• Communicating During Crisis: Ahmad Zbib, Canadian Rheumatology Association

    Associations Connect Podcast – Episode 8

    When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Dr. Ahmad Zbib, CEO of the Canadian Rheumatology Association (CRA), realized the importance of communicating during crisis to “show them why we have an association.”

    The CRA, which represents more than 500 Canadian rheumatologists across the country, has operated a virtual office for quite some time. Without the complications of a bricks and mortar location, the association was well positioned to continue with business as usual during the pandemic.

    “We didn’t have to worry about business continuity, but our members did,” Zbib told CSAE’s Danielle Lamothe in this episode of the Associations Connect podcast. “We used this time to pivot to their needs.”

    Tune in to hear Zbib explain how the CRA:

    • Smoothly transitioned many programs, meetings and roundtables to a virtual platform.
    • Kept the team connected through Zoom, Teams, phone and text. Zbib also made a point of having one-on-one meetings with staff members to keep his virtual door open.
    • Used informal online “water cooler” chats as a way to build the team’s social connection and focus on mental and social well-being.

    Zbib was conscious of the fact that many members’ incomes had decreased. Accordingly, the CRA focused on assessing its members needs, developing new offerings such as summaries of international events that CRA members would normally attend, creating webinars, sharing short recordings of the CFO explaining government support programs, and Q&A sessions. Zbib said some CRA members struggled with the pivot to virtual care, and the association has offered tools and support.

    “In times of crisis, the best thing we can do is communicate well. We introduced our President’s Weekly Update that lists everything we do for members: advocacy, international alliances, webinars.”

    He also believes its important to be flexible with staff when it comes to the hours they are working from home.

    “When you work in a corporate setting, there is that expectation that humans will work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or whatever, and that you’ll get their full attention. It’s not humanly possible. Working from home requires a structured approach; leaders need to think differently about the whole concept. As long as you deliver on your project, I don’t care what hours you work. We all work long hours – just at different times.”

    Tips for communicating during crisis and pushing through the pandemic:

    • Practice gratefulness and drive for change: Zbib – who grew up in war-torn Lebanon – practices gratefulness every day, and believes we should reflect on how fortunate we are to live in Canada. “Be the champions of change to make it even better. We should be the ones driving the change against racism and discrimination. It’s important to hold that flag and push forward.”
    • Reimagine virtual: Feedback on the CRA’s virtual events has been positive. Zbib said it’s time to consider different models of delivery for former in-person events. “Covid is an opportunity to look at things we’ve considered sacred and maybe consider changing them. This is a great opportunity to change the world of associations and not-for-profits.”
    • Embrace new business models to stay relevant: Associations are playing a big role during the pandemic but Zbib said their biggest challenge will be staying relevant as things return to normal. “I think there has been a ton of learnings there in terms of how to engage our categories of membership.”

    Click here to hear Dr. Ahmad Zbib of the Canadian Rheumatology Association share more tips for communicating during crisis and remaining relevant in a virtual world in Associations Connect – Episode 8.

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