CSAE Trillium Chapter Award Winners Rebecca Harris, CAE & Kayley O’Brien, CMP

Kayley O'Brien
Kayley O’Brien, CMP
Becky Harris
Rebecca Harris, CAE


By Serge Micheli, CAE, CEM

CSAE Trillium is pleased to provide the following profile of our Chapter Emerging Talent winners from the 2012 Awards Gala.

Rebecca Harris, CAE, Executive Director of the Ontario Association of Residences Treating Youth, won the Executive Member Emerging Talent Award. Rebecca can be reached at [email protected].

Kayley O’Brien, CMP, Sales Manager at the Scotiabank Convention Centre, won the Business Member Emerging Talent Award. Kayley can be reached at [email protected]. Chapter president Serge Micheli, CAE, CEM, spoke to the award recipients.

SM: Congratulations on winning the Chapter Emerging TalentAward at the 2012 CSAE Trillium Awards Gala. How didyou feel when you first learned about winning thisspecial award?

RH: I was pleasantly surprised and honoured to have been chosen for this award. To be recognized by those that you respect and look to for advice is an amazing experience.

KO: I felt very honoured to have been thought of and chosen. There are so many wonderful volunteers in our organization, and I feel very lucky to have been recognized for my efforts.

SM: Can you provide some background on your personal life, your hobbies and interests? What do you do when you are not working?

RH: I like to spend time with family (whether “back home” in Newfoundland or at home here in Ontario). I am an avid reader (my Kobo bills can attest to that!); I like to bake and cook (my step-kids just wish I’d document the recipes so that they can be recreated!); and I try to find time to dedicate to painting and other artistic pursuits.

KO: I have always loved sports, and for the last 18 years have played primarily on basketball teams close to my hometown. This past June, I found track and field, and have learned to become a runner and hurdler. I completed my first half marathon this past September, and continue to train for track competitions come spring. When I am not training, I love to read, experience nature, and spend time with my family and friends.

SM: What made you get started in this profession? How did you fall into what you do now?

RH: It was completely by accident in some ways. My background is in the fine arts. When I finished my masters in art history, I started an internship at an arts association and at the end of the internship was offered a full-time gig. After a couple of years I realized that I was completely happy in the not-for-profit sector and wasn’t looking to work for a museum or gallery. I began to look for ways to expand my knowledge of the association sector and nonprofit management…fast forward a few years and here I am!

KO: I began my hospitality career in Hamilton where I worked for a brand new conference centre. I sat on the CSAE National Conference host planning committee which was my first introduction to CSAE. From Hamilton, I moved my role to Toronto where I took every opportunity to learn and grow, and did so, which prepared me for my next journey into large conventions. In 2009, I was one of the newest team members and a part of the opening team members of Scotiabank Convention Centre. I now work with provincial associations in a world class destination with meetings and conventions of all sizes. I have been very lucky to have many opportunities to become involved with CSAE, as well as other events such as being a team leader with Country Music Week in 2011.

SM: How long have you been working at your current job and what role do you play?

RH: I’ve been with the Ontario Association of Residences Treating Youth (OARTY) since March of 2011 as their executive director. Even though it has been almost two years since I first started, I am still learning new things every day. It is a great organization to work with; our members and volunteers are truly amazing individuals who give so much of themselves.

KO: I have been with Scotiabank Convention Centre for over three years now.

SM: Did you have a mentor or mentors when you first started your career? If you did, was your mentor(s) helpful in guiding you through the initial start-up of your career?

RH: When I first started my career, I didn’t really have a mentor…I was more focused on just landing a job after completing my degree! As I’ve mentioned, I ended up in this sector “by accident,” as many of us seem to do. However, I’ve had several informal mentors over the course of my career who have shaped the way I see the sector and who I aspire to emulate in my own work.

KO: When I began my career, I did everything I could (and still do) to surround myself with people that I can learn from, and that ultimately have more industry knowledge than me. It is through many mentors that I have and continue to learn. It is through an eagerness and willingness to learn from others, that we grow.

SM: How did you get involved in CSAE and CSAE Trillium Chapter activities?

RH: I actually first became aware of the Trillium Chapter at my last job,  where I worked with the chapter through my role at an AMC. I became more involved on a personal level when I was working on my CAE and a couple of years ago I decided to volunteer with the chapter to expand my network and knowledge base.

KO: Many of my mentors had encouraged me to get involved, and insisted that the best way to meet others and learn about the industry was to volunteer. My first year as a  member, I made it my mission to become involved with the chapter, and that is exactly what I did. I volunteered that year on five different committees. From there, I realized how rewarding the experience was and didn’t look back.

SM: What has the involvement in CSAE Trillium done for you personally and for your career within the profession?

RH: Participating in the chapter gives me access to a wealth of information and brings me into contact with amazing individuals who are able to offer advice and assistance with my current work and my career overall. I have benefited greatly from being able to reach out to members (both association executives and business members) for advice. Volunteering with the chapter has also helped me hone my skills, by giving me access to opportunities in a supportive environment.

