Georgia has received praise for its swift and effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few months, and it is now preparing to reopen its borders on July 1. By adopting social distancing requirements early, giving a platform to public health experts to share updates to citizens, and implementing contact tracing, Georgia has managed to keep cases low compared to regional neighbors.
As Georgia now transitions from reopening to recovery, government, businesses, and all of society will need to adapt to new challenges. The country’s business associations have already shown that they are ready to do their part. Over the past months, many have launched innovative programs to continue to provide value to members and communicate the needs of their sectors.
Becoming Leaders, Gaining Members
With support from the second phase of CIPE’s “Strong Associations – Strong Advocates” program, the Georgian Retailers Association acted quickly to support small retailers that remained open during the shutdown. GRA distributed over 7,000 multiple-use masks, 1,700 face protective shields, and 120,000 pairs of disposable gloves to retail stores. The association’s membership more than doubled between March and April, and its Facebook page, where GRA regularly shares health and safety updates relevant to the retail sector, grew from 700 to over 11,000 followers.
In the agricultural sector, the Georgian Farmers Association (GFA), alongside the Georgian Distribution Business Association (GDBA) and nine other associations, worked together to ease government restrictions on when agricultural workers could travel to farms. GFA conducted online and telephone surveys with farms and agribusinesses on the impact of COVID-19 and published a poster on managing farms safely during a pandemic. GDBA also worked to transport food, masks, and other protective equipment to regions most affected by the virus. Both GDBA and GFA have seen increases in membership.
Business Advocacy as Crisis Response
Several associations have worked to expand advocacy during the pandemic. GDBA successfully advocated new measures to prevent price gouging on nine essential food products in supermarkets. Additionally, associations in the tourism and hospitality sector launched the Georgian Tourism Industry Alliance (GTIA) in May 2020 with support from CIPE under the USAID Economic Governance Program. GTIA, which now unites 20 organizations, will advocate policies to stimulate economic recovery in the tourism and hospitality industries through public-private dialogue.
Connecting and Training Members
The transition to online communication platforms has led to new opportunities for associations to offer professional development to members. The Georgian Association of HR Professionals (HRPA) has conducted eleven webinars, including two by CIPE experts, reaching an audience of over 100 HR professionals. The Georgian Association of Consulting Engineers Association has also launched weekly webinars on engineering guidelines and construction issues for companies that have continued essential construction work during the shutdown.
Transitioning to New Online Services
Multiple associations have launched new online services and member-focused campaigns. HRPA launched the Human for Human (H4H) campaign in March 2020, which seeks to match furloughed workers with companies that are recruiting essential personnel and provide a digital platform for knowledge sharing for HR professionals to successfully manage employment challenges posed by the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Georgian Heritage Crafts Association has launched online, one-on-one consultations on product design and is in the process of developing a new eCommerce platform to promote member products.
Georgian associations’ crisis response has shown that they have a strong role to play in Georgia’s post-pandemic economic recovery. In a planned third phase of its “Strong Associations – Strong Advocates” program, CIPE will continue to support association leadership toward this goal.
Daniel Kamlarz is a Program Associate in the Europe & Eurasia team. This blog was developed with contributions from CIPE senior consultant Carmen Stanila.