Natalia Kovicak became president of the Economic Club of Grand Rapids in early August after 12 years at The Right Place Inc., most recently as events manager and as facilitator for the Manufacturers Council. A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Kovicak calls leading the Econ Club a “dream job” where she can “bring people together” and “bring high-level, relevant content to our community and help our leaders continue to grow and impact our community.” Kovicak spoke with MiBiz about how the Econ Club has adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic and what’s ahead.
What interested you in the position at the Economic Club?
The Econ Club brings a large platform to do what I’m passionate about — to connect, inform and inspire our business community, and it’s a bigger platform than what I had been doing at The Right Place. To me, the Econ Club is the premier organization to allow all of us to bring information and to engage in big, thought-provoking conversations and to inspire strong strategic leadership.
It was risky to change a long-term job for my dream job in the middle of a pandemic, but I’m a true believer that change pushes you to grow and find new ways to do things, and you continue to learn and that’s how you move forward.
What is a challenge that came with transitioning to the leadership position during the pandemic?
We are social creatures and the Econ Club traditionally brought speakers to a meeting space with 500 or 600 people. We had to figure out how we could continue with our mission to connect, inform and inspire our diverse communities. We had to figure out how we did that effectively, how we could continue advancing our mission and bringing value to our members. Virtually, we can continue to inform on highly relevant topics and thought-provoking speakers. As far as the connection goes, obviously most people like to be in person, but we are going to bring virtual networking sessions with breakout sessions where we will have our members continue connecting and developing meaningful connections.
Has the pandemic changed the Econ Club’s focus?
Our mission continues to be the same. We haven’t changed who we are, and today it is more relevant than ever that we provide a platform of some sort where our members can develop meaningful connections, get the latest information, and we inspire them to grow as stronger leaders. The way we have changed is bringing that in a virtual platform and we are learning as we go. We are going to be offering virtual networking opportunities. We are going to be offering what we call virtual executive roundtable discussions that will allow us to pick a topic that is relevant, timely and very informative, and then have conversations in smaller groups about that topic.
What’s the Econ Club’s biggest opportunity?
To push ourselves to continue to be creative and to challenge ourselves to continue to innovate and to learn new ways. Professionally, the pandemic has pushed me to find new ways to continue to bring relevant programs to connect, inform and inspire our community.
The other opportunity has been to leverage strategic partnerships and collaborations, to learn from each other, and to embrace the change in a way.
What have you learned in your first few months at the Econ Club?
That we can be creative, we can bring our community together, and we can continue to bring value to our leaders in either platform (in person or virtual) as long as our mission is relevant.
The learning is never comfortable, but when you’re pushed to change and adapt, and be flexible, and create and innovate, you become a stronger professional, and I think we’ve all learned through this pandemic. New ways of doing things for any professional, for any of us — the innovation is what keeps us moving forward. New ways to communicate with our teams, new ways to engage our team players, new ways to collaborate with strategic partners and continue adding value to our communities.
What’s new this year for the Econ Club?
One of our key strategic initiatives is to improve diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels of the Economic Club. That’s why we are creating the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council, which will provide critical advice on how to purposefully create programs and a meeting environment where diverse members feel that they belong to our club. The goal is to provide critical advice on how to purposely create programming and an immediate environment to attract and retain our diverse members.
The other new thing is creation of the virtual roundtable discussions and a new leaders council. We need to find ways where we can motivate our future leaders and develop strategies to help attract them, mentor them and encourage them in a way to develop strong relationships, and also for us to learn from the younger leaders in topics of relevance for them as well.