CIPE’s most recent case study on women’s business associations focuses on Central and Eastern Europe, and features Association for Women Entrepreneurship Development President Cornelia Rotaru’s case study on one of the most resounding success stories in the region – the Association of Business Women and Top Managers (AFAFCI), in Brasov county, Romania.
CIPE Regional Office has had the pleasure of sharing the study with its partners in the Coalition of Business Women Associations (CAFA) and the Balkan Coalition of Women Business Associations. The two coalitions were born with CIPE support and CIPE Regional Office’s direct involvement in 2004 and 2005 respectively, AFAFCI being one of both coalitions’ founding members. CIPE Regional Office will also be represented at a press conference to be held in Brasov, in August, whose purpose is to disseminate the findings of the study, and more specifically the findings of Ms. Rotaru’s case study.
Initially a local branch of the Romanian Women Managers Association that came into being in 1997, AFAFCI became an independent legal entity in 2004. AFAFCI was created to facilitate and support women’s involvement in public policy-making and enterprise management. Both by vocation and by place of birth, AFAFCI walks in the footsteps of the first women’s organization in Romania, the Romanian Women’s Reunion, which was also established in Brasov county, almost 150 years ago. Since its creation, the association has been attracting a large number of members including managers, freelancers and individual entrepreneurs from a variety of professional fields.
Six years of kept promises and successful projects have ensured promising financial prospects. Whereas, by 2002, the association was unable to even afford its own office and a website, at present, not only does it have an office and one of the best women’s associations’ websites, but it is also able to cover 75 percent of its annual budget from membership fees.
AFAFCI has always been aware of the importance of building solid partnerships locally, nationally and also internationally. Moreover, AFAFCI is a very active dialogue partner for the local elected bodies (i.e., the local council, the mayor’s office or the county council) and Brasov county’s deputies and senators in the Romanian Parliament. As such, the association constantly arranges meetings with candidates throughout the election process, in order to discuss electoral platforms and programs.
The association’s interaction with the local authorities does not stop there, as substantial efforts also focus on participating in public policy making. One of the best examples of AFAFCI’s contribution in this respect is the public stand it has taken in the debate on salary taxes, as part of the Strategy for Development of the Brasov Metropolitan Area.
Over the years, the association has regularly designated representatives to take part in events such as USAID’s Advocacy National Forum, the Central and South East European Investment Forum, etc. However, the association is not content with merely being a participant. It is also an experienced event organizer which has held significant national events such as “The Business Woman’s Role in the Local Community” seminar or the 3rd Annual National Conference of Business Women in Romania. Additionally, it has organized the launch of digital toolkits, such as several editions of CIPE’s “Women of Success” toolkit.
Internationally, AFAFCI focuses on building and enhancing partnerships with likeminded associations, as well as on strengthening cooperation with a variety of donors and organizations.
Of all the association’s many accomplishments, the most resounding is perhaps the Femina VIP Award project, which was launched in 2000. The rationale behind such a project was that the lack of confidence prevalent among women in the local community had to fade for good. Thus, the annual Femina VIP project seeks to highlight women with outstanding achievements in a variety of fields. Along with the award, the winners also become honorary members of the association.
Although only one trophy is awarded, several other prizes are presented to the most successful candidates. Contrary to what some may think, this is not merely a formal token of appreciation, but one that is also backed by a financial reward made available through AFAFCI members’ contribution, local administration grants, as well as contributions by sponsors. What’s more, the successful candidates receive considerable media exposure, as the project always benefits from extensive media coverage (press conferences, interviews, TV appearances, newspaper and magazine articles, as well as website updates).
This project is not just an award ceremony that sets role models for future generations, but one of the most important local events that the local and county authorities constantly want to have an active involvement in, including financially. In fact, it is due to their active involvement that the event always benefits from a variety of sponsors who want their name associated with the Femina VIP Award. As Ms. Rotaru notes in her case study, the Femina VIP Award also serves several other purposes.
First, each edition of the event highlights the great potential of women and develops a sense of team within and beyond the association. Second, it represents a positive model of partnership between the civil society and the public authorities. Also, it helps to extend the association’s visibility and outreach, and emphasize the role of NGOs in the local context by the power of its own example. Last but not least, it helps to consolidate the association’s long-term relationship with the media and the larger community, thereby promoting a positive model of communication with the media.
In fact, the positive effects of this project go beyond the Romanian setting, the best example being its replication by the Serbian Business Women’s Association, certainly, in accordance with the local context. As both associations are part of the Balkan Coalition of Women Business Associations, AFAFCI provided its Serbian counterpart with all the know-how needed to prepare its own event – from strategy and materials to the selection and nomination criteria, to organizational planning details, and everything in between. So far, two editions of the Serbian event have been held.
It appears that AFAFCI has found the recipe for success: wide recognition, a strong connection to the needs of the community, an extensive support network, as well as a fruitful relationship with the media. As Ms. Rotaru puts it, the last 10 years have earned AFAFCI the social and political capital allowing it to continue to have a say about the way things that matter to the community are being handled.
CIPE Regional Office – Bucharest, Romania
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