Experience shows time and again that business associations are more effective in their advocacy when they work together in coalitions, networks, or alliances, whether formal or informal, to advance the interests of their members. When the time is right to join forces depends on a number of factors, chiefly among them being the degree of maturity of the association leaders and executives who understand that together they are stronger and their concerns are more likely to be heard than if they work and engage with decision-makers individually.
Willingness to join forces is a prerequisite for a group to affect change, but it is not the only one. It is equally important for the associations that embark on such an enterprise to be built on a solid structure, to follow sound governance principles, to meet members’ needs and to use adequate tools to present members’ issues and proposed solutions in a transparent and professional manner.
Building the capacity of associations representing the private sector was the goal of a series of training workshops organized by CIPE in Côte d’Ivoire in April and June 2013. Through presentations, exercises and open forum discussions, the participants became familiar with international best practices in the areas of association management, advocacy, coalition building and communication. At the end of the second workshop the participants announced that they have decided to work together on business issues that are relevant and important for their members.
Eight months later, it was very refreshing to learn how they utilized the information and knowledge gained to introduce change at the level of their individual associations, but especially to see the commitment and dedication to cooperate with other associations in order to advance the common interests of their SME members. This collaboration takes place in the framework of a recently-created informal network which brings together SME organizations representing a variety of economic sectors and with members hailing from all the regions of Côte d’Ivoire.
Since the second CIPE workshop the participating associations have held regular meetings in which they agreed on a name for their network, decided on their internal organization, elected a management and a leadership structure and developed internal regulations to govern their work together.
In a planning meeting that took place last week in Abidjan, they defined the network’s mission: to act for the sustainable development of the SME organization members through dialogue, advocacy, networking, training and information sharing.
In addition, the network members presented their common objectives and the priority issues on which they plan to engage in dialogue with policy-makers. These priorities aim at improving the business environment in Côte d’Ivoire and at fostering employment and business creation in a country where the unemployment and especially youth unemployment rates are very high.
Based on the ambition, energy and commitment its members have displayed so far, the network will surely be a lead advocate for SMEs in Côte d’Ivoire. We wish success to the newly-created network of SME associations in Côte d’Ivoire.
Carmen Stanila is a consultant for CIPE.