World HR Congress in Sri Lanka: Opportunities galore | Sunday Observer

World HR Congress in Sri Lanka: Opportunities galore

21 February, 2021

It was a rigorous yet rewarding process that we went through in competitive bidding towards hosting the most prestigious global event in the field of human resource management (HRM) in 2021. Today’s column is a thought sharing of the relevance of it to Sri Lanka with multiple implications to diverse spheres such as tourism, education, management and leadership.


There is a World HR Congress initiated by the World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA). Reflecting its international origins and concerns, the meeting location moves among its member countries.  The World Congress has been held since 1986 in twelve different countries. The most recent one was held in Chicago, USA in 2018 and they handed over the organising reigns for Sri Lanka, thereafter, to host it in 2020. With the COVID19 related challenges, it had to be rescheduled for October 2021. 

The World HR Congress aptly enables HR professionals to build a global community of peers, to discuss new developments in HRM, and to network with colleagues from around the world who face similar complex challenges in HRM. It is a glamorous event in bringing in HR professionals for a refreshing reflection collectively done through a mega event rich in both intellectual and interactive dimensions. 

WFPMA in a nutshell 

It is noteworthy to discuss the details of the WFPMA. The World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA) is an organisation representing more than 700,000 people management professionals in over 950 national personnel associations around the world. It was founded in 1976 to aid the development and improve the effectiveness of professional people management all over the world. 

The founding members of WFPMA were the European Association for People Management (EAPM), Inter-American Federation of Personnel Administration (FIDAP), Inter-American Federation of Human Resource People Management Associations (FIDAGH] and American Society for Personnel Administration (now SHRM – the US Society for Human Resource Management). Subsequently the Asia Pacific Federation of Human Resource Management (APFHRM) joined as a full member in June 1980. 

The North American Human Resource Management Association (NAHRMA) was set up and admitted as a full member in April 1997. Also, African Human Resources Confederation - AHRC (formerly African Federation of Human Resources Management Associations - AFHRMA, established and admitted as a full member in March 2004.).  AHRC members are the AFHRMA, and the Federation Africaine des Formateurs et Directeurs du Personnel AFDIP).

The WFPMA advocates the development and recognition of the HR profession across the world. The WFPMA, with its member organisations, serves the public, organisations and communities worldwide by ensuring the relevance, reputation, and value of the global HR profession. Its strategic goals are stated as, create value for member organisations, thereby improving in the quality and effectiveness of professional people management which contributes to organisational success. speak out as a voice for the global HR profession and promote the importance of the HR profession.

Against a background of significant global disruption, change and the quest for competitive advantage, there is a growing awareness of the value of professional human resource management in helping to deliver that vital edge through people. The WFPMA advances its objectives through several frontiers.  

The premier among all is the World Congress held once in two years. Research on critical and emerging HR issues that have a positive impact on business is another front. Recognising outstanding world HR leaders through the WFPMA Petitpas Award is another initiative. Convening twice-yearly Board meetings and specialist working groups, facilitating networks among member countries, federations and external bodies, promoting the use of a website for the dissemination of relevant information are also significant aspects of WFPMA. They have a WorldLink newsletter published five times a year.


The Asia Pacific Federation of Human Resource Management (APFHRM) is the network of human resources and people management associations’ representative countries in the Asia Pacific region. It is duly affiliated to WFPMA. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM), Sri Lanka is a vibrant member of APFHRM. 

The APFHRM collectively intends to advance the standing of the HR and people management profession within the region. It does this through its member representatives regularly meeting to exchange knowledge and research on best practice in HR. From the member associations’ geographical proximity to one another, the Federation’s major focus is in matters relating specifically to HR in the Asia Pacific region. 

The countries that form the federation are Australia, Bangladesh, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. With the active participation of these country HR organisations, APFHRM aims to serve as the umbrella organisation of all human resources institutes within the Asia Pacific Region. It also aims at improving the quality and effectiveness of professional human resource management in the region. Further, it encourages and supports human resource professionals in creating and developing their own associations in Asia Pacific countries where they do not yet exist. Also, APFHRM provides guidance and assistance to all member countries especially with regards to their programs that will uplift the human resource management profession.

