Part i: Overview of advocacy and the role of EOs

Being recognized as an effective advocate strengthens the EO's public profile both with policy-makers and with the business community. Strong performance in the field of advocacy leads directly to increased membership. It also provides the reputation and "brand recognition" necessary to promote other revenue generating services the organization may offer. At its basis any advocacy objective of an EO must be fully grounded in its members' needs.

1.1 What is advocacy?

Advocacy is actions designed to influence laws, regulations, court decisions and the general attitude and approach of decision-makers in socio-economic policy. It includes any activity by the EO aimed towards influencing polices.

Policy-making has three basic components: the problem, the players, and the policy. A problem is something perceived to be 'wrong' in a society or its environment. A player is an influential participant in the process. A policy is a goal with a plan of action to solve the problem.(1) Advocacy from an EO's perspective is any form of persuasive activity that influences government policy-making.

The aim of advocacy from an EO's perceptive involves:

  • Building a case in favour of the EO's members' needs;
  • presenting it - with varying degrees of pressure to policy-makers for their acceptance and support;
  • controlling the advocacy process;
  • evaluating the benefits obtained;
  • communicating the results.

An effective policy advocacy strategy will inter alia contain the following elements:

  1. Disseminate information about laws and regulations affecting business as a whole.
  2. Influence the course or form of legislative or regulatory actions.
  3. Identify emerging issues so business can decide whether to pre-empt legislation
  4. Make proposals by action or work to reshape existing laws.
  5. Provide guidance to members on how to act and address legislators.
  6. Provide a legal vehicle for organized access to government officials.
  7. Provide knowledge of people, procedures, and structures involved in policy-making.

In summary, advocacy begins with a problem or with a perception that there is a better alternative to a current condition and seeks to solve that problem and/or implement the selected alternative. There are no strict rules for advocacy work. Its approaches must be culturally, socially, and politically specific.(2)

1.2 What policy advocacy is not!

From the perspective of an EO, policy advocacy is geared towards creating a hospitable business climate for all its members.

It is not designed to:(3)

  • Obtain preferential treatment for one company, business sector, or individual.
  • Solve problems concerning members' day-to-day business activities. (If, however, daily obstacles are indicative of a larger problem afflicting the business community at large, then public policy advocacy is warranted. In such cases, special attention needs to be given to attack the real cause as opposed to the symptom.)
  • Provide members with daily problem-solving services related to conducting routine business transactions or settling disputes between members and the government. To resolve such matters, members should obtain the services of lawyers, collection agencies, consultants, and so forth.

Lobbying is not advocacy. Lobbying is a form of advocacy with the intention of influencing decisions made by legislators and officials in the government by individuals, other legislators, constituents, or advocacy groups. A lobbyist is a person who tries to influence legislation on behalf of a special interest group or a member of a lobby.

In contrast, the common language definition of lobbying usually includes any discussion of issues with policy-makers. This is actually what "advocacy" encompasses, i.e. any activity that a person or organization undertakes to influence policies.

1.3 Characteristics of EO advocacy work

Advocacy is a core and permanent activity of all EOs – to influence policy with the aim of ensuring it is favorable to the business community.

At its basis any advocacy objective of an EO must be fully grounded in its members' needs.

The EO's efforts must be 100 per cent independent – there must be no breach of its independence or a sectoral capture of its efforts. The EO has to be and be seen to be impartial, independent, and free of governmental or other influences.

It also has to have a mandate and an expertise in the areas it is advocating change on. Issues emerge all the time, members' needs change along with their priorities, so the EO has to be both proactive and reactive in terms of its approach. Advocacy is also a multistage activity that requires actions at multiple levels by the EO.

The approach to regulatory and policy change needs to be predicated on real constraints. The EO needs through analysis and consultation with its members to identify those constraints: it needs to define them. Prioritize them and then make policy proposals that are capable of adoption by government.

By demonstrating a holistic approach to policy priority setting, the EO can present itself as a champion of the wider business community and can promote itself favourably to potential members.


The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) successfully lobbied the Australian Fair Pay Commission (AFPC) to maintain minimum wages at their current levels as the best means to protect jobs in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. ACCI argued for no increase in the many thousands of regulated minimum wages until economic conditions and rising unemployment stabilized. ACCI's main evidence to the AFPC demonstrated that the incomes of many minimum wage employees and families had been directly increased through a recent significant wage increase enacted nine months previously, tax cuts and welfare changes, significant interest rate reductions, and the proceeds from the Australian Federal Government's stimulus packages. In short, ACCI's presented sound, empirical monetary arguments in making its case. The AFPC accepted ACCI's arguments that an increase in minimum wages would exacerbate unemployment and create an unacceptable level of labour market and economic risk, particularly for the SME sector. The AFPC also recognized that recent government tax cuts and fiscal stimulus measures had maintained the social safety net obviating the need for a minimum wage increase – arguments also present in the ACCI submissions.


The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is the largest trade union of informal workers in India, with more than 70% rural membership fairly distributed across various religious and caste groups. It provides a good example of empowered leadership of poor women in the informal economy. With over 1.35 million women members, SEWA helps poor women improve incomes, work conditions and social security, through its initiatives on microfinance and insurance (via the SEWA Bank), training and communication, its work on labour issues – paralegal assistance, lobbying, health insurance, maternity benefits and pensions. Key challenges include difficulties in graduating out of poverty on a long-term basis, and entry into trades dominated by men. One of SEWA’s major advocacy issues has been the legalization of street vendors and protection of their rights to conduct business, including lobbying for a Central Law on Street Vendors. To support their advocacy position, they conducted surveys of vendor issues, town planning and other laws pertaining to vendors, and examined good practices. SEWA’s work has led to important policy changes: the national policy for protecting street vendors and legislation on social security for informal workers in 2008. SEWA has been part of global standard setting and policy, being one of the main promoters of the process which led to ILO Convention 177 (1996) on the rights of home-based workers.

