In 2013, the world faces many challenges, ranging from youth unemployment to the destruction of the environment to armed conflicts that continue to take lives and devastate countries. This week, more than 2,000 representatives of Chambers of Commerce from around the world gathered to discuss these issues — and the role of the private sector in addressing them — at the 8th World Chambers Congress in Doha, Qatar.
The themes were as diverse as the participants, but one common thread emerged: the business community needs to be involved in helping to solve these pressing problems. And private sector voices are most effective in a democratic context.
Indeed, many of these issues are linked, often to issues of economic exclusion, which can incite violence and perpetuate cycles of conflict and poverty. “Enemy number one to economic development is armed conflict,” said Joost Hintermann of the International Crisis Group, quoting IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde.
“If you look at the Arab Awakening or Arab Spring, it was driven by a profound sense of social injustice and the fact that large sections of the population were excluded from economic growth,” Hintermann continued. “These challenges haven’t gone away in the post-regime change era.”
In fact, the official focus of this year’s Congress was “Opportunities for All,” suggesting the important role that that the private sector — represented politically through business associations — must play in expanding economic inclusion.
One of the most effective ways of increasing economic opportunity is through entrepreneurship, a theme explored at length during CIPE’s recent Democracy that Delivers for Entrepreneurs conference in Chicago. It was also a theme that ran through many of the WCC presentations, as chambers from around the world shared effective approaches to fostering entrepreneurship and creating an entrepreneurial mindset, especially among young people who face unprecedented employment challenges in many countries.
On Wednesday, CIPE partners from Pakistan, Syria, and Kenya shared their experiences in helping to nurture entrepreneurship ecosystems — the complex networks of institutions, attitudes, policies, and financial flows that make it possible for new companies to form and flourish.
In Pakistan, where 60 percent of the population is made up of young people, the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI) has spearheaded a comprehensive youth entrepreneurship program that embraces academia, links with the government and international organizations, and most importantly participation from Pakistan’s business community. ICCI Secretary General Majid Shabbir described how the Chamber’s CIPE-supported youth initiative was crafted in consultation with youth, including the formation of a Young Entrepreneurs Forum. ICCI’s entrepreneurship program was also finalist among nine global competitors in the World Chambers Congress Youth Entrepreneurship contest.
Carole Kariuki of the Kenyan Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) discussed another important role of the business community in advancing entrepreneurship: advocacy. By bringing together micro, small, and medium enterprises to speak with one voice, associations like Kariuki’s can help to promote policies that promote competition and growth. Kenya’s new Micro and Small Enterprises Bill, passed with strong KEPSA support, aims to create a framework for bringing Kenya’s many informal micro-enterprises into the formal sector, where they will have an easier time hiring employees, accessing finance, and achieving the other conditions necessary for growth. These businesses employ about 80 percent of Kenyans but contributes just 18 percent to GDP — a number Kariuki hopes will rise to 30-35 percent in coming years.
Perhaps the most challenging place for entrepreneurs today is Syria, where an ongoing civil war has killed tens of thousands of people, destroyed infrastructure, and driven much of the business community (and their investment capital) out of the country. However, Syrians are already building a vision for what their country will look like once the war is ended, and business will have a key role to play in both rebuilding the country and in providing opportunities for economic advancement to a broader swathe of the population.
Abdusalam Haykal’s Syrian Young Entrepreneurs Association hopes that Syria’s new economic order will include a central role for entrepreneurship. For now, a key goal is changing mindsets, particularly of young people, about entrepreneurship. For many young Syrians, family and social pressure is to find a “secure” government job rather than creating a new business. However, in a country like Syria with a large youth population, creating jobs will be crucial after the conflict ends. Haykal argues that entrepreneurs are key to creating these jobs, since the post-conflict environment will remain too risky for large enterprises or multinational corporations to make large investments. Whatever Syria’s regime looks like after the war, it will need to create the legal and regulatory conditions for entrepreneurs to flourish or risk persistent high unemployment that could reignite the conflict.
While everyone agrees on the importance of promoting entrepreneurship, it is equally important to understand the different approaches needed in different countries. Each country faces its own set of challenges and opportunities, and the local private sector community, as represented through Chambers of Commerce and business associations, is ideally placed to suggest appropriate solutions. As Chamber representatives meet to discuss global problems, perhaps their most important take-away will be that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.