Businesses are the driving force behind social progress: this is the cornerstone of our vision and mission. Although we have performed the same essential role since 1895, our environment has changed radically. The Federation of Enterprises in Belgium (FEB) is constantly evolving. Better still, it looks ahead, allowing it to remain a vital part of the fabric of socio-economic stakeholders and beyond.
The world has changed fundamentally over the past 125 years, and not just superficially. There has been a major shift in the way we see the world, in the fault lines and balance between powers, in standards and values. Companies are seeing competitors, often unexpected ones, pop up everywhere. Structures that once ensured order are now under considerable pressure. Everything has to be new, digital, sustainable, more ethical, in both the world of work and the political sphere. Conventional or analogue institutions and the hierarchy are being challenged.
Though FEB can look back with pride on its achievements over the past 125 years, we first and foremost look to the future. "We are entering the third decade of the 21st century, so the time has come to form a new pact with our stakeholders," says FEB's CEO Pieter Timmermans. "Adapting means rejuvenation, rather than trying to combat age and its symptoms. It means reinventing yourself constantly. This is a permanent, not an ad hoc, transformation."
Creating value for society Economic interests and human values are intrinsically linked; together, they spur on change. FEB serves as a guide and trailblazer between the two, steering businesses along the right path. Businesses are the driving force behind social progress. There cannot be any progress without the companies that employ millions of people, invest billions of euro and ensure prosperity. A strong economy drives sustainable progress, which in turn paves the way for greater prosperity for all: Business ↔ Sustainable Progress ↔ Prosperity. Pieter Timmermans is confident about this approach: "This circular interaction underpins our new mission statement and lies behind the title of our book Entreprendre pour la prospérité/Ondernemen voor Welvaart as well as our new baseline ‘Creating value for society’. Economic and social interests are linked: they are complementary, interconnected and interdependent. This generates real value for everyone."
A strong economy drives sustainable progress, which in turn paves the way for greater prosperity for all
Ten priorities for a new federation Simply setting a new mission statement down on paper is not enough; it needs to be put into practice. Generating value for both business and society requires a clear vision that inspires and unites all stakeholders. We have celebrated many milestones over our 125-year history. We are now on the verge of a new turning point, as anticipated through our new vision and strategy based on the concept of: cherish the past, live the present, dream the future. We do not simply disregard the past; it teaches us how to do things even better, both today and tomorrow. "Building bridges and offering our expertise to entrepreneurs to help them navigate global challenges and do business effectively in order to safeguard and strengthen Belgium's prosperity: this is our purpose," says Pieter Timmermans, heralding tomorrow's FEB. "In practical terms, we have translated this commitment into 10 priorities that reflect the new federation we are building with our stakeholders."
1. Community building Stepping up cooperation, sharing expertise, breaking down barriers, building bridges – these are all ways to boost support for and give greater weight to employers' views and entrench our collective leadership.
FEB will develop supra-organisational cooperation hubs between its various sectoral member federations and employers' organisations. Central to this approach will be the creation of a macro-economic unit that pools all expertise and so ensures that we speak with one voice and deliver strong, coordinated and effective messages. Existing intersectoral cooperation platforms like the Belgian Research Innovation and Entrepreneurship Community (BRIEC, www.briec.be) and the SME Platform will be expanded and rolled out within other fields of expertise.
2. Relevant social actor Major, complex social and environmental challenges are forcing companies and their federations to question their role vis-à-vis society, to rethink their strategy, governance structure, investments, and so on. In short: they need to consider how they can keep creating value for society. We will continue to encourage Belgian companies to cultivate a sustainable economy by highlighting the competitive edge that this provides.
As we support all businesses on this journey, we want to show that they too are 'solution providers', capable of harnessing innovation, flexibility and vision to address the current and future challenges facing society.
However, companies cannot do anything alone. All actors – companies, civil society and authorities – need to work together. Dialogue with all stakeholders is key to success, which is why FEB will allow more representatives from industry federations to sit on its Board of Directors when appropriate. By including other civil society organisations and NGOs, the Board will be able to function as a platform for interfederal social dialogue. The creation of two new competence centres ('Sustainability & Circular economy' and 'Digital economy & Innovation') is also part of this expansion of our remit in the interests of society.
'FEB supports all businesses on their journey'
3. Advocacy Advocacy refers to our commitment to protecting the rights and interests of Belgian businesses, especially employers. In the future, sustainable entrepreneurship, the circular economy, ethical codes of conduct, and ecological values and standards will play a bigger role within those areas in which we already excel (competitiveness, social dialogue, economic analysis, corporate governance, European policy, taxation, energy and climate issues, etc.). We will reflect this in our structure, more specifically through our competence centre dedicated to 'Sustainability & Circular economy'. This approach will guide everything we do. In a nutshell: though profit will remain a top priority, the way in which it is generated will be just as important.
