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25 Oct, 2011

Transparency Is A Good MICE-Catcher, Says Indian Dental Association Secretary

Imtiaz Muqbil at the ITB Asia 2011

Singapore: The Secretary of an Indian dental association says that transparency is a critical factor in both earning membership trust as well as in winning bids for international conventions.

Speaking at a session on business and trade associations during the ITB Asia trade show here last week, Dr Ajay Kakar, Secretary of the Indian Academy of Aesthetic & Cosmetic Dentistry, said his appeal for transparency on major internal operations issues such as finances had initially met with stiff resistance from the directors but is now “winning rave reviews.”

It is also attracting the attention of India’s 22 other medical associations who are seeing the advantages of moving away from a culture of minimum disclosure, cronyism and personal gain.

The 50-year-old Mumbai resident spoke on the topic of “Communicating the Value” of industry associations to their memberships. The issues he raised will sound all too familiar in other travel industry groupings facing similar challenges.

The UN World Tourism Organisation has enhanced transparency by posting the entire documentation of its recent General Assembly on the website. Secretary-General Dr Taleb Rifai made it a cornerstone of his election platform two years ago, and to a significant extent, he has delivered.

The Pacific Asia Travel Association nearly came undone over this issue and former CEO Greg Duffell worked to fix it. However, its new Strategic Focus document, based on the theme “Building the Business”, does not once mention the words, “transparency”, “accountability” or “trust”, indicating that the new CEO, Mr Martin Craigs, will have his work cut out for him when he takes office next month.

Dr Kakar made it clear that transparency in managing the internal operations of an association was as important as delivering services to members.

He said that communicating value is not just delivering a standard message; it is about identifying what one perceives to be valuable. “It is tailoring a specific, targeted message to a targeted audience member” in a personalised and customised manner, with real information on specific deliverables.

In a subsequent interview, he emphasised that he was speaking only about Indian medical associations, most of whom “are just totally non-transparent.” This was quite obvious during his 14-year membership of the IACD. “We were not getting membership retention or attracting new members. We were losing their trust.”

In 2007, after being elected as IACD secretary, he launched the push for more transparency, telling the directors that if the 10 of them could have access to the finances, “why shouldn’t the remaining 900?”

Insisting that the key issue was about earning membership trust, he said it took him four board meetings to overcome the opposition and convince the directors that this was good for them, the members and the association at large.

“It meant complete transparency. I took a lot of flak from the existing members. But now everybody wants it. Transparency was a big winner.”

Dr Kakar said in 2007, he submitted and won a bid to hold the 2009 International Academy of Periodontology convention in Agra, the first time it had convened in India.

“I knew that part of the reason (why the convention had not been held in India earlier) was a suspicion (amongst the IAP selection committee members) about what would happen to the money from registration fees, and so on.”

In terms of pure tourism product, he said, India is unmatched. “We have the best hotels in the world so that’s not an issue. If Indians want to bring more international association business to the country, they will have to convert they way they do business.

“I think it’s a good model even for government to work. If the politicians and government officials improve their transparency, it will solve the corruption problem in India.” He said politicians are notorious for going off on “study trips”, usually with family in tow.

The approach is the same as treating a medical condition, Dr Kakar said. “When the medication is dispensed, the results will be seen later down. It’s not like presenting a gift at a wedding which creates happiness immediately.”

He said the key to retaining association membership was to be consistent, develop a relationship, keep things simple and make all communications personal.

For example, he said, some members said they were fed up with signing annual membership renewal cheques. “So we started longer-term memberships. That made things simpler, and members were happy to renew.”

On many sensitive issues, he said that letters announcing the changes were signed by the board and not by him personally to indicate that this was not a personal decision, but had the directors’ approval.

All these changes are spreading, he said, resorting to another medical term. “It could well become a pandemic.” The association will stay the course. His term will expire this year after which he will become president-elect.