South Asian Women’s Chambers and Associations Learn Effective Advocacy Techniques

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By Hammad Siddiqui and Marc Schleifer

For the past two years, CIPE has been working to build the capacity of women’s chambers and businesses associations from across South Asia. Last month, they took the next step into policy advocacy.

Through a series of workshops in Dhaka, Kathmandu, Lahore and Colombo, CIPE has fostered relationships among a group of organizations from Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. The workshops have focused on topics such as strategic planning, membership development, board governance, staff empowerment, financial sustainability and communications strategies.

This June, CIPE organized the fifth in its series of networking and training sessions, again in Kathmandu. Following CIPE’s general approach, it is first important to strengthen the organizations themselves so that they can then be more successful in working on policy reform. Thus after four sessions of capacity-building for these chambers and associations, encouraging them to focus on serving the needs of their membership, this three-day session focused intensively on policy advocacy.

The CIPE team, led by Senior Consultant Camelia Bulat, with input from Pakistan Office Deputy Director Hammad Siddiqui, Director for Multiregional Programs Anna Nadgrodkiewicz, and Regional Director for Eurasia and South Asia Marc Schleifer, presented a range of tools and approaches to help the 19 participants think strategically about advocacy.

This session also served as a prelude to a small grants program, which will give women’s chambers in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka the chance to carry out policy reform initiatives with mentorship from three leading South Asian women’s associations that have been key parts of the network: the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI), the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Ladies’ Organization (FLO) and AWAKE, the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Karnataka.

The organizations were asked to bring an advocacy idea with them to the session, and then spent three intensive days breaking those ideas down and then building them back up to lay the groundwork for their small grants.

Given that the associations which will be eligible for funding are generally fairly nascent groups without significant advocacy experience, the CIPE team encouraged them to set reasonable goals. As Siddiqui and Schleifer point out, advocacy need not mean passing a new law — the focus could be on changing how an existing law is applied by affecting the applicable rules or regulations.

Bulat also stressed to the participants that advocating for a change in policy is not the end of the road. It is also important to keep the focus on how the change is carried out, and monitor the process after the advocacy campaign. In this way, it is possible to measure the impact of advocacy efforts over the long term.

In addition to the advocacy training component of this session, CIPE asked the participants to share lessons learned from the previous four sessions. These lessons are key to the CIPE approach to chamber and association development, and show how much these organizations have grown in the past year. Among some of the points made by the participants were:

  • Run your chamber or association like a business – a chamber is not just another NGO. Have a business plan that focuses on collecting regular member dues, growing membership, and generating non-dues revenue. This will allow the organization to be sustainable, which will help reduce reliance on donors. Document the organization’s strategic, business and financial plans.
  • Members first: keep your orientation on members instead of projects. First, examine your vision, mission, objectives, and align these with members’ interests. Then assess members’ needs in designing services that they want. Finally, for advocacy to succeed, identify issues important to members.
  • Strengthen board governance, and ensure leadership training and succession planning. Also focus on building the capacity of the staff through training and leadership. Then, institute clear roles and responsibilities for the board and staff, and make sure the staff is empowered to act. This should all be documented with clear policies.
  • Successful advocacy requires strong networks and communications strategies, including social media use, as well as finding ways to cooperate with other organizations that share a common goal.

After three days of advocacy training, CIPE also asked the participants to give some feedback on the session:

“We thought we were doing things right but after being constructively shredded into pieces at the workshop, we saw the areas for improvement. Constant hand-holding and faith in us make CIPE a mentor who gives ideas and gives help when we need it. Women in Peshawar earned a lot of respect because of the activities that CIPE supported.”

Shamama Arbab, Peshawar Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry

“We benefited a lot and we are constantly building on that knowledge because of CIPE sessions.”

Saroshi Dubash, Sri Lanka Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce

“Every time my colleagues and I come to this workshop there is something we bring to our organization and start working on it.  We thought advocacy was an easy issue but CIPE really gave us an eye-opener and a great learning experience on how to do it right. We will definitely share this knowledge with our board.”

Rita Bhandary, Federation of Women’s Entrepreneurs’ Associations of Nepal

“We are an established organization but we are also still learning. CIPE workshops helped us with things we are supposed to be doing but haven’t been serious about.”

Selima Ahmad, BWCCI

“We learned a lot from each other and improved our board, leadership capacity, and succession planning. It took one year of discussions and pushing hard but we brought a lot of changes to our chamber thanks to CIPE. We are also going to revisit the process of advocacy. We might have done it in the past but we have not done it in a systematic way.”

Dhanvanthi Mohanlal Jain, AWAKE

Over the next several months, the groups from Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka will develop and carry out their small advocacy initiatives with support from BWCCI, FLO, and AWAKE. The groups will then convene in the winter in Colombo to report back on their achievements. CIPE will be eager to share their stories.

Hammad Siddiqui is Deputy Country Director for CIPE Pakistan. Marc Schleifer is Regional Director for South Asia & Eurasia at CIPE.

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