A European Society Seen Through an International Lens
As the first instalment of our special agreement with the Global Association Hubs Partnership (GAHP), an alliance resulting from the innovative response to the increasing decentralization of international associations, Boardroom met with ESTRO’s CEO Alessandro Cortese and newly appointed Managing Director of Innovation, Sven Bossu, to discuss the growth strategy of a European organisation in Asia. ESTRO, the European SocieTy for Radiotherapy and Oncology, has developed close ties with Singapore, a destination that was quick and efficient in understanding the association’s needs and overall mission.
Words Rémi Dévé – BOARDROOM
Globalization has had a powerful impact on professional societies of all varieties, requiring many associations to seek field information in foreign nations. For associations that have an eye on global expansion, it is highly likely that market potential and market share will vary widely from country to country and from region to region.
Alessandro Cortese explains that ESTRO is a medical, niche society dealing with radiotherapy, whose members are all clinicians and professionals involved in the field of oncology. “As we grew,we’ve realised that our main mission – the education of our members and scientific dissemination – has no real boundaries, even if the other side of it is more political, such as the advancement of radiation oncology, which is clearly for us Europe-focused,” he explains.
Over the past five years, the demand for ESTRO products from Asia Pacific (in terms of congresses and education) grew to about 25 percent. Today, a staggering fifth of the society’s revenue comes from that region. Obviously what ESTRO does works for the needs of radiation oncologists from Europe—and from Asia Pacific in particular. It’s that type of regional growth that had to be officially addressed.
Alessandro explains: “The number of classes we offer in Asia has been steadily growing for some years, with about 1,000 Asian (and Australian) radiation oncology professionals attending ESTRO activities per year. When we met with the national societies in Asia Pacific, we realised that the demand for additional courses was even greater. However, there was a need for us to find the right scalability; we could not just increase the number of our products and, in a way, create our own competition.”
ESTRO progressively started to test some ideas with a holistic approach. Associations are made of people, and the moment you start involving people from a region, it’s an open door for change. As you bring new ideas, you discover new cultures and new needs in a process that touches on the culture of a society itself.
“Obviously, if we wanted to be impactful in our approach, we didn’t want to ‘invade’ the region in a neo-colonial kind of way, thinking we know better than anybody else. It’s always a peer-to-peer effort where we have our views on things, but where we also listen carefully to what others have to say. When it comes to radiotherapy, there are a lot a radiotherapy niches as well, and the scientific exchange is always a two-way phenomenon,” Alessandro says. “We’ve been careful designing models behind initiatives we took as we jointly made progress in all areas of radiotherapy. We basically joined forces, we created joint models, joint memberships, etc.; we have tried to understand these needs and shape those needs in a way that’s co-designed and co-shared.”
In this context, Singapore—maybe better than other destinations—understood the mission, impact and reach of ESTRO in Asia. A few years ago, the medical organisation came up with a kind of RFP so they could understand how all fields around radiotherapy were structured, designed and understood in various Asian-Pacific destinations. The aim was for them to find out the impact of radio-oncology in a region or a country, as well as how healthcare and life sciences were viewed in general.
“That’s when we realised Singapore has a deeper understanding,” Alessandro says. “Our methodology was simple; we set up a KPI that compares the number of patients that go through radiotherapy as opposed to the number of patients that should go if you compare scientific and evidence-based guidelines to what really happens in hospitals. We basically measured the gap between science and real life.”
So, as far as radiotherapy and oncology are concerned, Singapore clearly stands out, as they have developed a more comprehensive approach than other destinations. “An example speaks for itself,” Alessandro says. “One of the meetings that we had with the representatives of Singapore took place in a children’s hospital— not in a convention centre or a simple meeting room. It was not for them to market the destination; it was for them to market the local professionals, their role and mission, our role and mission, and how we could help them. It was not only a matter of different perspectives, it was a true alliance at the end of the day and a kind of a win-win impact on the region.”
To fuel smart growth, associations must understand the dynamics and characteristics of their markets, particularly as new sources of competition threaten traditional revenue streams. Gaining the critical insights required for an informed growth strategy can be accomplished through a holistic approach, where you educate your members as much as you educate yourself.
Sven Bossu, who has led SWIFT’s Sibos, the world’s premier financial services event, for five years, agrees. He recognises that there are a lot differences between a medical society and a finance organisation, but that “there are a lot of similarities as well, especially in terms of geographical shift. Obviously, growth is coming from Asia, and in all fairness, they are very smart and faster, more eager, than we can sometimes be. So, in a lot of cases, we have a lot to learn from them, rather than the other way around.”
He adds: “In radiotherapy, you also have this rapid shift in technology, just like the one we – and I – have witnessed in finance, which ultimately goes to the benefits of the client and the patient. Lastly, organisations in all areas face an ‘age’ challenge. Millennials are now more and more the decision-makers and the way you communicate with them is different, since you’re using a mix of channels. The challenges of organisations, in a way, are ‘universal’. If you can solve those, then the impact of what ESTRO does will improve.”
Similar challenges and solutions
These kinds of disruptive forces create opportunities for associations and professional societies to become more essential. It’s all about alignment with industry and professional outcomes that your members care most about. “I have been provided with all the keys to make the changes possible in the digital and multichannel environments of ESTRO. I will be heading marketing, communication and IT with the ultimate aim of broadening the society’s audiences and making sure we get the right type of messages and content to the right type of audiences. Together with the ESTRO team and key stakeholders, we’ll define who needs what, in what format, and proceed to set that up,” Sven says.
The next step for ESTRO is to understand the changes in terms of models of academic and scientific publishing. Currently, all medical societies are based on a model where a publisher publishes subscription-based papers and journals with an impact factor. Professional societies are, in this context, large forums to capture the best possible content to be included in those publications. “Now all that is completely changing,” Alessandro explains. “We are up for a fundamental change in the way societies work. It has to do with the leadership change and the fact that the new generation is coming in, as Sven mentioned. The challenge is to understand how content creation is happening, and how it can be captured in different ways. The very culture of associations is changing and you have to be quick to adapt to those changes.”