Source: Policy Brief: Decent Work and Women’s Economic Empowerment: Good Policy and Practice, UN Women and ILO 2012. (
For more information on SEWA go to:


For employer organizations to be true to their purposes and relevance, they must be member-driven. When an employer organization is truly member-driven the benefits can be significant. Firstly, the standing and goodwill of the organization is enhanced, making it more likely that external stakeholders such as governments will listen, and take action as advocated by the organization. Secondly, the advocacy and representation work of the organization is made easier because members are more motivated to be involved and express third-party support for the work of the employer organization. This too can increase the chance of successful outcomes being achieved. Thirdly, there are membership benefits: existing members are more likely to maintain membership if their views influence strategies or outcomes. Non-member employers in the industry or region are more likely to join if they believe their involvement would be valued and they would be able to make a difference.(4)

1.4 Long-term versus short-term

An EO is faced with a wide array of changing issues: some of these require immediate attention, some can be longer-term issues, while others can be politically impossible.

The EO must have a short-term focus and a longer-term focus to policy advocacy. Both are important.

EOs needs to focus on limited issues that can be achieved within a reasonable time frame without ignoring other pressing issues and longer-term more difficult policy options.

The EO cannot expect to achieve all its goals nor cover all issues effectively. It needs to make choices.

But there are central policy planks which the EO probably does not expect immediate change on, but on which it nevertheless needs to have a position on. Overhauling the taxation system for instance will impact on many stakeholders and sectional interests. It is not something the EO can expect to change overnight. But it can be a longer-term policy goal which the EO should articulate a position on.

Other issues are fundamental and serve as core principles of the EO. Respect for property rights, open markets, stable macroeconomic framework, investor protection, and so on.(5)

In its approach the EO should avoid populist approaches and additionally not take too many political stances unless absolutely necessary.


The Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) lists seven characteristics of successful business associations with respect to their advocacy practices.

  1. Articulate members' concerns as a unified voice.
  2. Meet regularly with decision-makers.
  3. Establish regular channels of communication and close working relationships with government officials.
  4. Use these channels to promote members' interests.
  5. Engage in both proactive and reactive advocacy.
  6. Help prevent frequent changes to the business-related legal and regulatory framework.
  7. Monitor the administration of policies.


Costa Rica: A broad-based dialogue on a new SME law

In 1999, the Chamber of Industry of Costa Rica, along with the presidency of the Congress and the public universities, organized a series of fora on industrial development. A range of experts, congressmen from all political parties and a diversity of business leaders, participated in this process. The outcome of these fora was an agreement to create in Congress a special committee responsible for developing a coherent policy and regulatory platform for the competitiveness and internationalization of small and medium industries. These enterprises account for 94 per cent of all enterprises in the country's industrial sector.

The special committee, created in late 1999, included a broad representation: five Congressmen from the different political parties represented in Congress, one academic, one representative each from the executive branch of Government, the state export promotion agency and the Chamber of Industry. For two years the committee studied the situation of small and medium scale industrial enterprises. They reviewed international experience in SME development and received proposals from public and private institutions, as well as from local and international experts.

A new enterprise law

In 2001, the committee's report, including its main conclusions and recommendations, was unanimously approved. One of the key recommendations was the creation of a comprehensive law to establish the basis for a national strategy towards the strengthening of SMEs. Legislation of this nature was drafted by a task force of the committee and presented to Congress in early 2002. Congress unanimously approved the new legislation on the 24th of April 2002 (Ley No. 8262 de Fortalecimiento de la Pequeña y Mediana Empresa).

Content of the law

The law deals with two different but complementary aspects: SME policies and new tools for SME development. In the policy realm, some of the changes introduced were the following:

  • Empowerment of the Ministry of Economy in policy formulation within the government;
  • creation of an SME policy council with public-private participation;
  • creation of a specialized SME department in the Ministry of Economy;
  • adoption of general principles to guide SME policies on training, technical assistance, financing, technology, and sustainable development; and
  • adoption of regulatory changes to strengthen the support of SMEs from key state agencies in fields such as vocational training and export promotion.

In terms of new tools the law established:

  • A guarantee fund for micro, small and medium enterprises to enhance their access to credit from the public banking system;
  • a special fund to support innovation and technological development; and
  • a programme to strengthen the role of the SME sector as a supplier to the public sector.

Lessons from the experience

The Costa Rican experience provides two key insights into the role of EOs in advocacy work. First, while advocacy (notably lobbying) can sometimes be a conflictual affair, this case suggests that wide recognition of the importance of SME development can allow partners to work cooperatively. Secondly, laws and programmes are often developed in an evolving and piece-meal manner. The Coast Rican case suggests, however, that there can also be opportunities, periodically, to undertake broader and more wholesale change.

See Cámara de Industrias de Costa Rica:


(1) Coplin, William D. and Michael K. O'Leary, 1998. Public Policy Skills, 3d ed. Washington DC: Policy Studies Associates.

(2) International Trade Centre: Business Advocacy: Setting Strategies that Influence Trade Policy, 2002.

(3) Center for International Private Enterprise: How to advocate effectively: a guidebook for business associations 2006.

(4) Peter Anderson Chief Executive Australian Chambers of Commerce and Industry - in 2009 "What the Private Sector expects from its representative organisations" IOE labour and social policy review 2009 (for full article see:

(5) ILO: Role of the EO in Growth and Sustainable Enterprise Promotion, ACTEMP, 2010.