World Bank Sprints to Global Meetings Management

By Chris Davis

Progress in Washington, D.C., can be a sluggish beast, with any incremental change the product of a long-winded process of committees, negotiations and lots and lots of talking. But don’t tell that to the D.C.-headquartered World Bank, which floored the accelerator to create a strategic meetings management program and roll it out to every corner of the globe in a scant three years.

Spurred by an organizationwide mandate to cut costs and armed with the knowledge of the savings a meetings program can bring to the table, World Bank Group senior project manager Sabrina Capannola and her team built a comprehensive mandated program that not only circumnavigated the globe but also interlaced other organizational departments like procurement and security.

“We went very quickly,” Capannola said, noting that World Bank segments its operations into seven global regions. “From fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2016, we went from one region that we started with to six. Then by fiscal year 2017, we were fully global and had all the regions. We were probably quicker with the rollout than a lot of organizations that I’ve benchmarked against and talked to.”

That’s an understatement, according to GoldSpring Consulting senior consultant Kevin Iwamoto, whom Capannola brought in to assess the program. “She made it a global proof of concept. Nobody does that. Nobody’s that crazy,” he said. “I was pretty impressed. She hit the road running.”

A Unique Mission

World Bank is a global partnership of five institutions that finances initiatives that reduce poverty, increase sustainability and otherwise improve quality of life. With 189 member countries and with locations in more than 130 of those, World Bank is a heavy consumer of business travel. It spent $255.7 million on global air in 2016, according to BTN’s Corporate Travel 100. Capannola said the company held more than 650 events within its managed meetings program in the past 12 months.

Given its mission, World Bank’s meeting docket isn’t traditional, and its target markets are constantly in flux. “The nature of World Bank’s work doesn’t lend itself to the same markets as, say, a pharmaceutical company that goes to particular markets year over year,” said Capannola. “Our meetings are held in a much broader range of destinations and the work is largely project driven, so it changes all the time.”

It’s a Sprint, Not a Marathon

The concept of meetings consolidation wasn’t entirely new to World Bank. The organization had established an offsite meetings program for events near its D.C. headquarters, and Capannola knew the program had realized significant efficiencies. “We had negotiated contractual terms with roughly 40 properties in the greater D.C. area,” said Capannola, which had smoothed the sourcing process in that particular location and, very importantly, had brought visibility into spending data for that market.

Faced with a savings directive, Capannola saw an opportunity to leverage that data and the close contact with meeting owners in D.C. to initiate, in North America, the first wave of a global program. “We had the information we needed to really benchmark and say, ‘Are we achieving? Are the benefits proven?’” said Capannola.

Capannola knew that World Bank’s unique mission and market requirements had to drive the global strategy. Master service agreements, which had underpinned the local D.C. program, were among the first things to go. “We had talked about [whether] we could roll that out globally,” Capannola said. The consensus, given World Bank’s market diversity and changing needs, was that the organization would not adequately exercise business against master service agreements in all the markets it needed to cover. “We stepped back, then did a lot of research to see what really are the trends in the market when it comes to large global entities that have meeting demands,” she said.

Policy & Process

It took six months for Capannola’s team to work through the data discovery process, build relationships, understand existing meeting requirements and then produce meetings policies and processes that addressed actual needs.

World Bank requires all meetings with a budget of $10,000 or more to use the meetings department, beginning with an online meeting request form housed on the organization’s intranet and powered by meetings technology supplier Cvent. All meeting requests automatically route to World Bank’s security department, which conducts a risk and hazard assessment of the proposed meeting destination and dates. “A security review should be a best practice for any strategic meeting program, but it’s been a priority for World Bank,” Capannola said, noting the importance of local market expertise partcularly in some of the bank’s more remote project locations.

Some of World Bank’s global offices offer internal conference spaces. The program encourages meeting organizers to use those when appropriate; otherwise venue sourcing is outsourced. Once a venue is selected, contracts are finalized using a standard World Bank addendum, and Capannola generally leaves the logistical planning to the individual meeting organizer and venue. Payment is handled through a meetings card, and data is collected through the Cvent platform.

The Initial Push

World Bank’s North American staff is based in D.C., which facilitated direct contact with meeting owners about the new program. Announcements from senior leadership also made a strong statement about the importance of the meetings program and encouraged meeting owners to get involved.

Capannola knew that adoption efforts had to be sustained over time for the program to gain real traction. “We did a lot of lunch-and-learn [sessions], posters in the buildings, announcements on our kiosks,” she said, and she continues these types of programs even now. She also got creative with attention-grabbing tactics: “In the beginning, I sat in front of the cafeterias with a team from my [meetings agency] and gave away cupcakes to raise awareness about the program,” she added.

