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The Privacy Advisor | 50K members: A landmark for the IAPP and global privacy Related reading: Equifax to pay $575M to settle with FTC, CFPB, US states for 2017 breach

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When IAPP President CEO J. Trevor Hughes, CIPP, sent a companywide email April 18 that simply said, "Come to the staff commons at 2 p.m.," there was a bit of a buzz in the building. It's not so unlike the CEO, who is fond of rallying the troops to celebrate milestones or call for "all-hands-on-deck" assistance with an office project.

But when a banner dropped from a banister in the high-ceilinged headquarters in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, it was clear this was a special kind of announcement: The IAPP had hit 50,000 members worldwide. And to celebrate the day, the CEO himself would throw on an apron serve up a midday ice cream party to the staff.

“It’s a hugely significant milestone for our organization and the membership,” Hughes said. “It wasn’t so many years ago that people within this company felt like they knew everyone with how small our community was. The nature of privacy today is such that we need 50,000 people working on the issue and more.”

The IAPP has been in a constant state of growth during its 19 years of existence. It hit 15,000 members in 2014, jumped to 20,000 exactly a year later and then 30,000 by 2017.

Corollary to the IAPP's growth, of course, has been the privacy and data protection industries. Since the IAPP began its work in 2000, its mission has been to ensure it is assisting privacy practitioners develop and advance their careers, as well as helping organizations manage and protect their data.

“We’ve always been very sophisticated on the topic of privacy. We layer into that the fact that we’ve been very strategic and methodical about building the profession and operational base from which we grow,” Hughes said. “It’s a powerful combination. We’re good at the substance of privacy, but also really good at building the global infrastructure that supports our membership.”

Kalinda Raina, CIPP/US, the current chair of the IAPP board of directors, believes the organization’s best trait is its ability to stay ahead in terms of supporting members’ needs.

“The IAPP has been on the cutting edge of recognizing what the people in the privacy profession need to succeed while spreading awareness through the world,” Raina said. “Now, most companies, if not the vast majority, are at a place where they need a privacy professional, which really wasn’t true even five or 10 years ago. The fact that the organization has been able to navigate the explosive growth of this issue is truly extraordinary.”

Hughes credited the organization’s original framework and its contributors — past and present — for providing a foundation that allowed it to succeed. Agnes Bundy Scanlan, CIPP/US, was among IAPP’s trailblazers, acting as the first chair on the organization's board of directors. 

“Every single organization has a privacy issue, topic or challenge,” she said. “Privacy has literally become this enterprise-wide, global topic that no one can get away from. The proof is in the pudding for that with the 50,000 people that have signed up to join an organization focused on the topic.”

Even so, Scanlan said she still encounters people who've not heard of the organization or even the realities that necessitate its existence. 

“I find it amusing that there are still some asking ‘What is that?’ But when you begin to explain the work of the IAPP, there’s this dawning,” she said. “It becomes personal to them. They begin to think ‘That’s great! There’s an organization that helps me understand this important topic for myself, but also for the companies I deal with.’ It’s a reaction I’ve gotten over the years.”

Raina said the IAPP's sense of community has been an asset to its success. 

“There’s a willingness to help each other and learn from each other that comes with a real knowledge and passion for this subject, and it also comes with a global reach that doesn’t just focus on the U.S. and Europe,” she said.

As part of the IAPP's celebration of reaching 50,000 members, Hughes brought out on stage KPMG's Steven Robertson at the Global Privacy Summit in Washington. Robertson joined KPMG little more than three weeks ago but said he has been in the privacy profession for about nine years now working primarily for the Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner. "It’s great to be a member," he said. "And I think this is a good sign you’re up to 50,000. Privacy continues to be important. We've seen it in the EU, and we've got movement in Australia, as well. It seems like a lot of countries are taking it seriously so hopefully the number continues to grow." 

To date, there are 140 IAPP regional KnowledgeNet chapters around the world. This year, they will combine to hold more than 400 meetings, many of which will likely focus on the sure-to-be turbulent times ahead as the world adjusts to new standards and consumer expectations on privacy and data protection. But the IAPP’s approach will remain what it's become known for: Looking beyond the short term to prepare members with the knowledge and resources they need to do their jobs well.

“We recognize that the privacy profession is one that represents the guardians of trust in the digital economy. That is a function that will only get bigger on a five-, 10- and 20-year horizon,” Hughes said. “We look at growth and the future of the IAPP not as what we can turn around and make profitable quickly, but a much longer view of the growth of our profession being necessary to extract the very best of benefits from the digital economy while managing, mitigating and reducing the other harms and consequences. That’s a really big job and a really important one. It’s something that gets me into the office looking forward to the work every single day.”

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