Advocacy also means entering into dialogue: listening to what entrepreneurs actually want and offering the best possible service with the support of an efficient front office with a view to fulfilling their expectations, not for any institutional or competence-related reason. We also still believe in a model of socio-economic dialogue that fosters progress rather than maintaining the status quo. Systemic errors must be eliminated. We want to work with trade unions to transform the current conflict-based model into one based on partnership, in which the authorities and other relevant civil-society actors also have a role to play.
4. Direct lines of communication FEB has shed its image as a distant ivory tower in Brussels. To eradicate this perception once and for all, we will open up even more direct links with sectoral member federations and their companies. In addition to hosting training sessions and other events, our Ravenstein Business Centre will become an information hub where we can share and disseminate our messages and expertise, with the support of an expanded communications team.
5. Complementarity between the Board of Directors and the Strategy Committee The current interaction between our Board of Directors (comprising representatives of our sectoral member federations) and the Strategy Committee (made up of business leaders) is a unique win-win model. The more we can leverage synergies between these two structures, the greater the shift in opinion towards FEB's points of view. Strengthening the link between the Board and the Committee will allow us to better understand their respective viewpoints and encourage the exchange of ideas.
‘FEB has shed its image as a distant ivory tower in Brussels'
6. More efficient Contact Committee The political reality (more specifically the regionalisation of competences vital to the economic fabric and climate) is forcing employers to cooperate more closely than ever before and to disseminate joint visions and integrated viewpoints at all policy levels.
The current Contact Committee, within which FEB and the regional employers' organisations (Voka, UWE and Beci) discuss cross-sectoral issues affecting Belgium as a whole (such as getting jobseekers and other target groups into work, energy and mobility), could work harder and more effectively at making its voice heard. The aim should be to develop common points of view or devise proposals with the involvement and support of as much of the employer community as possible.
7. SMEs and large companies In these disruptive times, being a big business is not an advantage in itself. The ability to utilise the agility of a smaller company, such as an SME or start-up, on the scale of a large organisation is a powerful lever. We need to fully capitalise on this complementarity between the strengths of both smaller and large companies.
To this end, we will continue to invest in the expansion of our SME Platform, which allows us to gather input from SMEs about their specific characteristics and interests, and to monitor their progress in the field. Given that large companies and SMEs are vital, both for our economy and for each other, we must take ambitious steps to enhance the competitiveness of all businesses. More than ever before, our politicians need to realise that our economy has nothing to gain from pitting big businesses against SMEs.
8. FEB – close(r) to you We keep our eyes and ears open to all parts of society. Young people, for instance, are strong social stakeholders, now more than ever before. We need to draw inspiration from their enthusiasm and innovative dynamism and work together to find constructive solutions to current and future challenges. Initiatives like our 'Young Talent in Action' community and its 250 Ambassadors are a valuable sounding board in this respect.
This is also true of entrepreneurs, who are firmly rooted in the day-to-day realities of business. We also need to hear, feel, learn directly from entrepreneurs about their needs and expectations, what their goals are and why. This is why we will be 'on tour' more than ever before, organising round-table discussions and CEO talks and sharing information and knowledge in a structured, uniform manner with a set format via our sectoral member federations and other relevant channels close to target audiences.
By minimising the distance between FEB and its stakeholders, we will be able to provide targeted and functional support, inspiration and guidance with a view to fostering an entrepreneurial future.
'Clusters bringing together large companies and SMEs are increasingly important for our competitiveness'
9. Ravenstein Business Centre Thanks to its central location, FEB's conference centre offers a unique venue for events, training sessions and courses. But our aspirations do not end there. We want to be the showcase, the calling card, of the Belgian business world, becoming the preferred meeting and networking spot for companies, sectors and political leaders in Belgium and elsewhere. A venue with the high-quality facilities and technical equipment needed to cater for all kinds of guests and visitors. A centre that stands out for its concept and professional management, while operating self-sufficiently.
10. New competence centres FEB is much, much more than a social dialogue body. Belgian entrepreneurs and politicians must be aware that they can call on our expertise in many other fields, including economic analysis, labour relations legislation, taxation, company law, Europe, sustainable development and mobility. With sustainability and digitalisation set to be dominant issues in the years ahead, we will further expand our knowledge and efforts in these areas, pooling them in two new competence centres: 'Sustainability & Circular economy' and 'Digital Economy & innovation'. These are two key areas where we will combine focus and excellence.
Learn more about our new vision and mission in the book 'Entreprendre pour la prospérité. 125 ans FEB & beyond'/'Ondernemen voor Welvaart. 125 jaar VBO & beyond' or at 125.vbo-feb.be (both available in French and Dutch only).
An optimum business environment is vital for a sound economy and sustainable growth. FEB aims to help create and maintain such an environment by, among other things, closely monitoring all issues of direct relevance to businesses. Here, grouped into 17 themes, are the issues on which FEB focuses most of its attention and action.