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Project 40 Progress Report

Published: Apr 24, 2015

by Leann Saunders, USMEF Chair

Members who attended the USMEF Strategic Planning Conference in November will recall the launch of Project 40 – a USMEF Executive Committee initiative designed to build on nearly 40 years of success and make USMEF a stronger organization going forward.

Having been involved with USMEF for many years through the agribusiness sector, I find it to be unparalleled in bringing so many diverse interests together with the common goal of expanding global demand for U.S. beef, pork and lamb in a manner that makes all of the organization’s stakeholders more successful and more profitable. So how do we ensure that USMEF continues to serve this role for another 40 years? Examining this question is what Project 40 is all about.

We will be discussing Project 40 at the upcoming USMEF Board of Directors Meeting in San Antonio (May 20-22), which I encourage all of you to attend. But in the meantime, I want to give members an update on what is happening with Project 40 and the steps taken so far.

The firm chosen for this project is Grant Thornton, which has consultants well-versed in conducting organizational assessments for trade associations and other not-for-profit entities. Over the past five months, Grant Thornton conducted more than 40 interviews and a member survey to gather feedback on how USMEF is currently serving the needs of its key stakeholders and examined ways in which we can enhance the level of communication, collaboration and coordination with these stakeholders. In addition to the interaction with USMEF members, this process also included visits to South Korea, Hong Kong and China, where Grant Thornton representatives met with importers, distributors, retailers and other key contacts to get their perspectives on USMEF’s effectiveness and responsiveness.

It should come as no surprise that stakeholder feedback has been extremely positive. A large majority of USMEF members participating in Project 40 feel they are receiving a strong return on their investment and that USMEF is very responsive to their needs. But areas of potential improvement have also been identified that could make the organization even stronger and more valuable to its members.

One area discussed by several participants was the need for USMEF members to be more involved in USMEF’s planning and resource allocation processes. This concern had also been raised prior to the launch of Project 40, and USMEF was already in the process of examining ways for it to be addressed. As a result of the Project 40 survey feedback and the discussions held earlier in 2014 with key stakeholders, I am pleased to report that we are making strong progress in creating a planning and resource allocation process that is more inclusive and interactive.

USMEF recently conducted its first-ever Unified Export Strategy (UES) workshops with all nine of the organization’s sectors participating. The UES is a detailed application for funds available under the USDA Market Access Program (MAP), as well as the Foreign Market Development and Emerging Markets programs. USMEF will submit its UES for Fiscal Year 2016 to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in early June.

The full-day workshops gave USMEF members an opportunity to examine marketing strategies and priorities for pork and beef based on each individual market’s import trends, growth potential, reliability and other key factors. The information presented at the workshops was outstanding, but what really impressed me was the level of engagement by the members in attendance. They asked great questions and provided excellent guidance that will be valuable to USMEF in the final preparation of the UES. Feedback from the workshops was also extremely positive, with participants anxious to make them a regular part of USMEF’s resource allocation process.

The UES workshops are just one example of how USMEF can use Project 40 to be more responsive to its members and utilize member feedback to make the organization even more successful. I believe we can employ these same principles to enhance the dialogue between USMEF and its members throughout the year in order to make their participation more interactive and more fulfilling – and the great news is, I see this already happening. I am very impressed with the way the USMEF staff and volunteer leadership have embraced Project 40. There’s been no pushback, no negativity, no resistance to change. That’s very gratifying, because Project 40 is really about striving for improvement in all areas of the organization and working every day to increase the benefits our members receive from their investment in USMEF.

I look forward to sharing more Project 40 details with you in San Antonio and throughout the year. If you have questions or want to provide input, please don’t hesitate to contact me.