Octavio B Peralta: The association man

A man with many hats in the associations space, Octavio B Peralta, tells about his true love for the profession of associations management and recounts his ongoing journey of raising the standards of associations and the job of managing one in Asia-Pacific

You hold many titles: secretary-general for Association of Development Financing Institutions in Asia and the Pacific (ADFIAP); founder, president and CEO of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE); and pro-tem head of secretariat, Asia-Pacific Federation of Association Organizers (APFAO). How did you enter the world of associations?
I’m a mechanical engineer by education and training. I worked for two years as a quality control engineer and then production engineer at the now-defunct Delta Motor Corp., which was the assembler of Toyota cars, Daikin air-conditioners and Sharp refrigerators.

Attracted by a development mission, better pay, and an opportunity to travel around the country, I moved to the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and worked there for 15 years in various capacities, starting as a technical (engineering) analyst and moving on to loan officer. I was then put in charge of training for loan officers, a role that exposed me to the sphere of education – design and delivery of training courses – which became handy when I eventually entered the world of associations.

I also worked for almost a year as a training officer of a learning institution in Washington, D.C. run by retired World Bank officers. One of them connected me to Orlando Pena, then secretary general of ADFIAP, an international membership organisation for development banks. In March 1991, he recruited me as his deputy and I succeeded him in 2005, a position I still hold today.

That’s 28 years with ADFIAP, half of it as its head. How was it learning the ropes of association management which was then – and still is – quite a novel concept in the Philippines?
I found early in ADFIAP that working in an association is not at all a walk in the park. I tried in vain to get knowledge resources here on association management so I can self-learn. Having found none, I joined as a member of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) whose headquarters is in Washington, D.C. and every time I had the opportunity to travel to D.C. as part of my work in ADFIAP, I bought books on association management.

Up till today, I am still an active member of ASAE and currently a member of its advisory task force for the Association Leadership Forum Asia-Pacific.

How did PCAAE come about? Guide us through its gestation.
Against this backdrop and with my experience on having to learn association management the hard way, I have always toyed with the idea of someday sharing my experience in association management and helping associations here in the Philippines by forming an “association of associations”.

Fate has it that as part of my work in ADFIAP, I get invited to attend fully-hosted business events which I found very relevant to my work as an association executive.

In these events, I met many contacts, and two of them were the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) general manager, Rene Padilla, and the late Stanie Soriano of the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB). Although I met them on separate occasions and at different times, I proposed that they support my idea of putting together associations and association executives in the country. Luck has also been on my side when both expressed interest in supporting the idea and were also thinking along the same line.

After two years, in 2013, the three organisations – ADFIAP, PICC and TPB – finally moved the idea forward, with the understanding the ADFIAP will be the secretariat, PICC will provide its facility, and TPB will give institutional backing and financial support.

From my end, I have convinced my colleagues in ADFIAP to help me do the paperwork and shell out seed money from their own pockets for the registration fee with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of a non-profit association modelled out of the ASAE.

Interestingly, after at least 40 suggested names, the SEC finally accepted the name of the association as, the Philippine Council for the Advancement of Association Executives. We finally registered as such on October 23, 2013.

It’s the first association of associations in the Philippines. Where is it now?
On November 19 to 20, 2013, ADFIAP, PICC and TPB held the first Association Executives Summit at PICC. It was attended by over 200 participants from the association community here in the Philippines. On the second day, I facilitated a town hall meeting and announced the existence of the PCAAE. Those attending the Summit agreed to be constituted as the founding members of PCAAE.

On January 30 a year later, PCAAE held its first general council of members meeting (GCMM) and started its programmes in earnest. At the second GCMM, having found out that most associations in the country are entirely run by volunteers (board and management) and the ASAE model of having a volunteer board and paid professional management staff are less than expected, PCAAE changed its name to the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (still having the same acronym, PCAAE) to serve the interests of both the associations and the professionals that work in associations.

You didn’t stop with PCAAE. You also brought the concept to Asia.
At first, my initial thought, because of my experience in ADFIAP and my contacts with ASAE, was to form an Asia-Pacific federation of association of associations. Because of its pan Asia-Pacific nature, it turned out to be more challenging than I expected so I settled for organising first a national association in PCAAE.

At about this time, ASAE is also making inroads in Asia and planning to organise its Great Ideas Conference, which is held successfully in the US. Because of my long-standing membership in ASAE and having met its global development officer, Greta Kotler, who was tasked to organise the event in Hong Kong, I was invited to be a member of the ASAE advisory task force to provide content idea for the conference.

There I met, among others, fellow task force members, John Peacock, CEO of Associations Forum (AF) in Australia, Glynn Cho who was at that time organising the Korean Society of Association Executives (KSAE), and Noor Ahmad Hamid, regional director for Asia-Pacific of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA).

Having known that there are already national associations of associations in Australia and Korea, I conceptualised the setting up of an Asia-Pacific federation.

