Chambers of commerce and business associations in Pakistan have started showing significant improvements in the way they serve their members. Contributing to that outcome is CIPE’s continued work on capacity building initiatives to help chamber and association staff learn modern corporate governance and management concepts. As a part of these efforts, last week CIPE organized the 3rd annual Secretaries’ General Conference in Lahore.
34 secretaries general (the paid CEO position) representing chambers of commerce and sectoral association from across Pakistan attended the event, including 17 new participants. CIPE efforts were also successful in brining secretaries general from women chambers in areas such as Mardan, Peshawar and Quetta that are generally considered difficult for women’s empowerment. For Nazia Durrani, newly elected Secretary General of Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Mardan, it was the first such event. “It was a great opportunity for me,” she said. Other participants shared that view, emphasizing that this annual conference provides them with a unique common platform for learning and networking.
Since the 2010 Secretaries’ General Conference, participating chambers have specifically improved their membership services, increased membership numbers, implemented technological changes and entered into the modern era of social media – changes that were never thought off in Pakistan before.
Recent conference started with the participants sharing their success stories on the implementation of the last year’s learning at their institutions. These success stories include:
- increased membership and retention thanks to a newly designed membership form and personal follow up at the time of membership renewal,
- better value proposition for the members and greater attention to their needs,
- improved board and staff training to ensure professionalism and clarify roles and responsibilities,
- greater online presence through upgraded websites and social media (Facebook and Twitter integrated with the websites).
This year the participants went through rigorous training programs. The topics covered included leadership, advocacy, legal issues, ethics and proposal writing. At the conclusion of the conference all the attendees agreed to form a coalition and start a group blog where they will be able to discuss the common issues they face and participate in joint policy advocacy initiatives.
Historically, corporate boards in many countries have been comprised mainly of men. A number of European market regulators are considering imposing quotas of women on the boards of publicly traded companies as a requirement in the new Code of Corporate Governance, and this is likely to compel business to consider gender diversity of corporate boards.
A report published by the Institute for Employment Studies notes that, “Despite long-standing anti-discrimination legislation in the US, UK and across Europe, women still remain under-represented in many occupations, most noticeably in high-level posts. This phenomenon is seen at its most extreme when the composition of company boards is considered. In the USA, women constitute on average 14.7 per cent of board members on Fortune 500 companies; in the UK, women hold 11 per cent of FTSE 100 directorships, according to the 2008 Sex and Power report published by the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission.”
In Pakistan majority of listed companies are managed by controlling shareholders who are close family members. Other investors in these companies are in minority. According to section 196(2) of Companies Ordinance 1984, directors can exercise borrowing powers of the company by means of a resolution at a board of directors meeting. Code of Corporate Governance also allows directors to exercise all powers on behalf of the company and only binds them morally to do this “with a sense of objective judgment and independence in the best interests of the listed company.”
Further, it asks to maintain “a complete record of particulars of the significant policies, as may be determined, along with the dates on which they were approved or amended by the Board of Directors.” Practically, there is no check on the directors regarding imprudent decisions.
The instability in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, leading to the influx of internally displaced persons into the surrounding areas, has been dominating the news from that region. Yet even in the midst of difficulties, there are some positive developments worth highlighting. CIPE’s work with women in the Mardan district is one such example.
District Mardan of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) has a significant position in the region in terms of trade and business. There exists an untapped potential for the promotion and development of trade and industry. However, due to lack of entrepreneurial skill and professional training, the ability of local businesses to flourish and contribute to the economic development is hindered.
The business environment for women in Mardan reflects the complex interplay of many factors, which fall into two basic categories. The first category is made up of social, cultural, traditional and religious elements. The second category is induced by the factors of the first component, taking the form of constitutional structures, policy documents, regulatory arrangements and institutional mechanisms. However, women in Mardan do not have access to basic technical training to optimize their potential and generate sources of income.
Under the Business Support Organization (BSO) grant program, CIPE in partnership with the Mardan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (MCCI) last year established a training and resource center with the capacity to develop entrepreneurial, business and computer skills for its women members.