Increasing Organizational Capacity through Mentorship: A Letter from Georgia

The Georgian Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Association holds a meeting with entrepreneurs on tax policy. (Photo: GSMEA)

Kakha Kokhreidze is the 1st Vice President and Executive of the Georgian Small and Medium Sized Enterprises Association, a CIPE KnowHow Exchange mentee.

In Georgia, the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector is very weak. For years, SMEs had no unified voice to engage in dialogue with lawmakers and advocate for better business environments. My organization, the Georgian Small and Medium Sized Enterprises Association (GSMEA), established in 2010, is working to change this equation by providing consultancy, trainings, and seminars on management, taxation, and finances, and by advocating for a better regulatory climate on behalf of both SMEs and business persons.

However, small businesses trying to survive are not always ready to participate in business associations. The greatest challenge for my organization, GSMEA, has been figuring out how to prove to small businesses that joining GSMEA has value and benefits for them. GSMEA’s participation in CIPE’s KnowHow Exchange program has been a valuable and practically useful experience for our institutional development. Our KnowHow mentor, Elissa Myers, has helped us develop capacity to better serve our existing members, as well as to expand our membership.

It was exceptional in several ways that Elissa Myers was selected to be our mentor through CIPE’s KnowHow Exchange program. First of all, she is a very qualified organizational development expert who quickly understood GSMEA’s organizational challenges. Secondly, she has extensive experience working with business associations in Georgia. Because of this, Elissa is knowledgeable about the challenges that Georgian associations face due to the country’s business environment.

Since starting the mentorship in December 2011, Elissa and GSMEA have held weekly Skype conversations and e-mail exchanges. Thus far, the KnowHow mentor has helped GSMEA improve its capacity in the following ways:

Membership Recruitment Strategy – Within the last few months, GSMEA has recruited 11 new members by improving the organization’s communication strategy with current and potential members. For instance, GSMEA has always asked its current and potential members what their expectations from GSMEA were. However, through consulting with Elissa, we realized this was not the right approach because most members were seeking what the organization can do for them. Now the approach has been reversed: GSMEA outlines what we can offer for the members, and then we ask for members’ feedback. GSMEA also hosts more face to face meetings with its association members. While this takes time and effort, it has helped encourage members to become more active in GSMEA activities.

Strategic Planning – Our KnowHow mentor has given us very practical and concise suggestions about strategic planning. With Elissa’s assistance, GSMEA has revamped the organization’s vision, mission of the association, objectives, and organizational structure.

Partnering with the Public Sector – Our members view GSMEA as an important bridge between the public and private sector. Because we are the only association in Georgia that advocates for the SME community in public policy, it has been our goal to enhance our relationship with the public sector.  In this regard, the first thing Elissa helped us with was providing a number of best practices and recommendations about building partnerships with public agencies. Once we identified that public procurement was an issue GSMEA could effectively work on, Elissa introduced us to one of her contacts at the Municipal Service Providers Association in Georgia. As a result, we are now planning to implement joint public procurement projects for the government with the Municipal Service Providers Association.

Improved bylaws for better operations After Elissa shared with us an example of bylaws for a chamber of commerce in the United States, we realized that GSMEA’s bylaws need improvement. For instance, the board needs more representation from small and medium enterprises; the organization’s operational structure should be more flexible; and a more practical communication method for the internal bodies must be developed to improve the association’s overall performance. At our next board meeting, we will be using the sample bylaws Elissa provided us as a guideline to help update our bylaws.

Publicity – Based on Elissa’s suggestion that GSMEA’s communication strategy use more social media and direct mailings, GSMEA hired a new public relations manager who will work to enhance GSMEA’s external relations.

Meanwhile, our association also has also improved its internal documents, including labor regulations.

When we first started the mentorship with Elissa, GSMEA’s capacity was limited. However, after only a few months of working with Elissa GSMEA has become a targeted, goal-oriented, and confident association. We will continue to develop and aspire to achieve sustainable growth so that GSMEA will be able to fulfill its advocacy function more effectively and better serve to its members.

KnowHow Exchange connects associations around the world with the know-how they need to be a force for change. If you have experience in association management and would like to mentor a growing business association in a developing country, or if you are a business association looking for advice from an experienced professional in the United States, visit the KnowHow Exchange website.