Thinking globally, acting the local age

Global associations may need to stop relating to regions out of a developed or emerging economy paradigm, and instead try a two-world strategy responsive to the average age of the population.

The needs and interests of an aging world in the US and Europe will be very different from those in Africa where by 2030 the average population age is forecast to be about 20 years younger. Asia and South America likewise have aging, more mature populations.

Aging and mature memberships, whether in individual professional or industry trade associations, will have different priorities and need different programs and benefits. It’s not that older people have a natural resistance to change; it’s that existing systems and practices are working well for them, and they seek to solidify and standardize ways that have contributed to their success. Their self-interest centers around staying on top of their game in a world progressing through new knowledge and technologies.    

In the future, any presumed advantages that developed economies might have may be questionable. Technological advances have a disruptive way of leapfrogging past the investments sunk into older infrastructure. Aging, developed economies now find much of their infrastructure is fraying. Increasingly public resources will be directed to caring for the health and security needs of an older population.

Now consider what a nation or an organization with a younger average age profile might need from associations. Access to education will be critical. Their organizations and businesses may operate like start-ups--lean and efficient, high-risk operations.Time-starved individuals splitting discretionary time between demanding jobs and family responsibilities will have less time and patience for traditional systems of volunteering. They could test and resist protracted processes for establishing chapters or navigating credentialing systems. 

Instead these younger regions could be fertile ground for innovative solutions and rapid technology adoption. When you have few resources and infrastructure doesn't lock in your choices, what the predominant industry now considers best practices may not be.

Global associations approaching the “young” world with a suite of services designed by the “aging” world will stumble into a challenging generational divide--more so than what they experience recruiting and retaining Millennials and emerging Gen-Z members in their domestic markets. While these younger members too may challenge an established and aging order, they have been educated and mentored by elders for success in a developed world. Parenting and privileged mindsets will be unwelcome in Africa, because they evoke colonialism and offer irrelevant guidance.

When associations seek new members and chapters in these younger populations, they will find youth defines their identity and priorities. These regions are the perfect place to ask that profound strategy question—if our association did not exist, what purpose would we serve and how would we organize to do it? The answers could bring the organization as close as it could ever get to a new beginning.