Around the world, independent, voluntary business associations play a central role in defending the rights of businesses, advocating for policy reform that drives entrepreneurship and prosperity, and representing the voice and needs of small and medium-sized businesses. In Belarus, a new report focuses on how well business associations represent the needs of their members and the wider business community. This particular report is especially important because of all civil society organizations in Belarus, business associations have recently risen to the status of the most trusted civil society organizations, after the Church and the independent media. Independent think tanks tie in third place together with business associations.
The Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC), an independent think tank in Belarus, recently published its report entitled “Belarusian Business Associations: Problems and Potential Development” examining how well the Belarusian business associations serve the needs of their constituents. BEROC found that Belarusian entrepreneurs are generally satisfied with the work of business associations in their country. Business associations that were involved in this study ranged from small (35 members) to large (nearly 800 members), covering a representative sample of local business associations. BEROC’s report illustrates that in many important areas, such as advocacy, assistance with business development, assistance with partnerships and networking, and educational programs, business associations and their members meet each other’s expectations.
BEROC found that the Belarusian business associations have been successful in providing services to their members. They have particularly distinguished themselves through providing a high quality of legislative advocacy to benefit their members as well as the wider business community, according to the report. This is the main reason Belarusian entrepreneurs join associations and an overwhelming 77 percent of them recommend to their friends to join an association too. Legislative advocacy refers to the ability of business associations to defend and promote the interests of their members and the wider small and medium-sized business community through a grassroots process of engaging stakeholders in constructive public-private dialogue with government to improve the laws that govern and protect business.
One of the weaker points, however, is the discrepancy in the important issue of “work with media.” Association members ranked “work with mass media” as the least important service (11th out of 11) required of associations, while associations themselves ranked this higher (8th out of 11). This difference is significant because associations often find it difficult to convey the extensive efforts that go into a successful advocacy campaign. Because work with the media is an essential element of successful advocacy, one conclusion that can be likely drawn from this is that much of the work done in this area by associations is underappreciated by their members. Associations need to raise awareness of the value they bring to their members and the wider entrepreneurship community through their work with the media to educate the press on the importance of entrepreneurship. This is a crucial element of legislative advocacy that drives results.
Elena Suhir is Senior Program Officer for Eastern Europe and Eurasia at CIPE.