On March 24, 2015 in Hong Kong, at the sidelines of the Great Ideas Conference, members of the ASAE task force plus other invitees favourably endorsed the forming of the Asia-Pacific Federation of Association Organizations (APFAO) with the signing of the Hong Kong Charter with four APFAO founding members, namely, AF, KSAE, PCAAE and Australasian Society of Association Executives.

That’s a big leap.
I always believed that as an association executive, you need to be global in mind, heart and skill-sets. By going international, you meet many of your peers, learn more things, get and create great ideas, and be innovative in your offerings. One cannot stay local for long. There are many opportunities beyond your local boundaries.

PCAAE’s engagement with APFAO was relatively straightforward since I have already built credibility and rapport with association peers over the years. In the association world, relationship is a valued asset and brings many benefits for the long-term.

And you did it within a short period.
It may seem relatively easy and in a short span of time, but behind this journey are like-minded people and supporting partners ready to help out.

I’m also blessed with colleagues in ADFIAP who are dedicated, passionate and selfless to help out a noble mission of advancing the association management profession and making associations well-governed and sustainable.

I share this with many people and institutions close to me, have met, and worked with. There’s my supportive family which at first I had difficulty explaining my job to as an association man.

Then there’s ADFIAP which provided me the hands-on experience of managing an association, and the ASAE which gave me the toolkit to do it well.

And there’s the PCAAE which I founded as a way of giving back to a profession I dearly love.

Your colleagues said you are always prompt, replies emails and phone calls within the day, well-attired for the occasion and have a good memory even for difficult names like Indonesian ones which helps in dealing with people.
I grew up with my grandmother who nurtured me with the discipline of a leader. I am blessed, too, to have good faculties that put me in the top of my class from grade school to high school. My collegiate record was remarkable, too.

I also have a knack for seeing opportunities presented before me before others could see them, if at all.

With these attributes, I have developed a management style which I refer to as an acronym, CEO. C for consensus-builder; E for engaging with people; O for open to ideas from others.

I am a leader that tolerate failures and even encourages them because for me, failures present opportunities to succeed in the end. In the office, I maintain an open-door policy so everyone is welcome to see me in my workplace at any time. I also prefer to be called on with my first name, Bobby.

What’s the setup between ADFIAP and PCAAE? To what extent is the support of ADFIAP as the PCAAE secretariat?
I’m a volunteer leader of the PCAAE but we now have a paid professional staff to run its day-to-day operations. I am supported by a 15-person Board representing different non-profit member-associations and two from the private sector to get a balanced perspective of running PCAAE.

We walk the talk with our advocacy, a volunteer Board and a professional management team, working together but with clearly defined roles which delineated functions for the interest of our members.

The Board provides strategic direction, oversight, policymaking and fundraising campaigns. The management team operates the secretariat on a daily basis.

I believe that associations need to be run like a business enterprise, with a Board and management team working in tandem and with clearly delineated tasks as above-mentioned. While associations are not-for-profit organisations, they are certainly not-for-loss organisations either. Enough financial reserves are needed to sustain an association.

What’s next now that APFAO is operational?
APFAO is evolving. From an informal network when it started in 2015, AFPAO is now slowly moving to formalise its organisation and structure by having its constitution and office bearers. This was decided by the general assembly of members who met in Singapore on October 29, 2018 at the sidelines of ASAE’s Association Leadership Forum held there.

There is also more collaboration among APFAO members in terms of programming and information exchanges. APFAO and ASAE, which supported the founding of APFAO, are in constant touch to determine how best to maximise their relationship going forward.

What are the broader issues impacting Asian associations and association executives?
AFPAO’s vision is to be the hub of excellence in association leadership.The biggest challenge is the fact that the “children” (being the member national associations of associations) had come first before the “mother” (being APFAO).

While national members have their hands full in their own respective countries, will they still have the time and energy to do more and beyond their borders?

I believe, however, that there is scope for cooperation and collaboration among national associations in terms of knowledge exchanges for the betterment of their respective members.

PCAAE’s vision is for a Philippines where associations and other member-serving organisations are professionally governed and managed. The biggest challenge is how to engage and involve associations in PCAAE where most are volunteer-governed and managed. We find there is not much compulsion for these associations to learn more about association management and governance which are sciences in themselves and which PCAAE advocates for.

Most of these associations believe that their organisations can be sustainable despite their short-term view and ad-hocism. We think that the solution to this challenge is for the Professional Regulation Commission, the government agency tasked with registering professionals, to make the association executive or manager to be recognised as a full-fledged and licensed profession like real estate brokers, for example, and a career like engineers, nurses, etc.

The impact I wish to see for my contribution to the association community is continuing knowledge through collaboration. Perhaps, in more concrete terms is as much as possible a harmonised global professional training standard and curriculum so association executives in one country can work in another with little contextual aspects to add such as legal and cultural dimensions.

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