This article examines the role of business advocacy in business environment reform. This is an important element of private sector development. The article answers the questions: What is business advocacy? How can business advocacy be made more effective?
Importantly, business advocacy is not the same as public-private dialogue. Dialogue is a two-way process in which government and business discuss a shared agenda. Advocacy is more of a one-way process in which business representatives bring their concerns to government. However, business advocacy may lead to dialogue. Indeed, good public-private dialogue can increase the success of business advocacy.
What is business advocacy?
Business advocacy refers to actions taken by business representatives to influence government policies, laws, regulations, and administrative arrangements affecting the business sector. It is focused on changing the decisions of politicians, public policymakers, legislators, regulators, planners, and other public officials.
Advocacy is often considered to be synonymous with lobbying. However, lobbying is not advocacy. Lobbying typically refers to the actions of one large firm or collection of large firms with narrow interests designed to change government decisions for their own benefit. While there is nothing especially wrong with lobbying, business advocacy involves a broader representation of business community interests. While business advocacy can still focus on particular concerns (e.g., improving export license administration, simplifying factory inspections), it does not seek to influence change where some firms have an advantage over others.
Business representative organisations are typically involved in business advocacy. These organisations are usually comprised of members (i.e., individuals who own or manage a business, or business members, or larger, corporate members). These members pay a fee and participate in the activities and governance of the organisation. This includes chambers of commerce or industry, business associations or councils (e.g., export councils, sector councils), employers’ organisations, or apex bodies made up of various business organisations.
While business advocacy is not designed to obtain preferential treatment for one firm, sector or individual, the daily obstacles of doing business can be indicative of a larger problem afflicting the business community at large. In this case, business advocacy may be warranted. In such cases, special attention needs to be given to identifying the real cause of the problem, rather than the symptom.
Why are business representative organisations important?
Business representative organisations, sometimes known as business membership organisations, act as key intermediaries between the government and the business community. They identify barriers and constraints in the business environment, formulate policy proposals for change, advocate for business-friendly laws and regulation, and engage government in substantive and constructive dialogue. They can speak out against harmful government policies when individual businesses may be afraid to do so.
Effective business representative organisations also monitor the implementation of existing policies, laws and regulations, and hold government officials and agencies to account.
However, the interests of the private sector are not homogenous. As policies, laws and regulations can have a differential impact on small and big businesses, their interests can diverge.
If a country is to have broad-based, inclusive growth, it is vital for all sections of the business community to enjoy effective voice. This is especially important for micro and small businesses, which find it much harder to directly engage government than big business does.
Business representative organisations are essential partners in improving the business environment because they:
- Represent to the relevant authorities the obstacles their member businesses face and, on their own or with the assistance of other organisations, advocate for appropriate policy, regulatory or infrastructure improvement.
- Disseminate information and channel feedback about policy and regulation to their business members and provide a potentially supportive constituency for the successful implementation of government policy and regulation.
- Encourage unorganised businesses in the informal economy to become organised or to formalise by insisting on registration as a condition of membership, and by voicing business demands for improvements in public services as a quid pro quo for registration.
- Represent business owners and managers who have political deficits based on gender, disability, remote location or other socially disadvantaged sub-group identity.
- Initiate industry standards or resolving industry conflicts internally and so strengthening the private sector without need for government intervention.
How can business advocacy be made more effective?
Effective business advocacy contains the following elements:
- Disseminate information about laws and regulations affecting the business community.
- Influence the course or form of legislative or regulatory actions.
- Identify emerging issues so business can decide whether to pre-empt legislation
- Make proposals for action or work to reshape existing laws.
- Gives guidance to members on how to act and address legislators.
- Creates a legal vehicle for organised access to government officials.
- Provide knowledge of people, procedures, and structures involved in policy-making.
Business advocacy begins with a problem or with a perception there is a better alternative to the current situation. Advocacy seeks to solve these problems or implement better alternatives.
Good advocacy is culturally, socially and politically specific. In some countries, the western style of confrontational advocacy is not always appropriate (e.g., petitions, protests, marches, boycotts). Instead, it is more important to engage in dialogue and build consensus. This might take more time, but it can also lead to a more sustainable, durable reform outcomes.
Good advocacy also requires careful planning. Ideally, this involves the preparation on an Advocacy Agenda and Strategy.
Planning for advocacy – setting an Advocacy Agenda
An Advocacy Agenda is a prioritised list of issues and responses the business community wishes to advocate for. Business representative organisations prepare an Advocacy Agenda to focus their advocacy efforts and monitor success.
Preparing an Advocacy Agenda is about identifying the main issues on which to advocate. There is often a wide range of issues that affect businesswomen and men. Not all of these can be dealt with at once. Formulating an agenda is about coming up with a prioritised, do-able agenda that will make a difference to business growth and inclusion.
There are three steps to take when formulating an Advocacy Agenda:
Step 1: Identify the issues. What are the issues of concern to the business community?
Step 2: Understand the issues. How do these issues affect the business community?
Step 3: Develop a response. What changes does the business community want to see?
The best time to start planning for advocacy is:
- When direct experience or preliminary research shows you cannot achieve your goals in any other way.
- When you are sure you have, or will have, the capacity to carry it through.
- When you have enough enthusiasm and energy to last for what could be a long haul.
Effective advocacy requires a thorough understanding of the particular issue being addressed, the ability to prepare evidence-based policy proposals and the opportunity to meet with and persuade policymakers and implementers to do something differently or, occasionally, not to do it at all.
An Advocacy Agenda contains:
- An identified topic or topics that require action.
- An evidence base that justifies the reason for the selection of this topic (i.e., why the topic is important to the business community or how it affects business activity).
- A proposed solution that would improve the current situation.
Typically, an Advocacy Agenda is updated on every year or two years.
An Advocacy Agenda is usually a public document. It is shared with government, business members and the media so everyone is aware of what the issues and concerns are. Indeed, publicising and broadly promoting the agenda can be an advocacy activity in its own right.
Many business representative organisations will use the Advocacy Agenda to report back to members, indicating where they have had success or where advocacy efforts need to be intensified.
Engaging in advocacy – the Advocacy Strategy
An Advocacy Strategy is a plan for the business representative organisation describing how it will pursue its Advocacy Agenda.
It contains short and long-term actions for the organisation, allocating human and financial resources for each strategic action. This is where specific advocacy tactics and campaigns are described.
There are six basic steps to designing and implementing an Advocacy Strategy:
Step 1: Define goals and objectives. What change do you want in the short and long term?
Step 2: Identify target audiences. Who do you want to support the proposed reform?
Step 3: Design advocacy strategies. How can you influence your target audience to accept and support the proposal?
Step 4: Plan for action. Who will do what and when?
Step 5: Manage resources. What resources are required?
Step 6: Monitor and evaluate. How do you know you are on track?
While the Advocacy Agenda may be a public document, the Advocacy Strategy is typically an internal document used to guide, monitor and evaluate advocacy efforts.
Business advocacy is a critical element in creating a demand for business environment reform. Through advocacy, the business community calls on government for reforms that will improve the competitiveness and productivity of businesses across the economy. Business representative organisations drive this process and can unite the business community around common business interests.