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Spotlight: Q&A with WTCA Executive Director-Business Development, Robin van Puyenbroeck

Robin – thank you so much for (virtually) sitting with us today and congratulations again on your new role at the World Trade Centers Association (WTCA). Can you take a moment to briefly discuss your professional background and what attracted you to the WTCA?

Let me first thank everyone at the Association for the warm welcome I received during my first virtual weeks. As to my background, I am a lawyer by training, and have worked at a financial institution in various capacities as a business consultant, and, most recently, as Vice President Business Development at a US-based global retailer. My professional life has always been about relationship management and business development, creating partnerships and, in every capacity, it was about thinking outside of the box. I have always had a passion for international affairs, which is reflected in my leadership engagements at non-profit and intergovernmental organizations that are active in that area. My personal and professional passions to create a meaningful impact and to be purpose-driven comes together at the WTCA through its core mission of facilitating global trade. Additionally, I was impressed with the strategic exercise the organization went through and how engaged the WTCA Board is.

What is your impression of the Association and its Members so far?
I am dedicating quality time engaging with our Members and all of our stakeholders to really get a grasp of the organization’s heartbeat. Throughout this journey, I have encountered so many talented and driven people who truly care about the organization, for whom the WTC is so much more than a brand. Further, the WTCA’s global network of Members has proven very resilient during this challenging time with the COVID-19 pandemic. As we can read from the COVID-19 Hero stories in this issue, our Members have come together in advisory groups and through organizing webcasts, providing resources for each other as well as their local communities. They support each other and are navigating these uncertain times together. That is the uniqueness of being a membership-based organization. I find this very empowering.

As this is a newly created position, what are your priorities?
My priorities are to grow our organization and expand our global footprint, enhancing membership engagement, and strengthening our brand equity. In summary, to make us future-proof. I envision our growth quantitatively and qualitatively with membership engagement and trade services driving both at the core. We are going to have an active voice in the conversation on global trade and be part of various international platforms where that conversation happens. Regarding our global expansion, we will work on expanding the definition of trade to include logistics — moving goods and people — hospitality, and education. We have a tremendous opportunity to leverage this intersection because of the expertise of our Membership base. Imagine the WTCA as a beehive of economic activity and trade services with iconic buildings, airports, seaports, free trade zones, tourism infrastructure, and, yes, also universities located all around the world.

This is certainly a very interesting and challenging time. How do you think international trade and globalization will change for the future, and how must global businesses adapt to these changes?
What the pandemic — and the resulting global economic recession that it has triggered — has shown us is that we need to re-evaluate how we conduct our business, live our lives, and question the sustainability of the current economic model. As we see a new form of globalization unfolding, a digital globalization, the ability for people around the world to connect with one another in a trusted environment has become an essential business necessity. Therefore, our mission is now more important and relevant than ever. This time of crisis also brings to the forefront the importance of sustainability and ESG – Environmental, Social, and Governance — principles. These cover how we conduct ourselves, how we treat each other fairly and with dignity, how we care for the environment, and how we operate with good governance. A business strategy that embraces sustainability will make an organization more adaptable to change and gain better tools to become a driver of change.

What do you envision for the future of our Association?
The WTC brand is a globally recognized icon of trust. It brings great credibility as a facilitator of international trade. As an Association, we have a strong heritage with a Board of Directors that is very committed and forward-looking. This will allow us to drive change, be agile, grow, and become a true global leader that brings people together in an environment of trust. I envision the WTCA as a unique cosmos of economic activity — an inspiration and a beacon of rock-solid business connections strengthened by mission-driven partnerships.

Anything else you’d like to share with our Members to get to know you better?
I believe that life is all about challenging our comfort zone so that we can expand, explore, and rejuvenate. The process of change may not always be easy, but when completed, we come out stronger. Insanity is doing the same things over again, but expecting different results.

Member Perspective - Special Section: COVID-19 Hero Stories From Around The Network (North America)

WTC Denver
Douglas Jackson, PhD, JD, President and CEO, Project C.U.R.E. and Board Member, WTC Denver 

For more than 30 years, Project C.U.R.E. — a non-profit, humanitarian relief organization that has been a member of WTC Denver for more than a decade — has shipped donated medical supplies and equipment to people in need around the world. During a normal week, the organization delivers about five semi-truck-sized, 40-foot containers filled with everything from catheters to CAT-scans to nearly 140 countries. Until COVID-19. 

