team, who were tasked with hosting a RECon Conference in October. None of us had hosted any kind of event in the past of any size. We were anticipating about 300 to 500 delegates at this first event, which, in the end, was a modest financial success. The team did a good job of promoting the event, assembling a strong speaker line up and generally just made the event fun. In the MENA region, at that time, we were blessed with a rising economy which was emerging faster than many other areas in the world. Thankfully the New York leaders of ICSC were pleased with our progress.

The turning point for the MECSC came in the first quarter of 2014. We approached the Motivate Publishing Company in Dubai to assist us in writing and publishing a book about the retail industry in the MENA region. We tied publishing and releasing a new book titled Souks to Malls – Retail Evolution in the Gulf with our celebration of the 20th Anniversary in the region. With this, our team at the MECSC reached out to all our members in the MENA region seeking photos of their historical roots and asking about their successes with their modern shopping centres. Retailers came forward and supplied us with many great photos.

We promoted and publicized our new book with vigor. Slowly momentum began to build. As more people wanted to become involved and provide photos and written anecdotes of the retail industry over the years, happily we benefitted as our membership grew organically. The MECSC had become more relevant.

Industry professionals from all over the MENA region but specifically from the GCC were sending in photos in ever greater amounts. Our team realized with the growing content, the book must increase to 185 pages to accommodate the large volumes of great photographs. The challenge we faced at this point was that anyone who sent in photos or written comments fully expected to see their presence in the new book. We had earned member engagement in spades.


Member engagement

For our next RECon Conference in Dubai, held in the fourth quarter of 2014, we promised to gift a free copy of this new book during the event to all attendees. Additionally, we invited industry professionals from all over the world who had worked in the retail industry in the region over the past decade. We had a true celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the MECSC. The book became a ‘must have’ for all in the industry. Doubling the number of paid delegates at this conference, the MECSC team was able to establish a financial cushion for our ongoing operations.

In 2015 we launched the Retail People Magazine a hard copy and digital quarterly publication. What we learned from publishing the book Souks to Malls – Retail Evolution in the Gulf was that people love to see photos of themselves in action. Advertisers came forward and from our first issue, the Retail People Magazine was profitable and remains so.

From 2013 to now, we have jumped from 542 members to 1,320 – a number that continues climbing every year. In just five years, the number of staff at MECSC also doubled. As we head into the 25th Anniversary of the MECSC in 2018 we are on stable financial footings. Our team is currently working feverishly on writing and publishing our next book titled Souks to Malls – Retail Entertainment in the Gulf.

The retail industry is in constant change. To remain relevant to our members and the retail industry at large our role at the MECSC is to help our members to facilitate their businesses and to raise their personal profiles locally, regionally and globally. On a daily basis we reach out to our members asking what we can do to assist them. Supporting them in so many ways, we value the many daily interactions with our members fulfilling our mantra of member engagement.

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