The APFHRM strives to create a network of communities of practices in the region. It encourages national HR associations to identify research and report on invaluable lessons and stories of human capital management practices that will impact personal, organisational and business effectiveness through the creation of values by different groups of human capitals.

Dhammika Fernando, the immediate past president of CIPM Sri Lanka is currently the President of the APFHRM. CIPM Sri Lanka  is also the secretariat of the APFHRM.  

APFHRM and World HR Congress

Based on the rotational nature of hosting, APFHRM got the opportunity to host the World HR Congress in 2020 (now rescheduled for 2021). This is after the WFPMA World Congress 2018 was held in conjunction with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference and Exposition in Chicago, IL, USA on June 17-20, 2018. Reflecting its international origins and concerns, the event ‘moves’ around the world. The World Congress has been held since 1986 in the following cities: 2016 Istanbul, Turkey, 2014 Santiago, Chile, 2012 Melbourne, Australia, 2010 Montreal, Canada, 2008 London, UK, 2006 Singapore, 2004 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2002 Mexico City, Mexico, 2000 Paris, France, 1998 Caracas, Venezuela, 1996 Hong Kong, 1994 San Francisco, USA, 1992 Madrid, Spain, 1990 Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1988 Sydney, Australia, 1986 Washington DC, USA.  We can clearly see that it has held twice in Australia that covers Pacific region. It was also held in Hong Kong and Singapore that covers the East Asian region. What has not yet covered in the Asia Pacific region is South Asia, which houses one fifth of the world population. That was our competitive advantage. 

The bidding in Hong Kong

One key agenda item of the Bi-annual meeting of the APFHRM held in Hong King in 2017 was the selection of the host country for World HR Congress 2020. Australia, Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka were in the foray. The bid from Australia was very impressive with the strong message of inviting to “come back” after successful completion of two such events in the past. It could have been a logical choice of preferring a tested and known brand. 

The Philippines harped on the popularity of Manila as an established venue for global conferences citing many recent ones. Thailand bid  for  me  was  most  “appealing” with a strong endorsement from  the  government and also featuring infrastructure, nature  and culture. We had a huge challenge.  

Rohitha Amarapala, Dhammika Fernando and myself represented CIPM Sri Lanka and we knew the tough reality. Then President of WPFMA, Peter Wilson also representing Australia added bit biasness to the bidding process slightly tilting it towards them. The crux of the matter was a secret ballot after the presentations by all four bidding countries.  Each country in the APFHRM had a vote. Our logic and drive in rallying South Asian countries together really worked. Sri Lanka got the highest votes in a democratic manner which was acceptable to all. It was clearly a case of stress into success. 

Challenges with Covid-19  

Now the ball is in our court.  We need to do justice for the Asia Pacific Region in not only showing the organisational capabilities of CIPM Sri Lanka but also showcasing Sri Lanka as the “Wonder of Asia”. It will be a collaborative effort of CIPM and other professional bodies representing multiple fronts.  We have aptly selected the theme: “Exalting People Professionals Amidst a Planetary Pandemic: Explore, Expand and Excel”. We will deliberate on digitalisation, disruption, diversity, and diligence regarding the distinct dimensions of human resource management (HRM).

The World HR Congress will show the world the potential of post-war Sri Lanka with its multiple investment offerings. It will be a hybrid event, comprising both an in-person congress and a virtual congress over a period of three days. It will include plenary sessions at the start of each day followed by several concurrent sessions.

Being the knowledge-hub of South Asia with a very high literacy rate and other Human Development Indicators (HDIs), Sri Lanka can make an impactful impression among the global and regional participants of the event. Opportunities for knowledge sharing, research collaborating and professional networking will be in abundance. 

Way forward 

As Walt Disney said, “if you can dream it, you can do it”. This is what keeps us going. As the logo of the event depicts, the national flower holds the globe, significantly depicting the island nation of Sri Lanka.  Despite  the  bumpy rides  we often  see  in the  political circles,  our  motherland has many things to be proud of. Surely, we will make the World HR Congress 2021 such a meaningful and memorable event.