Empower women and the economy will grow

Chamber Trade Sweden’s Chamber Academy WEE conference 2015. 

“Working together in partnerships and coalitions! We can’t do it on our own!” states Dorothy Tuma from Uganda and the East African Women in Business Platform. The 43 participants of the WEE conference agree with her.

The fourth Chamber Academy on Women’s Economic Empowerment for business member organizations took place this year in Jakarta, Indonesia, with the aim to strengthen women entrepreneurs focusing on advocacy, services and networks. Chamber Trade Sweden hosted the conference in cooperation with APINDO, Indonesia’s largest private member business organization. APINDO is one of the founders of Indonesia Fashion Week and the conference was therefore held back to back with this event and was made part of the program.

“It is a privilege to gather such ”Phenomenal Women” from Botswana, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Serbia, Zambia and Zimbabwe”, says Charlotte Kalin, CEO of CTS. “You are all change makers in your business organizations, companies and communities.”

The Swedish ambassador, Johanna Brismar Skoog, agrees and underlines in her opening remarks that gender equality could increase the GDP in countries with 12%. Women business networks and women role models are important to empower other women.

During three intensive days, late nights and through different workshops arranged, CTS network of phenomenal women (and men) play an important role to give inspiration, share experiences, discuss challenges faced and discover new ways of dealing with the issues that business member organizations and business women have in common.

Already after the first hour of opening speeches the energy level is amazing. Many of these women have met before. For others it is the first encounter. Visiting cards are shared and valuable contacts made.

Nina Tursinah from APINDO presents the opportunities and challenges for promoting SME-SMI growth. “SME and SMI will be the ones creating most jobs in the future”.

Brownen Kausch, from Cape Chamber in South Africa, shares the new services her chamber has built for their members on their web-based e-portal, Cape Procure. The portal aims at providing relevant services to member companies in a broad range of areas like partner- and service provider seeking, conflict resolution through arbitration and mediation, access to finance and sourcing skills. “I want you to imagine that we can cooperate around these services between us all here, where we can work together in a global network. We are often too slow in implementing new ideas. It is in many cases better to take action and rather ask for forgiveness, not permission, if something goes wrong”.

One of the most appreciated contributions is made on policy advocacy and taxation by Prisca Chikwashi, the CEO of the Zambian Chambers of Commerce. Prisca presents a report on taxes, which are discriminating business development in Zambia. The report is now going to be used to lobby the government on improving the situation for Zambian business.

Women’s Economic Empowerment and Human Rights

Hawraa Abbas from the Private Sector Development Center in Iraq shares her story on how she finally managed, with the help of CTS, to print Nina magazine in her home town Karbala, Iraq.

“It was a tough negotiation with the printers who refused to print the magazine, which had a cover showing the bare shoulders of a famous Iraqi fashion designer. In the end we had to give in and cover the shoulders, which actually led to good publicity when the magazine came out. I was very proud to get such a good quality magazine printed in Iraq in the middle of all the instability and wars going on.”

“It was important for Iraqi women to have the magazine in their hands. To feel it.  To see the pictures. To read the stories about Iraqi women. Real stories.”

Another real story giving a perspective on how human rights issues can be closely tied to women’s economic empowerment comes from Amel Al-Zubaidi, a young business woman from Baghdad. Amel tells about her struggle to be respected as a business woman and the right to run her company. She reveals how she and her family were threatened because she and her husband worked together in business. She was beaten and her husband was stabbed. Before Amel was married it was an even bigger problem to pursue a career since women are not allowed to travel alone. But Amel’s father always supported her and offered to join her when she had to travel – for instance to a course on leadership abroad. “Two basic problems with being a business woman in Iraq are that men primarily see me as a woman for sex, not for work. And women in my country don’t support each other enough tied to this.”

