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Serving or leading members - social responsibility angle

Should an association serve or lead its members? It's an old debate here on Acronym. I'm on the record saying that I believe there is a difference and, while you need to do some serving, an association is at its best when it is trying to lead.

I was speaking with Petra Mollet yesterday, new to the American Public Transportation Association fresh from the International Association of Public Transportation.

"When the idea of social responsibility came up, our members were telling us, 'oh no, we already do that. We're part of the solution,'" Mollet said.

However, a handful of advanced members said that, yes, mass transit is part of the solution, but it can be done smarter and with more social conscience. The association used these members to launch a social responsibility program that challenged its members to do more and think in new ways. The focal point of their work was their charter that they asked members to sign, and they were asked to identify one or a few things that made sense for them to work on in their own systems.

To me, this is exactly the example of leading vs. serving. The international society could easily have rested on what most of its members were saying--that they would be a part of the conversation only in so much as they were getting patted on the back for being part of the solution. But by using a few forward-thinking members to push the rest, they led the organization to a better place.


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