Chamber Academy in South Africa: Focus Women’s Economic Empowerment

Many common issues being faced by business organisations in developing countries emerged during the Second Strategic International Conference on Women’s Economic Empowerment – Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment through Business Member Organisations. The conference was held in Cape Town, South Africa, on March 6-8. It brought together 38 international delegates, including 13 women Chief Executive Officers of 22 business organisations from Africa, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia and Sweden.

The conference was presented by Chamber Trade Sweden in association with the Cape Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Two days of conference proceedings on March 6 and 7 ended in a programme to mark International Women’s Day on March 8.

Chamber Trade Sweden’s mission includes enabling international trade and investment and building capacity for the private sector in developing countries. It does this by collaborating with local organisations and networks in emerging markets and developing countries to build business member organisations (BMOs) through knowledge transfer and capacity building.

The key subjects that were addressed during the Second Strategic International Conference on Women’s Economic Empowerment related to women’s economic empowerment (WEE), developing BMO services, networking, and political advocacy. Delegates shared best practices from their organisations and heard guest speakers on the following topics:
• Alternative Dispute Resolution
• Mentorship Programmes
• Ethics and Anti-corruption
• Green Economy – the case of electronic waste
• Trade issues tied to promoting local production and developing and diversifying manufacturing.

There was also an address by leading South African social entrepreneur, Lillian Masebenza, the Founding Director of the Mhani Gingi Social Entrepreneurial Network. Mhani Gingi is a partner of Chamber Trade Sweden and of the Women’s Innovation Trade Fair to be held in Cape Town in 2014.

Common issues that BMOs are facing in developing countries emerged during the discussions. These issues included: How to get women from the informal to the formal sector of the economy; access to finance; finding the right target group and thus entrepreneurial women; how to go from subsistence economic activities to creating wealth for women; the broader issues of enhancing regional trade, and effficient and non-corrupt tax collection.    Speakers presented models and best practices from different countries on the main conference topics. Among the initiatives described were the new ICC Chamber Trust Gold CSR (corporate social responsibility) certification developed by the International Chambers of Commerce, and a Commercial Dispute Settlement Centre established in association with Chamber Trade Sweden and partly funded by the Western Cape government in South Africa. SIMS Recycling Solutions Africa presented a case for recycling of electronic waste in areas where no recycling facilities exist.

Shifts in the global balance of power are bringing new opportunities, but also new challenges, for small economies.