GM Business Connect talked with Paul Whitnell, Founder of the British and Irish Trading Alliance (BITA), which is a non-profit networking organisation operating across the UK and Ireland, about the impact of the pandemic on their organisation and their membership. Paul commented: “Like many of our members, we found that last year was almost like pressing a reset, or at least a pause, button. We have all examined ourselves over the last few months and many of us have found a resilience and adaptability that we didn’t know we had. A side-effect of reducing the number of face-to-face meetings and opportunities for socialising is that we have all had to slow down. Work may be busier than usual, but most of us have a lot more down-time. A by-product of this, for myself anyway, is that I’ve become more aware of the opportunities and people around me.
“Many businesses have tunnel-vision and only focus purely on their businesses and what they can do, but this slowing down has allowed people the luxury of time. Time to look around and see how those around them can help, and to realise that there are different ways of doing things. As an organisation we have always preached the virtues of face-to-face meetings and lively events, so had to pivot quickly to ensure we were offering what our members needed, not what we thought they wanted. By approaching it in this way, we made the most of a unique opportunity. We took the time to review our member benefits, operations, policies, and processes; building a new platform for members to share work and access training.
“Our values: passion, integrity, and delivery, remain the same as they embody how we operate, and what it means to be a part of our community.
“We also closely examined where our passions lie and why we exist, so reviewing our mission statement and future goals was essential. The updated mission statement sums up how we work and what we do in one short sentence: At BITA we ‘help more people, and influence further, as a collective.’ This simple and concise statement encapsulates us as an organisation with three main points: helping people, influencing change, and acting as one. We help people by giving our time and expertise to work closely with our members to see where potential synergies lie, always encouraging collaboration over competition.
“BITA has spent years working with the UK and Irish Embassies, and building relationships with other governments, trading bodies and lobbying groups. Because of this we are in an excellent position to make sure that the voices of our members are heard, and their views given weight. BITA is a community, and we are growing stronger all the time. Our friendly members, engaged boards, and expanding chapters mean that we are exceptionally well positioned to make a genuine difference to businesses. Our small team means we are nimble enough to act quickly when circumstances change.
“This served us very well in 2020 when, in a few short months, we transformed from an organisation that focused on face-to-face interactions, to one that offered all the benefits of membership online. We have been carrying out targeted introductions and using technology to offer online networking events that are as close to the real thing as possible. In addition, we have constructed a new training platform that offers accredited online courses and launched a procurement hub so that our members can directly benefit from the incredible companies that make up our community. As a result of this work, and the time we put into solidifying our relationships, we have grown globally in 2020, gaining valuable access to different people and cultures. We are quickly realising that the innovative trailblazers from across the world can offer exciting solutions for difficult challenges here at home.
“To capitalise on this, we are conducting intensive strategic discussions with members, to find out where our new contacts and experience can help drive success.”
“We have now temporarily taken our meetings online – linking our nationwide groups together. We’re using a new platform that businesses may not be familiar with ‘Remo’, which means members and guests can move around the virtual room and network at tables of up to 6 of their choice, and connect with contacts by webcam speaking, messaging and connecting through their loaded profile through their LinkedIn account in seconds. We’re finding this increases everyone’s profile on a national basis, linking to all our members in Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, London, Ireland, Devon and The Isle of Man.”