Since 2010, the EU4Business East Invest projects (East Invest 1 2010-2017, and East Invest 2 2014-17) have supported the development of BSOs in the Eastern Partnership region, working to enhance their membership base and the range of services that they provide to SMEs, helping to familiarise them with DCFTA requirements, as well as to engage in public-private dialogue with local governments. Ultimately, support to BSOs and sharing experience from EU business organisations aims to promote and facilitate investment and long-term economic cooperation between the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries.
Under East Invest 1, 24 SME Roadshows were carried out to 17 EU Member States, involving 9 Eastern Partnership BSOs, 22 EU BSOs, 400 Eastern Partnership SMEs and 1,000 EU companies. During the roadshows, a total of 22 business contracts between EU and EaP SMEs were signed.
Additionally, 55 individual exchanges were organised between BSOs from Eastern Partner countries and EU member states, more than 130 BSO representatives from Eastern Partner countries took part in 6 BSO Academies (on BSO management and advocacy), 15 twinnings took place between EU and EaP BSOs, and project management courses were designed to enhance BSO capacities in all 6 Eastern Partner countries. The exchanges led to the exchanges led to concrete outcomes including improved business services, better internal and external communication, extending services to the regional level, developing services for women entrepreneurs, and improvement in the work of business incubators. As a result of the BSO Academies, new services and initiatives were launched by BSOs, such as new information and consultancy services, seminars on VET and DCFTAs and the set-up of working groups. BSO strategies and marketing have also been improved.
East Invest 2 focused more specifically on DCFTAs and providing training to BSOs and SMEs (from agro and agro-processing sectors) on how best to do business with the EU, complemented by visiting potential EU business partners and learning best practice for business in Europe through the Roadshow Facility of East Invest 1. Over 300 SMEs and BSOs were trained through 12 SMEs Academies in export readiness, DCFTA requirements and the EU acquis in the agri-food sector, as well as on marketing techniques and participation in international affairs. More than 130 members of Eastern Partnership BSOs took part in BSO Academies, where they were trained on advocacy, strategic HR management, income generation & services, membership and BSO strategic planning topics, while 24 BSO exchanges (between EU and EaP BSOs) were carried out, mostly focusing on internationalisation and strengthening the internal management of EaP BSOs.
As a result of the BSO capacity building activities carried out by the project, more than 140 new services in support of SMEs have been introduced within participating EaP BSOs. There has also been an increase in BSO membership of almost 14% (overall, more than 550 new members have joined). In addition, 16 agreements of cooperation of different natures have been signed as a result of BSO twinnings and exchanges during the course of the project, 11 of them between EaP and EU BSOs; 16 more MoUs are expected to be concluded.
In 2017 as part of the project, a regional position paper was submitted to the EaP Business Forum in Tallinn, drafted with the input of around 200 business associations in the six EaP countries, including a set of policy recommendations “to improve conditions for growth and for the best possible business climate”.
Though the projects are now over, they have created a network of over 200 BSOs from the Eastern Partnership and the EU, an achievement that will continue to support SME development beyond the project’s involvement.