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Representation and the opportunity of diversity in international organisations such as IGA

Part of the candidates for the IGA Board of Directors 2020-2023 (website screenshot)
Alexander Richter 5 Sep 2019

The elections for the new Board of Directors of the International Geothermal Association are currently ongoing. Time to talk about the role of the associations, the representation and diversity in the people representing the industry within.

Back in 2013, in the first Think GEOENERGY Magazine published by ThinkGeoEnergy, I wrote an article on the role of geothermal industry groups and associations and described them as “Industry Change Agents”. At that time I had just been voted onto the Board of Directors for the 2013-2016 period.

With the ongoing elections to the Board of Directors of the International Geothermal Association (IGA) for the 2020-2023 period, I thought it is timely to share some thoughts and the article here on LinkedIn, as it is clearly as timely as it was then.

I just handed in my votes yesterday, and the choice was not easy. There are industry colleagues I have worked with over the years, either on the board of IGA or on other things within our industry. There are people that have been tremendously active and supportive, that have invested incredible time into our heavy work on preparing IGA for the future. So what determined my vote? Here a few elements that I built my votes on:

  1. Diversity: here the first to mind comes gender diversity, but it also includes regional diversity within our globally active industry.
  2. Representation of the different elements of the industry, such as the educational/ research community, representatives of the big geothermal operators and developers, but also service and technology suppliers to the industry.
  3. Availability to engage and participate in the work of IGA. Clearly limited funds to travel to board meetings is and should not be an issue, but participation in the work of IGA and if it is mostly through electronic means or the phone is crucial to help support the work of IGA, its Secretariat and the important work it does.

I could now provide you details on some regional and personal considerations, but they would end up giving you a clear indication who I voted for. We see a generation shift in the geothermal energy industry and a momentum with regards to geothermal, particularly as it relates to direct use that we need to build on that and diversify our representation on behalf of the industry. Most of all, it is important that you vote. If you haven’t done so yet, please do so keeping the deadline of September 30, 2019 in mind. (IGA election announcement)

Collaboration is crucial in today’s world to promote an industry and its activities, be it to gain financial backing, public attention or political support. Industry associations play an important part in that. They represent a unified voice of the industry, but can also be the tool to adapt and change they way our industry is developing according to market demands.

Over the course of time, people, political movements, companies, and other entities have exhibited the value of joining forces to bolster their position and represent a unified voice. Political parties and interest groups are probably the best current-day example and highlight how political views and beliefs can affect decision making at the local, regional, national and international level. Put simply, the power of numbers pushes for change and creates impact.

Companies, whether in the same line of business, or different industries, also understand the need to join forces to take positions and influence decision makers. And while in the past these groups were seen mostly as pressure groups for labor and policy purposes, their perceived role today goes beyond that. They build cooperation among their members and other interest groups, foster the sharing of information, provide training, but also offer a variety of services to help their members grow their business.

Industry associations, per definition, play an institutional and ambassadorial role by coordinating the activities of their members, as well as promoting, developing and preserving their industries. Specifically in the broad global context of geothermal energy, there are a variety of groups and associations representing the industry and its constituents, each with their own specific priorities, interests, goals, and initiatives. Some are more closely aligned to research and academia, others to the industry’s business interests through policy support and lobbying (i.e. trade associations). Others focus on cooperation for the sake of industry development and growth (i.e. cluster groups), or national marketing groups for business development (collaboration groups). Because these groups represent such varied interests within the industry, each approaches specific situations with a tailored perspective. They all however play an important role to promote awareness on the industry, address public concerns about development of geothermal resources, as well as work to promote dialogue that helps create business opportunities.

Associations are often forced to cope with the sobering reality of insufficient political support; limited support for the business environment in which they function, and tenuous support in terms of fund-raising. The latter in particular, forces difficult decisions on prioritization, the most attention, and the focus of their resources. This limits the impact that an association, as an advocate for the industry, and an agent of change, is capable of. At the industry level, this leads to a misalignment of interests – limitation of what an association is capable of backing. Naturally the academic and research community’s interests are in a different part of the geothermal development chain than those of a small-scale consulting firm, a technology supplier, a construction firm, developer or a large-scale power utility. Additionally, the reality remains that financing for geothermal projects is the largest obstacle for the industry as a whole, and in certain regions, is the key barrier to wide-scale development. These challenges, coupled with ongoing competition for government funds require even more collaboration and a focus on development activities that truly help the industry grow.

Despite the natural inevitability of differences arising, the geothermal associations are all unified in the promotion of the same industry, its incontestable environmental benefits and opportunities that the industry’s growth creates. Instead of bunkering down and remaining fractious, associations have the ability to leverage their roles as catalysts in a united manner. There will always be some overlap in aims and goals, but no matter how large or small those overlaps may be, the more backing and support there are for initiatives universally agreeable for the geothermal industry, the better for the industry.

Industry associations can play a crucial role in this as change agents for the geothermal energy industry, both nationally and internationally.

So support your national associations and our work at IGA. To engage with IGA, e.g. as supporting member, contact IGA at: https://iga.wildapricot.org/join-us/