Jane Cunningham, Director of International Associations at BestCities, breaks down this year’s winning associations, trends, and the key to success for Incredible Impacts 2019.

What are the key factors judges look for in a winning Incredible Impacts submission?

We had 19 fantastic Incredible Impacts submissions this year, and in each submission there are six key areas that we analyse. These are the objectives, a clear description of the programme event, a spark of creativity, evidence of tangible success, testimonials and how the funds advance or enhance the programme.

While each of the submissions tell this story, the three winners ticked those boxes in a major way. What really stood out in the three winning associations was their absolute commitment and collaboration between the international association, the national society or the organising committee, but also other organisations working towards the mission. That collaboration and union is really noticeable in our winners and it made them stand out.

Were there any particular trends from the associations this year?

There was a real variety in submissions which has been fantastic, from sector to location on the map, and there were a few trends we observed.

It was great to see even more diversity in this year’s submissions. Often when we think about making an ‘impact,’ we think about health and medical impacts in the destination, how we’re making an impact on people’s health and livelihoods. However, really there are countless ways to make an incredible impact. For example, we had everything from the International Association of Science Parks, to tourist guides, environmental education, family therapy - a real variety. It’s really exciting to see these organisations realising the real impact they have in their industry through meetings and conferences.

It would be wonderful to see even more diverse submissions in the future, and convention bureaus can play a huge part in that by encouraging associations to submit an application next year.

Another trend that we noticed was that in 6 of the 19 submissions, there was a strong message of sustainable development – including winning association, the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER). I’d be interested to know if the societies are reporting to the UN on how their meetings have an impact towards the UN’s goals, or if they simply use these as guidelines.

Finally, youth involvement was a trend that we observed with several of the submissions, this  was really interesting to us as it appears that by speaking to children about specific topics, it helps encourage them to consider that path when they come to study. There is a higher chance therefore that they will  be connected to the association as they progress.

What made the three winners stand out to you?

Each winner showcased absolutely incredible impacts in their respective industries and in the meetings industry as a whole.

When you look at the SER, their raison d’etre is to restore the ecosystems and the environments around the world – it’s so wonderful to see a programme like this where people are getting involved to make a tangible difference in the world. They demonstrated collaborative involvement with the world bank and the ecological investment fund, and we’re glad to see that they’ll be carrying this forward to one of BestCities destinations, Cape Town, next year.

With Down Syndrome International (DSI), the Commissioner programme – which trained  11 people with Down Syndrome and put them at the core of the congress throughout the whole process, and trained over 300 delegate facing employees in Glasgow – was really inspiring. It obviously left a lasting impact as the training programme has been developed and inserted into the new recruit induction at the Science Centre in Glasgow. With Union of International Cancer Control (UICC), their summit is what Dr Cary Adams described as  a ‘game changer’ through their powerful collaboration with three enormous UN agencies it can change cancer care in the community for the better.

So many great stories from three very diverse organisations but it’s easy to see the massive impact of all three – different but all very powerful all the same.

What do the winning associations plan to do with their grants?

UICC are putting their funds towards further advancing the treatment for the cancer programmes taking place in Mexico, which is so fantastic. The conference has left a legacy there which has resulted in a change that will better people’s lives in the country.

The DSI plan has given the funds to Down Syndrome Scotland, so that through their commissioners, they can help build on the impact that can be created during the congress in Dubai in 2020, a BestCities destination, with the Emirates Down Syndrome Association.

SER, with next year’s conference being in Cape Town, another BestCities destination, they very much want to use this as capacity building opportunity, enabling them  to pass the knowledge gathered so far onto delegates in Africa,  and raising the awareness of the importance of ecological restoration.

What would you like to see more of next year?

We want more submissions. The more stories we have, the more associations and destinations can learn from how we can work together to create positive change. It doesn’t matter what field they might be in, we can all learn something from other associations and practises on how to create an impact. It’s a very open and inclusive award, so there’s no reason why countries from all over the world shouldn’t be sharing stories and encouraging associations to put them forward for the award. It doesn’t matter the size of the association, because the impact doesn’t have to be huge - it can be little things that make a difference.

Why is it important for associations to strive towards making incredible impacts?

We in the meetings industry often talk about how important association conferences and meetings are from an economic impact stand point.  Bringing in thousands of people is fantastic for the city. It helps with job creation, spending and building the industry. We have proven testimonials of the economic difference of conferences coming to BestCities destinations.

However it is also a game changer in destinations when we see the societal impact as a result of the conference taking place.  It encourages knowledge and culture transfer in fascinating ways. For example, when we can actually see policy changed in the destination as a result, children are educated in a different way or it gets the community engaged and educated in areas they knew little about , there is such huge value. You can really see the positive changes and results from the submissions this year.

Whatever area of impact the association is making – it’s making a positive change – there’s more to it than just bed/nights and coffee-cups, but the societal impact.  You can really see that with the submissions we received.

How can associations submit for next year’s programme?

Incredible Impacts 2019 will launch in January, and associations will have until 30th June to submit to the first round. Next year’s winners will be presented at ICCA Congress in Houston and will win a grant of $7,500 to invest into creating more incredible impacts. Look out for the announcements next year via BestCities and ICCA news.


For more information, imagery or interviews, please contact Daniel Glendinning at Daniel@wearewire.co / 0141 648 9610

Jane Cunningham

Based in Stockholm, Jane has been working for GainingEdge since 2010 with her main role being as the Director, International Associations for BestCities Global Alliance. This involves long term collaboration, support and guidance to build loyalty and help advance the mission of the association when the congress is held in our destinations and beyond. Before joining GainingEdge, Jane gained a lot of experience from working for a PCO, Congrex UK, a convention centre, the EICC in Edinburgh, and a bureau, London and Partners.

Jane studied French, Italian and Tourism and after college she spent a number of years overseas working in the hospitality and tourism industry.

She has recently joined the International Association of Facilitators and would like to develop her skills further to be able to help organizations get the best out of their gatherings. Jane has a passion for networking and connecting people, not to mention promoting the impact that conferences have on a destination and how collaboration can result in positive outcomes globally.