In late January, CIPE held its sixth in a series of capacity building and networking workshops in Colombo for its South Asia regional network of women’s business associations, which includes organizations from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India. When CIPE began to work with this group of women business leaders two years ago, the sessions focused primarily on issues such as board governance, strategic planning, staff and financial management, membership development, and services for members.
But between training modules, discussion often turned to the challenges facing women entrepreneurs in their countries, including policy barriers that tend to create a business environment unfriendly to women. Thus, CIPE always knew that eventually, the focus of the program must turn to advocacy for policy reform.
As a result, CIPE increasingly began to raise issues of policy – and policy advocacy – in the context of the training sessions. Then, last summer, CIPE awarded four women’s associations in three countries small grants by CIPE to carry out pilot, four-month advocacy projects.
One point that had frequently arisen in the training program was a lack of understanding of the complexities of policy advocacy, such as: identifying issues of concern to members; developing concrete policy proposals and specific recommendations to tackle those issues; the hard work involved in reaching out to policymakers; the need to broadly engage the media, association members, and the general public; and the need to track results and assess the impact of advocacy initiatives.
Moreover, the countries where the advocacy initiatives took place – Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal – are challenging environments. During the four months that these organizations were implementing their small grants, each country faced political turbulence that may have shaken the resolve of less dedicated change-makers.