For those who still didn’t get the message, the program received a significant assist from World Bank’s procurement department, which referred any request for a meeting card or purchase order associated with a meeting to the new program.  “We did as much as we could to get the word out, but we also put controls in place,” said Capannola.

GoldSpring’s Iwamoto said: “She knew how to get things done with a bureaucratic, layered environment. It’s a critical skill set for an SMMP owner.”

Going Global

Six months after the launch of the meetings management program in North America, World Bank expanded it into 10 more countries where Capannola knew meetings demand existed and where Cvent had been well established. “They were countries where strategic meetings management was pretty typical,” she said.

Expanding outside North America, though, exposed Capannola’s team to the particular ways in which World Bank meeting owners overseas tended to do business: The organization establishes what it calls global practices based on specific topics like climate change. In those global practices, she said, meeting owners might want to hold events based on their topic in five different markets during a year. “We learned really quickly that to roll the program out slowly, just adding a couple more countries, probably wasn’t serving our meeting owners best,” she said. So rather than a methodical, country-by-country approach, Capannola’s team tackled the global expansion by addressing meeting owners’ actual project portfolios.

“We couldn’t provide meeting owners with efficiencies if they could use the global program for their meeting in one or two countries but in this other country they can’t. It’s confusing for them. As a meeting owner, you need help everywhere,” said Capannola. “I’d rather deal with one sourcing manager for the full portfolio of meetings I might be doing this year.”

Capannola’s team finished the global rollout by the end of World Bank’s 2017 fiscal year.

A Bit of Give & Take 

The decision to forego master service agreements and focus instead on a meeting-by-meeting sourcing strategy supported the global portfolio approach to expansion and likely sped time to market overall. It may also give meetings organizers more flexibility when selecting venues, in that World Bank does not steer them to preferred partners. Still, the program overall began with a savings initiative, so World Bank is looking at costs closely. 

“Value is certainly the objective with our procurements,” Capannola said. “When we get the results of the marketplace, we will highlight the total cost of the meeting to our meeting owner and look at what fits our needs best and [which venue] has put together a compelling offer.”

Successful bidders also must accept World Bank’s standard contract addendum that covers, among other areas, cancellation and attrition clauses. This particular process benefits from previous MSAs, and Capannola acknowledged that the decision to move forward with individual negotiations for each meeting has challenges.

“It takes longer to source each meeting. That’s one thing I hear from the meeting owners,” said Capannola. “My addendum looks different than some others because of the type of institution the World Bank is.” Venues in smaller markets, in particular, “may take a few moments” with the legal documents when “meeting owners just want to jump in and get started,” she said. “Institutionally, the World Bank has said there’s value in this process, even though I know it can feel bureaucratic.”

Measuring Success

The strategic sourcing process has driven significant value to World Bank, not just in room rates and meeting costs like food and beverage but also by mitigating risk through better contract terms and increased visibility. Capannola has leveraged these improvements to reduce financial penalties for canceled space, for example. Having a more comprehensive view of meetings throughout the world has allowed her team to place meetings in venues where earlier meetings had been canceled, thus avoiding damages. “That’s been very fortuitous,” she said. “It’s not hard to do anymore … because we’ve got that global view.”

But Capannola acknowledged that over time, World Bank has come to understand many of the other benefits meetings management brings to the table. “Savings is still really important, but safety and security, compliance, reputational risk management have all become just as important,” she said. “And we are developing new elements of the program to bring more of those other benefits to the table.”

The security piece has a been a key benefit for World Bank. The ability to route automatically to regional security specialists with local knowledge of events like an election or local holidays has added a lot of value for meeting owners. “They have that nice local perspective,” said Capannola.

Her team is working to build out more local support by implementing what Capannola called “event management services on demand,” which will provide destination management services like ground transportation arrangement and translation services even in World Bank’s smallest markets. “Meeting owners will be able to engage through our vendor for each event,” said Capannola.

The team also will continue to tighten some of the nuts and bolts of the program. Given Capannola’s strategy to expand rapidly to global markets, she admits the program wasn’t focused on perfection in each location. She’s looking to implement Cvent in World Bank’s smaller markets to enable more comprehensive management and data capture. Her team also is running more exception reporting, but Capannola has never taken a punitive approach to course correction. “We are looking at compliance rates in each market now and finding where we need to offer more education and raise awareness of the program,” she said. “We want to show meeting owners the clear benefits of the program and drive all that management value back to World Bank.”

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