On March 16, Project C.U.R.E. received calls from local fire departments and hospitals mentioning they were running very low on PPEs. And the calls kept coming. To address this need, the organization cleared the PPE inventory from its seven warehouses. When those were gone, the team organized collection drives with major league sports teams such as the Arizona CARDINALS®, Chicago BULLS® and Denver BRONCOS®. To date, about 10 semi-trailers filled with medical supplies and equipment have been delivered to frontline healthcare workers across the country. Today, Project C.U.R.E. is continuing in the fight against COVID-19 by providing PPEs to rural hospitals across Colorado and other rural states — partnering with the Civil Air Patrol — and delivering 22,500 emergency relief beds to developing countries around the world. 

Wtc Denver Project Cure 1

Photo caption: A Project C.U.R.E. volunteer helps Colorado residents unload their donated PPEs at Project C.U.R.E.’s PPE drive at Empower Field. 

Photo credit: Project C.U.R.E.

WTC Utah
Clayton Chudleigh, Communications Coordinator, WTC Utah

All members of the WTC Utah (WTCU) team are playing a leading role to mitigate the negative economic impacts of COVID-19. As the chair of the Governor's Economic Response Task Force’s Federal Committee, WTCU led an aggressive statewide public awareness campaign, educating hundreds of thousands in Utah about the Paycheck Protection Program. WTCU also created a team of 50+ volunteers to provide one-on-one assistance to 2,000+ small businesses.

WTCU is using its international network to support Utah’s multicultural community, which has been hit hardest during the pandemic. WTCU facilitated a USD $50,000 donation from the Saudi-based Muslim World League for Utah’s refugee-owned businesses, and arranged for a donation of thousands of masks from a Taiwanese company to Utah’s homeless community. WTCU is also collaborating with multicultural state leaders to ensure resources are available in many languages, and is helping to develop the “Utah Leads Together” economic recovery plan.

Wtc Utah Pano Team

Photo caption: As part of Utah's “Stay Safe to Stay Open” campaign, this photo shows the importance of social distancing and is one of the many ways the WTCU team has supported numerous COVID-19 relief and education initiatives throughout the state. Pictured from left to right: Julia Breinholt-Pappas, Miles Hansen, Nicole Sherwood, David Carlebach, Hannah Lowry, Ethan Fong, and Paxton Merrill.

Photo credit: Julia Breinholt-Pappas

Member Perspective - Special Section: COVID-19 Hero Stories From Around The Network (Africa)

WTC Accra
Edem Kofi Yevutsey, General Manager, WTC Accra

Ghana recorded its first case of COVID-19 on March 12, igniting a concerted and collaborative effort between the government and private individuals to manage its public health, social, and economic impacts.

The team at WTC Accra — led by Executive Chairman Togbe Afede XIV — supported the government’s COVID-19 management efforts. In late-March, Togbe Afede XIV donated 2,200 bottles of hand sanitizers along with GHC100,000.00 (about USD $17,000) to two local hospitals. Further, Togbe Afede XIV, who is also co-founder of the Sunon-Asogli Power Plant and Africa World Airlines, also donated a total of USD $200,000 to the government’s COVID-19 Relief Fund in partnership with those two firms. The funds were used by the government to finance mass COVID-19 testing and purchase food for the most vulnerable Ghanaians.

Wtc Accra Photo Preferred

Photo caption: WTC Accra Executive Chairman Togbe Afede XIV and partners present checks of USD $200,000 to Ghana's COVID-19 Relief Fund.

Photo credit: WTC Accra

Member Perspective - Special Section: COVID-19 Hero Stories From Around The Network (Europe)

WTC Barcelona
Judith Llorente, Marketing Manager, WTC Barcelona

WTC Barcelona (WTCB)wanted to do its part in the fight against the pandemic, so the team encouraged their community to show their support to the COVID-19 healthcare workers and patients by launching an initiative called “No Esteu Sols” (You Are Not Alone). The initiative seeks to make professionals and patients feel more supported by the entire WTCB Virtual Community.

Partnering with Hospital Clinic de Barcelona, the WTCB team set up an email address to receive messages, letters, drawings, and videos from the community expressing encouragement and appreciation to these professionals and patients. A selection of these submissions is published on the Clinic’s website. To date, numerous submissions have been received, and the WTCB team is confident that this initiative has helped professionals and patients continue in the fight against COVID-19. Initiatives like this show frontline workers and patients that they are not alone because the #WTCBVirtualCommunity is with them.

Wtc Barcelona   Photo

Photo caption: In partnership with Hospital Clinic de Barcelona, WTC Barcelona launched an initiative called “No Esteu Sols” (You Are Not Alone) to support the professionals and patients of COVID-19.

