Insights From a Mission-Driven Young Association Professional

By: ASAE Young Professionals Committee

In all of the research done on the millennial generation, one constant has stood out: Gen Y is extremely interested in making a difference in the world. Having that sort of mission-driven focus is what led one young professional to pursue a career in associations.

In this second edition of the ASAE Young Professionals Committee's (YPC) member insights feature, committee member Sikha Singh, a manager within the Newborn Screening and Genetics program at the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), shares her experience as a young professional in the nonprofit industry.

YPC: Let's address the requisite question first. Why did you choose the association industry as a career?

Singh: Great question. Most association professionals will tell you that they stumbled into their careers in the association world, but my experience was a little different. A few years ago I learned about the Association of Public Health Laboratories and felt drawn to their mission: A healthier world through quality laboratory systems.
At the time I was working in a laboratory performing genomic sequencing-related research activities and pursuing my graduate studies. I also became very involved as a trustee and a member of a nonprofit organization committed to supporting educational initiatives for girls in rural north India. I felt drawn to the nonprofit model and made a very deliberate decision to segue out of academia and into the nonprofit industry.
I wanted to utilize my expertise in molecular biology, but it was extremely important to me to find work in a mission-driven environment. When APHL extended me an offer, I didn't think twice about accepting. That was five years ago, and every day I'm still learning something new and I'm so pleased to be a part of this association.

So, the personal return on investment for you is advancing the mission of APHL?

It's the network of both science and association professionals that I have access to, and it's the opportunity that we are granted through pursuing association work, but, ultimately, yes, it's the mission. The private sector is driven by the bottom line and answers to its stakeholders. Government is driven by taxpayers and answers to constituent needs. Nonprofits, however, are uniquely driven by their mission and answer to their members.

I'm so lucky to have found an association where, if I weren't on staff, I would almost certainly be a member. I get to work as a scientist serving a community of scientists devoted to the public health mission. It's the ideal situation for me.

Furthermore, as a member of the millennial generation, I feel that a mission-driven association industry incentivizes me to contribute as much as I can. As staff at APHL and as a member of ASAE I have unique access to the depth of knowledge found within our incredible membership and to the breadth of knowledge found across the network of associations served by ASAE. I would not enjoy this specific ROI if I pursued a career in any other sector.

Let's talk more about your experiences as a young professional. What are some unique opportunities or barriers that you face as a YP in the association world?

There are a plethora of both barriers and opportunities. I have to preface this answer by taking a step back and talking a little bit about my perspective. I am an association professional who is female, of south Asian descent, and born into the millennial generation. I am, therefore, an underrepresented minority in our industry.

By virtue of my participation in the ASAE Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP) and my participation on the ASAE YP Committee, I've been fortunate to find a platform through which to better understand and support the diversity imperative that is so critical in our progressively interconnected industry. As a YP I find that I can adapt to rapidly shifting communication norms with ease, but I am also hyperaware of cultural sensitivities in this increasingly small world. Multicultural and multigenerational cooperation in our industry is an absolute necessity.

The unique opportunities and barriers relate to things like management style. For example, as association YPs we must interact with superiors, with staff, with the board, and with members. We tweak our communications styles based on the audience, but we also need to acclimate to these differences delicately.

A recent Washington Post article noted that millennials are less trusting than previous generations and that we are more prone to feeling detached from traditional institutions. We feel more comfortable using our phones to communicate via text or email (shocking, I know). Political strategists target our votes by harnessing technology and social media platforms as opposed to more traditional routes such as television ads.

By acknowledging that YPs have a different perspective, associations can utilize those tendencies to uniquely change their work environments, to resonate with YPs within their memberships, and to shape the future of the industry. YPs will begin to represent an increasingly large portion of association staff. This is an opportunity in itself and a huge impetus for the YP Committee to continue its work within the governance structure of ASAE.

For more information on the ASAE Young Professionals Committee, visit the YP Resources page or contact Bryan Harrison, senior manager of networks at the Specialty Equipment Market Association. Email: [email protected]

ASAE Young Professionals Committee

For more information on the ASAE Young Professionals Committee, visit the Volunteer Opportunities page in the About Us section.