MARIETTA, Ga. — The Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) took a strong stance to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, not just condemning Russia’s actions but taking actions of its own. As Hervé Sedky, Chairman SISO Board of Directors and Emerald CEO, said, “We cannot stand by and watch this conflict unfold without taking action.” Those actions include suspending SISO’s Russian members from participating in the organization’s events and launching a fundraising campaign to contribute to ongoing humanitarian efforts.
The decision is not an uncontroversial one. Several meetings and events industry organizations, including the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and the Events Industry Council (EIC), came out with strong statements condemning Russia’s actions and expressing support for the people of Ukraine, but stopped short of barring Russian members from participating in activities or taking other actions. Others, including SISO and Meeting Professionals International, put some teeth behind their words by taking actions to sanction their members in Russia.
Trade Show Executive recently caught up with Sedky and David Audrain, SISO’s CEO, to learn more about why SISO is taking action against Russia, in addition to expressing support for Ukraine.
TSE: What prompted SISO to take these actions at this point in time?
Sedky: Because of the humanitarian crisis that continues to develop from Russia’s unprovoked attack and invasion of Ukraine, SISO was compelled to take immediate action in line with the sweeping economic sanctions that have been imposed on Russia. It is hoped that our actions will contribute, at least in some part, to the overall effort to compel the Russian government to reverse course and withdraw their military forces from Ukraine. We also feel compelled to provide meaningful support to help raise funds for humanitarian relief efforts to ease the suffering of the Ukrainian people during this time of incredible hardship.
TSE: How might these actions affect SISO events and activities?
Audrain: Because the Russian economy is relatively small on a global scale, ranked 11th overall, participation in SISO from Russian companies is at a similar level and represents a minor percentage of our membership. Therefore, we don’t expect suspending access for Russian members to have a significant effect on SISO events.
TSE: What feedback have you received from the membership so far?
Audrain: Thus far we are getting overwhelming positive feedback from our membership regarding SISO’s response to what is happening in Ukraine and taking this action. The consensus from our membership from virtually every region of the world is that we need to collectively do all that is within our power and utilize every resource at our disposal to put pressure on Russia in an attempt to bring this crisis to an end as quickly as possible.
TSE: Are members asking SISO for guidance on any similar actions they should take for their own shows? If so, what types of questions and concerns are you hearing at this point?
Audrain: In addition to providing many benefits to our members, the mission of SISO is to provide leadership on all issues affecting the trade show, consumer show, exposition, conference and events industry. We are encouraging all of our members to consider suspending participation from all Russian exhibitors and attendees at their individual shows to collectively maximize the impact. As always, SISO is here to provide guidance and support for all of our members in doing that.
TSE: Do you have any more information about the fundraising campaign you can share?
Sedky: We chose to help raise funds for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) because their relief programs are among the largest and most reputable in the world. And, most importantly, their teams are on the ground right now helping with the refugee crisis in Ukraine and neighboring countries. As is being reported by national and international news outlets, this is the biggest refugee crisis to impact Europe since World War II and we are strongly encouraging SISO members, their exhibitors and their individual event attendees to contribute to this urgent need.
TSE: Do you have any further thoughts you can share on how the evolving situation in Ukraine could affect trade shows moving forward?
Audrain: As with our governmental and economic leaders in the U.S., we are greatly concerned about what Russia has done in Ukraine because of both the humanitarian crisis it has caused and the negative impact it can potentially have on the global economy. While it is still too early to know to what extent, we expect it will have some impact on our industry as well. What we do know for certain is that the sooner this crisis is brought to an end, the better it will be for our industry and, most importantly, to relieve the suffering of the Ukrainian people.
Reach David Audrain at (404) 334-4585; reach Hervé Sedky at firstname.lastname@example.org