Photo credit:

WTC Leeuwarden
E.J. Schouwstra, Managing Director, WTC Leeuwarden

Touched by first response efforts and a strong drive to make a small difference during the COVID-19 pandemic, Anniek van Aert and Dokkumer Vlaggen Centrale (DVC), a member of WTC Leeuwarden, joined forces and developed the Corona flag.

“The flag makes a great symbol by displaying two hands holding each other, shaping a heart. That’s what this is about — showing you care and support local heroes and those in need,” said Anniek van Aert.

Through this initiative, DVC offered the opportunity for citizens to give a shout out to first responders without leaving their homes and donate to the Red Cross in the Netherlands. Van Aert added that “It was heartwarming. I received pictures from all over the country where this flag was waving. We need to show we stand together and empathize with each other in these difficult times.”

To date, DVC has raised €37.500 for the Red Cross in the Netherlands.

Wtc Leeuwarden Bossche Parels Vlaggen Met Elkaar Voor Elkaar Anniek Van Aert St.Jan

Photo caption: Anniek van Aert displays the flag DVC created to support local heroes and those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo credit: WTC Leeuwarden / Dokkumer Vlaggen Centrale (DVC)

Member Perspective - Special Section: COVID-19 Hero Stories From Around The Network (Asia Pacific)

WTC Metro Manila
Pamela D. Pascual, President and CEO, WTC Metro Manila

WTC Metro Manila (WTCMM) — a pioneer in world-class exhibition venues in the Philippines — was converted into a COVID-19 center on April 3 to help the government address the looming gap in hospitals and healthcare facilities throughout the country. Private companies came forward to donate personal protective equipment, rubbing alcohol, hygiene kits, meals, beds, beddings, among others, to complete the facility’s infrastructure and meet the needs of the frontliners and patients. The medical team of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) managed the medical and operational needs of the center, ensuring the safety and care of the patients. To date, WTCMM’s We Heal As One Center has accommodated and treated more than 1,600 patients.

Wtc Metro Manila

Photo caption: Ms. Pamela D. Pascual, WTCMM President and CEO with government officials for the We Heal As One Center partnership. From left to right: Mr. Vince Dizon, Deputy Chief Implementer of NTF-COVID-19 and Chief Testing Czar; Secretary Delfin Lorenzana of the Department of National Defense; Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Chief Implementer of NTF-COVID-19; and Undersecretary Emil Sadain of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Photo credit: WTC Metro Manila

WTC Pune
Prakash Mirpuri, Executive Vice President - Communications & Marketing, Panchshil Foundation (WTC Pune)

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Panchshil Foundation — the CSR arm of Panchshil Realty, one of India’s leading real estate developers and a member of WTC Pune — embarked on a multi-pronged initiative to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on daily-wage workers. The Foundation provided food hampers with basic essentials such as rice, dal, cooking oil, and eggs to those in need. Nitin Wankhade, Assistant Manager-Safety — who has been with Panchshil Realty for a decade — is the WTC Pune community hero as he led the initiatives from the frontlines. Over the past two months, Nitin oversaw and participated in the distribution of more than 35,000 food hampers to the impacted communities. Further, in partnership with a team from the 5th Battalion of the Elite National Disaster Response Force, Nitin also led and coordinated special community education drives to raise awareness about COVID-19 and the precautions vulnerable populations need to take at the community level.

Wtc Pune   Supporting Images

Photo caption: Nitin Wanhkade distributes food hampers and leads the community education drive with the Elite National Disaster Response Force team.

Photo credit: Panchshil Realty

WTC Taipei
Elina Lee, Executive Director of Planning and Finance Department, WTC Taipei

As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, Taiwan’s fight against the pandemic has drawn international attention and requests seeking exchange and collaboration. In response, Taiwan has been actively sharing lessons learned from the 2003 SARS outbreak and working with communities worldwide.

In April, WTC Taipei worked with the National Cheng Kung University Hospital to host an online seminar for 9,000 doctors in India and share Taiwan’s epidemic prevention experience. Since then, over 20 online seminars have taken place with more than 15,000 medical professionals in attendance from various countries, including Bangladesh, Colombia, Kenya, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, Peru, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

To help people from both public and private business sectors, WTC Taipei has worked with more than 2,000 companies and 21 hospitals, as well as diplomatic and economic organizations, to launch the “Taiwan Global Anti-COVID-19 Pavilion.” The Pavilion offers resources for epidemic prevention, and matches global demands for medical technology and devices with their corresponding suppliers.

Wtc Taipei Photo

Photo caption: Taiwan Global Anti-COVID-19 Pavilion.

Photo credit: Elina Lee