The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Student Profiles

David Irwin

Project title: Business membership organisations in east Africa: perceptions of success

All over the world interest groups seek to influence public policy. Prima facie, there seems to be a gap in our knowledge. Academics look at the impact of interest groups and lobbyists and observe the interaction of interest groups and governments. They conclude that, some of the time, they do influence public policy or, at least, that policy moves in the direction favoured by the interest group. However, they do not clearly define the determinants that lead to success. So, this research looks at the determinants necessary for a major subset of interest groups, business associations, to influence public policy reform.

Business associations have an objective of supporting and serving members but, generally, a major objective includes representation of their members’ interests, dialogue with government, advocacy and policy influence. In short, they want to make it easier for their members to “do business”, unlike cause groups which are more clearly, and often more narrowly, focused on policy reform.

It seems however that some business associations are more successful than others. So this research focuses on the conditions for success that are within the control of the business association: its competence or professionalisation. Specifically, what are the competences that business associations need to develop and maintain to improve their chances of success?

This research reviews the work of four business associations in Tanzania and Kenya over more than six years, covered through more than 100 interviews with business associations, government and other stakeholders. Tanzania and Kenya are both emerging democracies, and have been chosen partly because there is little research of interest groups outside of the US and EU, but also because they have relatively small populations of business associations. It is not always easy to assess cause and effect, but it is clearer when there are fewer groups fighting for attention and when associations are clear in advance about their objectives. This is helped through donor support: donors fund programmes in developing countries to build the advocacy competence and capacity of business associations building on the World Bank’s assertions that developing country business associations are well placed to identify constraints and barriers and thus are able to advise governments on ways to improve the enabling environment. It should however be possible still to draw generalizable conclusions.

The expectation is that this research will lead to recommendations that might assist business associations to be more effective in their dialogue and advocacy activities. In particular, it will draw out lessons for practitioners and for policy makers.

Web profiles


  • Irwin, D & Githinji, M (2016), The influence of business associations on legislation: the case of Kenya, Journal of Public Affairs, DOI 10.1002/pa.1636
  • Irwin, D & Waweru, K (2017), The Kenya Chamber of Mines: a case study in public sector advocacy, in The SAGE Handbook of International Corporate & Public Affairs, Eds: Phil Harris and Craig S. Fleisher Sage: London
  • Irwin, D & Githinji, M (2016), Business Associations in Kenya: the success factors, Journal of Public Affairs, 16 (2) pp.162-180, DOI: 10.1002/pa.1573
  • Irwin, D (2015), Building the capacity of business associations in developing countries to influence public policy, Interest Groups & Advocacy, vol 4 (2) pp. 185-204
  • Irwin, D (2015), Kenya’s business networks: an inside circle? Sage Open DOI: 10.1177/2158244014565977
  • Irwin, D (2014), Features of business association advocates in Africa, International Journal of Public Sector Management, vol 27 (4), pp. 306-316, DOI: 10.1108/IJPSM-02-2012-0019
  • Irwin, D (2014), Doing Business: using ratings to drive reform, Journal of International Development, 26 (5), pp.658-667, DOI: 10.1002/jid.2906
  • Irwin, D & Githinji, M (forthcoming), Business Associations in Kenya: the success factors, Journal of Public Affairs, early view 2 Jul 2015, DOI: 10.1002/pa.1573
  • Irwin, D & Waweru, K (forthcoming), The Kenya Chamber of Mines: a case study in public sector advocacy, The SAGE Handbook of Public Affairs