An important perspective on this comes from Salatiel Shinedima from Namibia, one of the outstanding men attending the seminar. Salatiel is the head of Women’s Action for Development (WAD) in Namibia. “Gender based violence is very high in my country and women often speak in vacuum. As the new head of WAD I have an important role as a man to inspire young men to create awareness that gender equality benefits both men and women. If it comes from a man it may be better received.”


Benchmarking Mentorship Services One of the highlights from the conference is when the women from Zimbabwe share their experiences from the mentorship program they successfully have set up at the Chambers Women’s Desk together with CTS.

“If you empower women who are in business, they will grow” says Divine Ndhlukula, CEO of Zimbabwe’s largest security company, Securico, and a key board member of Zimbabwe’s Chamber of Commerce. Divine makes a parallel to women and diamonds: “Both come out from a very tough process”.

Bertha Ndlovu is one of the responsible people behind Zimbabwe’s successful mentorship program, which is focused on women. She wants to underline the positiveness coming out of the collaboration between women working together. “We need to think win-win and broadcast for success!” she adds.


Sustainable Leadership and Ethics

Sustainable leadership and ethics are also topics during the three day WEE seminar. Adam Brännström is one of the key speakers from the Swedish company Kontura. “Leadership is about inspiring other people. The management sets the direction. But we must remember that a manager and a leader are two different things. It is actually not uncommon that a skillful surgeon is asked to become the manager of a hospital – without training. Imagine if you one day would promote a very skillful person who works at the check-in-counter at the airport to become a pilot, because she has done a great job at the counter… “

“Leadership is something that you need to practice. It is important to understand how your leadership affects other people.”

Digging into the subject of ethics and corruption, the executive director of APINDO in Indonesia, P.A. Panbohli shares how APINDO are working as a BMO to influence the government and to assist their member companies to prevent corruption.

Ruth Brännvall of Njord Consulting in Sweden, goes on to share how one can work pro-actively to promote ethical behaviour and anti-corruption in organizations using the standard for Social Responsibility, ISO 26000. “Corruption in everyday business often has to do with the perceived lack of choice. It is difficult to deal with corruption when it is tied to benefiting family, religious groups and political affiliations, as cultures of obligation in such relationships are common. Compliance efforts are not always enough here. But we can see that people are more likely to act ethically when they feel confident about themselves and realize that they have a choice.” Ruth says.

Many of the participants already are interested in making use of different instruments tied to ethics.  “We need to look into implementing ethical guidelines for our chamber and members”, says Prisca Chikwashi, the CEO of the Zambian Chambers of Commerce.

“We are struggling in Tanzania with this issue. We need to work together. One idea is to work with the old ladies, the grandmothers. We are going to go ahead”, says Rose Kalulika from African Women in Agribusiness Network East Africa.

Sustainable fashion – green business at Indonesia Fashion Week

CTS has cooperated with Indonesia Fashion Week for a number of years focusing on sustainability. This year, together with the WEE network, a seminar is held giving practical examples of how business can be conducted in both a sustainable and profitable way. Ruth Brännvall gives an interesting talk introducing some of the new strategies that companies are using to market sustainability and to go green. Euis Saedah, from the Indonesian government, outlines the work that Indonesia does to support green and sustainable business.

The speakers are many, the input voluminous and the curiosity and discussions between the women and men are intense and inspiring. After three days it seems as if these fascinating women have known each other forever. “This trip has made me realize that it isn’t the big things that matter, but the small ones”, says Mehr-Un-Nisa Ahmed from Pakistan.

To participate at the opening ceremonies of Indonesia Fashion week is a perfect finale to the WEE conference. “The fashion show was the ice on the cake for me” Bertha continues.

All the women are encouraged, by Nina Tursinah from APINDO, to wear an Indonesian sarong, resulting in colorful creativity. “These past three days were very moving for me sitting with women discussing issues men normally discuss,” Salatiel, one of the few men at the conference reveals. “I am honored to be part of this network and to become an honorary woman.”

Anna-Karin Rudelius