“To do that, the organisations have to ramp up their resources and employ better talent” (Trade Associations, Chambers of Commerce Have Little Value: SMEs, Angela Teng).
Trade association and chambers (TACs) may be entrusted with funding from the government – following the Budget announcements last week – to drive “industry-wide solutions for common challenges faced by firms” or to “drive the transformation of industries” (TODAY, Mar. 29), but how effective are they in the first place? The small and medium enterprises (SMEs) TODAY spoke to highlighted common themes, and the perspectives are not flattering: the lack of resources and manpower in the TACs, the perceived inability of the seemingly antiquated TACs to cater to the needs of tech startups or SMEs, and that little appears to be done beyond the “occasional networking opportunities”.
In other words, what value do TACs offer? And in more empirical fashion – like how companies are accountable to their stakeholders, primarily through the generation of revenue and profits – what yardsticks or performance indicators are used to evaluate how effective or productive these trade associations and chambers are?
While it is true that the government has yet to provide more details on how it intends to build on the existing Local Enterprise and Association Development (LEAD) programme through the new LEAD-Plus initiative, there is – nonetheless – nothing stopping these TACs from taking more active roles in promoting their intents and endeavours. After all, organisations like the Singapore Business Federation and the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce represent large numbers of companies, so beyond the anecdotal examples it would be meaningful to hear about the broader value propositions of joining these TACs. And since they are going to play active roles for SMEs in various interactions with government agencies such as SPRING Singapore, their participation in future discourse should have implications for policy development.
Perhaps on the other hand, it may also be useful to – on a much wider scale, beyond a handful of interviews or stories – to survey companies and SMEs who are a part of these trade associations and chambers, so as to aggregate their sentiments. What do the companies think are the benefits of membership, and how did they get started? What is the distribution of these companies, and are particular industries or sectors under- or over-represented? And how can programmes or services be improved? Insights from such a study should be useful for stakeholders, especially the government and the TACs themselves, granting the latter greater legitimacy if the results are positive.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.