KO: I have made some wonderful, lasting personal friendships through CSAE. It is through these friendships that I have learned, and grown as a professional. I have also been encouraged through the chapter to continue to take on new challenges through our CSAE community, and it is with these new challenges that I have been given an opportunity to continue to grow my skill set as a professional.

SM: There’s lots of discussion about youth and membership engagement. What suggestions would you have for associations to attract or engage younger people to get involved with associations?

RH: I think we need to focus more on tailoring our communications, professional development offerings and other forms of outreach to the various demographics that make up our stakeholders. There is a need to recognize the audience of our message and the fact that each “group” will respond in different ways. I also think we need to continue to keep up with advances in technology (including social media) and reach out to youth in ways that they are used to communicating. Youth want to be involved but also need to feel “heard” and respected in order to be fully engaged.

I think mentorship programs can also work to fully engage youth or younger members who are just starting out in their career. These types of programs work best when seen as a collaborative mentorship (i.e. both the individuals in the mentorship are learning from each other), instead of the traditional mentor/mentee relationship where the older or more established mentor imparts their wisdom on the mentee. We have a lot to teach each other and a partnership of mentoring seems to offer a way for both individuals to grow  and learn.

KO: I would encourage young members to get involved with one of their areas of expertise. They are exceptionally well connected and know how to use social media and technology better than many. I would encourage youth to become involved with the technology of our associations (areas that perhaps we have grown to include in our communication). If we use these skills and expertise, perhaps the youth of our associations will allow our
organizations to grow in a different way than we had expected or anticipated, but in a really great way. We are entering a new business world we can’t even imagine and you can be part of that creation and innovation.

SM: What do you see for the future of association management within Canada and globally?

RH: Wow, that’s a big question! I think the association sector has been in an exciting period of change for a while now and I believe we will continue to see our sector grow and morph as we expand upon what associations mean and can offer to their members and stakeholders. I believe we will see even more partnerships with the for-profit sector; a redefining of what it means to be a “member” and the benefits that go with that; an even greater focus on technology…with that being said I don’t see face-toface meetings disappearing, this is a vital service in an increasingly “online” world. We will likely see face-to-face meetings and conferences continuing to be supplemented with technology and online forms of communication but I believe the in-person networking benefit of these types of events will continue to be a valued benefit.

I also see associations continuing to struggle with the move away from membership dues as the main revenue stream. Associations will need to re-think their core offerings and continue to diversify their revenue streams.

SM: What do you see for the future of the face-to-face meetings industry within Canada and globally?

KO: Face-to-face meetings are essential to the growth and development of business relationships in all industries. The best development in my mind is the growth of hybrid meetings where we have the ability to have face-to-face interacting with web and carried locations. That is the best of all worlds helping people engage together.

SM: How are you coping with the trends and ever evolving technological changes that are occurring so rapidly?

RH: Keeping up with the trends and ever evolving technological changes can be a daunting task. I read blogs and follow industry experts on Twitter to keep myself abreast of the “latest” trends. I also talk with my step-kids to see what tools or new technologies they’re currently interested in, as they often know about new tools before I do! The one thing I try not to do, is jump on the latest social media bandwagon when a new tool is released. I try not to spread myself too thin and only actively participate on those platforms that I feel are of benefit for me (or my association).

KO: Technology changes almost daily. Not only should we learn about these developments as they happen, but perhaps these are great opportunities for the youth of our industry. It is important to embrace new technological advancements and the youth of industry tend to be experts in how to professionally use these tools to better our organizations. By encouraging our young teams to help others learn, and also lead the way with these advances, I am confident that this will assist us with embracing the upcoming trends. I am active in social media and love the opportunities to link with friends and industry partners. It is a powerful tool that aids us in doing our jobs better with real time responses.

SM: What do you recommend for new and existing members?

RH: Attend CSAE Trillium Chapter events to stay current on trends in the sector and reach out to new members or members that you may not know – expand your network. I’d also encourage members to reach out to business members if they need advice, the business members are a great resource for association executives and are willing to share their expertise and knowledge with us.

KO: My highest recommendation is to get involved and to seek out opportunities to meet others and connect with them. Volunteer on a committee, attend all of the events you can, and take every opportunity possible to make a true connection. It is through every meeting that you have the chance to connect with someone or to learn something that will ultimately assist you in business and in life.

SM: How do you always stay so positive and motivated?

RH: I take one day at a time and remind myself that we are all constantly learning. I seek out new opportunities and information as a way of staying motivated and excited about my job and the association sector. It’s hard not to be motivated when I am surrounded by so many wonderful people who are giving back to the not-for-profit sector. I try to embrace change and the growth that can come with it, instead of fearing it.

KO: Very simply… I make sure to ‘put my happy on’ every day before I walk out the door into the world. I choose to surround myself with people that enrich, inspire and make me a better person, and look for ways that I can return the same kindness to others. I stay motivated knowing that I have not yet reached my highest potential. Will I ever know what that potential is? Maybe not, but it’s that unknown that makes me continue to reach higher every day.

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