Smart Talk: Q&A With Fiona Pelham

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fiona-pelhamEntrepreneur and sustainability advocate Fiona Pelham will become international chair for Meeting Professionals International (MPI) in January, 2016

How did you become involved in the industry?

I have always been involved in events. I was the one who arranged the school fashion show, and was a Girl Scout leader for a long time—we did a lot of community events. I’ve always believed in the power of events to make a difference.

What events-related businesses have you been involved with?

I am an entrepreneur, and my career has developed over the last 10 years. In 2004, I launched an event management company focused on planning events in a way that is good for the environment and local communities. It quickly became clear that the supply chain needed support to do that, so in 2004 I created Positive impact, a global non-profit providing education, case studies and opportunities to collaborate. By 2009, it was clear that we were world leaders in what we were doing, but people wanted more than education—they wanted direct support and hand-holding. That’s how Sustainable Events, Ltd came about. It’s a consultancy; we help clients implement sustainability strategies.

Tell is about your interest in sustainability. Why is it important to you?

My educational background is not in sustainability, but I have always been interested in it—without knowing the term. I care about it because we are living in a world that isn’t really working; we can see effects of climate change, hunger and people not living in peaceful places. For me, sustainability is about finding new and innovative solutions to these challenges and making a positive difference in the world. Raising the profile for sustainability is a daily focus and a main part of my career.

How did you become involved with Meetings Professionals International?

In 2004, while living in Austin, Texas, I attended an MPI event. It was inspiring to be surrounded by a community that was so passionate about events and understood the difference it could make. When I returned to the U.K., I went online to find MPI in Manchester. The nearest chapter was in London. I went to one of their meetings, and then decided to get involved.

What have you learned serving as a leader of the U.K. and Ireland chapters, and as a member of MPI’s international board?

I have learned a lot about integrity. If we promise something, the buck stops with me as the chapter president. Being on MPI’s international board, I learned about the huge potential the association has to impact the world. I’ve been able to grow my strategic skills because being on the international board requires thinking about long-term strategy. The world is changing quickly, and the role of the association in that world is also changing.

Have you had any mentors?

I have had loads of mentors and am thankful to all of them. I would encourage everyone to mentor others to build up people’s confidence. One mentor acknowledged me for work I had done on sustainability. It wasn’t something I was expecting, and it made a big difference for me and my career.

What are some of the accomplishments you are most proud of?

I chaired the creation of the ISO 20121 standard [for the International Organization for Standardization] from 2010 to 2012, before it became an international standard. I was the youngest female to chair an ISO at the time. I also received an honorary doctorate from Leeds Beckett University last year. I now have the responsibility to really consider the academic side of the events industry and how we can involve academic research in everything that we do.

What makes you a good leader?

I’ll admit that I have thought that communication is really important. It’s not just telling people what to do, although early on in my career I thought that was what communication was. I’ve learned that it is about taking the time to get to know people, listen to their ideas and discover what they are passionate about in order to come up with a shared outcome that we both want to see. I’ve learned to not be scared to stand up for and champion an idea. And I’ve also learned that it’s important to have fun.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I love traveling. I also volunteer with my local football club. Every Saturday when I’m in Manchester, I sell match-day programs for FC United of Manchester.


Fiona Pelham 

Hometown: Manchester, United Kingdom

Education: Honorary Doctorate from Leeds Beckett University;
M.A. in management from University of St Andrews in Scotland

Career: Managing director of: Positive Impact, a nonprofit education provider aiming to create a sustainable event industry; Sustainable Events, Ltd, a consulting company that helps clients create sustainable events; and Organise This, an event management company