President's Commentary: AFCEA Has the Same Mission but With Different Emphases

January 1, 2021
By Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC (Ret.)

This new year marks the 75th anniversary of AFCEA’s founding. The storied history of this organization is defined by accomplishments and changes, many of which occurred in 2020. Since its founding at Fraunces Tavern in New York, the purpose remains the same; if anything, the recent events have increased the association’s importance.

When AFCEA was founded after World War II by a group of notables that included David Sarnoff, Daryl F. Zanuck, Harry Ingles and Fred Friendly, its goal was to ensure that the wartime relationship between the electronics industry and government continued to everyone’s benefit in peacetime. For 75 years, AFCEA has served as a place for government and industry to come together as the free world meets the challenges that continue to arise with the passage of time.

Longtime association members have debated whether AFCEA is a membership organization or an event organization. The easy answer is both, but the real answer is not confined to those two categories. AFCEA is an enterprise encompassing organizations and activities, and at its core, is an information exchange association that promotes critical thinking and ideas in key areas of national security.

The Three Year Plan (url.afcea.org/3-YearPlan) devised for AFCEA remains relevant even in the post-pandemic era. Yet, going forward, we must ask ourselves what is the azimuth of our course for the future? The answer will likely include implications on organization, processes and investment.

And these areas are vital for AFCEA’s role as an information exchange. The association enterprise has a wealth of information and data that can be leveraged for good, nationally and internationally. The evolution to that end has taken many years and technology advances, but its presence is undeniable. The COVID-19 pandemic has borne it out—in some cases through the limitations on events and travel imposed by the spread of the virus.

Despite necessary pandemic restrictions, AFCEA and its chapters have been able to promote a vital exchange of information through new venues such as the virtual world. Online conferences, webinars and symposia have featured leaders from government, industry, academia and the military. The past 10 months have been insightful in terms of leveraging technology to promote future information exchange.

The lessons learned from the limitations of the pandemic are going to expand AFCEA’s capabilities and international reach. After the virus is vanquished, the subsequent months in 2021 will see new methods of information sharing incorporated into association operations. As we move ahead, the enduring lessons learned, both from headquarters and from chapters, will be continually assessed and implemented, as appropriate. These new ways of extending AFCEA’s influence and thought leadership will be driven by technologies, which is appropriate given the association’s tradition.

But the key will be to align the human, technological and regional resources offered by this new era. AFCEA must leverage both information and human skills, both at headquarters and in the field, to reap the benefits. Hybrid constructs (in person combined with virtual) take time to prove their worth, and often that comes only after trial and error. But the hybridization of AFCEA activities will be a major thrust into the future.

And that future will be broader than the past. New venues such as space will be part of an increased emphasis by AFCEA to promote vital partnerships. The association was an early mover with cyber, and that approach will be applied to its activities in the “final frontier.” AFCEA’s presence in the vast Indo-Pacific region and Southern Hemisphere will grow, with several countries in those regions increasing their involvement with the association. Information technologies can minimize the “tyranny of distance” there and globally.

Diversity long has been a goal for AFCEA, and efforts in that area will increase. The association will show that it can walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Everyone should feel welcome in AFCEA, and everyone will be given an opportunity to flourish.

Headquarters will strive to determine the best balance of work-from-home and in-person office operations. Aspects of AFCEA, such as the Educational Foundation, will seek new methods and new partners in promoting STEM education at the K-8 level. Resources such as SIGNAL Kids (url.afcea.org/SIGNALforKids) will be provided to assist in developing interest in STEM at a much earlier point in child development.

The post-pandemic breakout is coming, and we won’t be caught unaware. The staff and volunteers are in constant contact about new methods and assets to promote our goals and objectives. The technology-based endeavors the association turned to during the worst months of the virus, to include a new association management system, will be incorporated into traditional activities to generate a new way of serving freedom around the world. AFCEA’s founding fathers would be pleased.

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