Editorial from Charlotte Kalin, CEO
We have just had the privilege to be part of the annual meetings of the national chambers of commerce in Zimbabwe and Zambia giving us the chance to meet both the newly elected board and the members. A uniting challenge for all chambers and business organizations is how to be attractive and relevant to your members. AWAN, our East African partner, are also facing these challenges and have come a long way in assessing, addressing and implementing the relevance for their members.
The AGM serves as a “judgment day” on how well the chambers are performing for their members. At the Zambian AGM one attendee introduced himself as being a loyal life-long chamber member. Normally however chambers need to work hard on retaining and increasing their members. Some countries, like Germany, have a public chamber system where it is mandatory to belong to a chamber if you set up a registered business. But even here German Chambers have been under pressure to prove their relevance to the business community. So whether you are a Swedish, German, Zambian or Zimbabwean chamber or business organization you face the same challenge on how to add value to your members through policy advocacy, networking and services.
It was especially interesting to hear Zambia’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce, Hon Margaret Mwanakatwe, deliver her speech to the Zambian Chambers and the business community.
– I want to feel much more pressure from the private sector and I need the chambers to be strong, said the minister. She encouraged business to shape up on competitiveness and be much more explicit with the government on the reforms needed.
Another common challenge for both governments and business organizations is how to crack the nut on job creation and jobless growth. One government initiative is Zambia’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), a vehicle the government intends to use to industrialize and diversify the economy with the goal of creating 1 million jobs within 5 years. By investing government and donor money in sectors like agriculture, tourism, mining and manufacturing the government hopes also to attract private sector co-investment. Similar specialty vehicles exist in many of our partner countries as well as Sweden (e.g. ALMI, Norrlandsfonden). From the business side it is important to remind governments that real growth and sustainable job creation can only come from growth in the private sector on a competitive market. There are no short-cuts to this.
Two and a half years into the Chamber Academy program, where we work with business organisations in Africa and Asia, we are starting to see some real improvement and results. Such as the policy actions taken by AWAN – African Women Agribusiness Network – now making access to finance, markets and value addition happen for their members and for other women in agribusiness. An example of this is how they have worked with CTS for access to markets through the Spicy Kitchen delegation, with one of their members now starting to export to the largest fresh fruit and vegetable importer in Sweden.
One of the most important focus areas in our work for women’s economic empowerment in developing countries is the support for Nina Magazine and website encouraging Iraqi women entrepreneurs in Iraq and diaspora. Nina has apparently become a threat to certain groups which became obvious when Nina-iraq.com was hacked last month. This was not a simple sabotage. In a hacking attempt similar to the one that saw data being stripped from the US government a few days ago the entire server of this leading, bilingual Iraqi magazine has been corrupted, bringing down Nina as well as many other sites also. Nina has been fending off constant cyber threats since January this year. Recent publication of features such as Women’s Inheritance Rights has enjoyed huge popularity in Iraq and world-wide. As the outreach of Nina has grown, hacking attempts have increased exponentially. Imagine that women’s economic empowerment can be of such threat! Another common denominator, for Nina as well as for the other CTS partners, is the issue of leadership especially related to ethics and good corporate governance. This important issue was addressed in the CTS annual meeting on May 18th – read more about in this newsletter. To end on a happy note our hard work on promoting direct imports of roses from Ethiopia to Sweden bore fruit for an exciting occasion, since the directly imported Ethiopian roses were a part of the fantastic floral arrangements at the wedding of the Swedish Prince Carl Philip and Princess Sofia on June 13.
Charlotte Kalin, CEO Chamber Trade Sweden