8th IAC Café Conversation: Business Sustainability

11 September 2012 | Ingrid Sinclair

Delegates got face-to-face time to brainstorm challenges and solutions at the first 8th IAC Café Conversation session. All photos by Ingrid Sinclair Delegates got face-to-face time to brainstorm challenges and solutions at the first 8th IAC Café Conversation session. All photos by Ingrid Sinclair

The first of two 8th International Aquarium Congress (IAC) Café Conversation sessions happened during the pre-lunch session today at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. 8th IAC delegates were asked to split up and join others in groups of four around tables, where large swathes of paper and colourful pens were waiting. This was to be an interactive brainstorming session.

Each table was hosted by an IAC volunteer, and groups were rotated three times to ensure that different minds met to discuss two questions: “What challenges are you as a business currently facing?” and “What have you done as a business to overcome these challenges?”

The tables

Café-style sessions require more intimate seating arrangements than the traditional tiered auditorium, so many small tables were required. We decided to have tables made rather than to hire them and sourced local company Eco-furniture Design to produce eco-friendly tables made from reclaimed or sustainably harvested timber and recycled materials. During the IAC, delegates will have the opportunity to “buy” the tables, which will then be donated to under-resourced schools in Cape Town.

Click here to read more about the 8th IAC’s commitment to sustainability.

“What challenges is your business currently facing?”

Groups were asked to brainstorm the question “What challenges are you as a business currently facing?” and write down their answer on a piece of card. Here are some of the comments that surfaced after the short session.

“Finding the balance between mission and profitability.”

“Satisfying the multi-stakeholders interest.”

“Financial restraints sometimes related to governments and councils that govern the work that we do.”

“Most things boil down to cost and time.”

“Communication. The way that we communicate about things that we see as problematic, especially within the organisation itself about things we see as problematic.”

“Engaging future visitors and the role of technology in institutions.”

“Education and programmes that really stimulate learning, and how to assess whether your leearnings have been transferred onto our visitors.”

“Politics and how that affects the business we’re in. You always need to balance the politics of your organisation, and how do you not sell your soul while meeting the investors’ expectations?”

“How to attract visitors and how to meet changing expectations of visitors. They want to more involved in their visits, they want to feel it, taste it, smell it.”

“Lack of reinvestment.”

“Complexity of permits that you need to gather in order to build and construct an aquarium.”

“The main challenge is getting visitors through the door.”

“The understanding of what we need to do to try and fulfill our mission and getting that message back to the people who manages the manage”

Emerging themes

Most responses related to themes that appear to be universal for business sustainability and aquariums. Staffing, building knowledge, finance and budget, internal communication, vision vs profitability, the interests of stakeholders, business management, complexity of permits, and the challenge of visitation.

“What have you done as a business to overcome these challenges?”

Here are some responses to the question, “What have you done as a business to overcome these challenges?”

“Coherency and consistency of messages.”

“After-hours opportunities to drive revenue. Creative financing. Staff engagement and internal accountability and ownership.”

“Have all staff at every level understand the whole business.”

“Leadership is shared.”

“Engaging employees to address a disconnect.”

“Succession planning.”

“To continuously provide new and innovative experiences for the visitors.”

“Finding and imagining new energy solutions for aquariums. How we can walk the talk, using more energy efficient equipment?”

“Use proper communication to get new visitors, focus on marketing, improve our offering and listen to critics.”

“To look at external funding: it doesn’t necessarily need to be money but could also be relevant materials”

Emerging themes

Interesting potential solutions presented themselves. It is important to educate stakeholders about the value of aquariums; diversification of revenue sources needs to occur; capitalise on green opportunities to minimise carbon footprint and take steps towards becoming environmentally sustainable; break down the disconnect between staff members and mission vision; have a renewed emphasis on market research and learn how to innovate on a continuous basis.

Join the conversation

Please follow the 8th IAC on Twitter here – whether you’ll be attending or not. We’ll be using the hashtag #8thIAC on Twitter for IAC coverage, so follow that too. You can also “like” our page on Facebook and please do join our group on LinkedIn here for regular IAC updates, pictures and news.  

  • Author: Ingrid Sinclair


  1. Russell Stevens’s avatar
    Russell Stevens 12/09/2012 #

    To all the delegates.  Please do not forget to purchase a set of tables on behalf of your organisation….. or even a table or two out of your own funds.  These Cafe tables have been donated to schools for students to work at. The tables will be delivered from Friday while you are shark cage diving or whale watching.  The tables were made by a township carpenter here in Cape Town out of shipping pallets.  Speak to any of the LOC or staff . Thank you Russell

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