Participants at a recent capacity building workshop for women’s chambers in South Asia.
At CIPE, we take a systemic and institutional approach to supporting entrepreneurship. Systemic in that unlike other organizations, rather than providing training or microloans to individual entrepreneurs, we seek to understand the policy barriers that often make it difficult to register firms, access credit, or conduct business. Institutional in that we support the efforts of civil society organizations – chambers of commerce and business associations – that seek to engage and advocate with policymakers to eliminate those barriers.
In the case of promoting women entrepreneurs, CIPE has focused in a wide range of countries on building the capacity and strengthening the governance of women’s chambers and association, thus making them more effective participants in that advocacy process.
Recently, a group of CIPE staffers took part in an informal email discussion that illuminates certain aspects of our approach to working with these organizations, which we wanted to share with readers of this blog. The conversation began when Julie Mancuso, Program Officer for Africa, wrote to several of her colleagues: “I am curious as to best models for women’s chambers and whether separate is usually better. Should women be engaged ideally through a strong local chamber, rather than starting their own, organized primarily around gender? Is this an area of debate or is there an agreed-upon model one way or the other?” Her specific question concerned her work with a coalition of women’s business associations that are weighing the relative merits of creating their own chamber or operating under the umbrella of the national chamber.
“But wise is the man who disdains no character, but with searching glance explores him to the root and cause of all.” — Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls
Corruption in Ukraine cuts across regions, all sectors of the economy, and almost every institution. In some sense it’s become a rallying point: since everyone is harmed by corruption, CIPE’s private sector-led, collective action approach to anticorruption in Ukraine is based on bringing the business community together to work towards common solutions.
Given that Ukraine’s business associations are among the country’s weakest civil society institutions — such associations did not exist during 70 years of Communist rule — small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are underrepresented nationally in civil society and political life. Despite this fact, Ukrainian public discourse on issues affecting the business community is vibrant and relatively open. This appears to be improving on the regional level, in part through CIPE support of business associations representing SMEs, a little more notably each year. Individual business associations, as well as eight new coalitions of associations, now work collectively at the regional level.
Yesterday I wrote about how CIPE is helping women business leaders to break down barriers in South Asia – both barriers between countries and barriers that are keeping women out of the economic mainstream. CIPE’s third networking and training session for the heads of women’s chambers of commerce and business associations, held on September 18-20 in Lahore, Pakistan, was a resounding success, including a dinner at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce that drew the Governor of Punjab as a featured speaker.
But we also wanted to take some time to focus on the training program itself, and the results of the hard work that these women are putting in to building their organizations. There is no shortage of programs in South Asia to build links among women entrepreneurs – to encourage trade and business ties – but CIPE is focused on strengthening the capacity of the chambers and associations, both so they can better represent their members in the policy process, and help their members grow their own businesses.
The biggest changes can start with small steps – particularly in the effort to change cultural barriers and to ease decades-old national tensions. Often it is the private sector, seeking to open new markets, explore possibilities, and expand trade and commerce, that is at the forefront of such changes.
Last week in Lahore, Pakistan, CIPE organized the third in its series of training and networking sessions for a group of women’s business leaders from across South Asia, helping bring about a range of positive steps – both for national understanding and opportunity for traditionally marginalized women.
This network, which CIPE has been developing with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy, includes participants from major and emerging chambers of commerce and business associations from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan.
The idea to bring together representatives from these countries – particularly given the tensions between India and Pakistan, and the history between Bangladesh and Pakistan, was not guaranteed to succeed. But after two meetings, one last winter in Dhaka and then again in the spring in Kathmandu, it was becoming clear that these women business leaders were growing closer, learning from one another, sharing ideas and information, and finding ways to strengthen their organizations.
Corruption is a direct threat to a country’s democratic emergence and an obstacle to a country’s democratic development. In Thailand, for example, corruption was the stated justification for the military’s ousting of an elected government in 2006 and the Supreme Court’s sacking of another elected government in 2008. Competing allegations of corruption were the main drivers of nation-crippling unrest in the country.
In Thailand, as in other new and struggling democracies across the globe, if democracy is to mature and fully take root, more is required than just the ability to vote.
In countries including Russia, Thailand, Columbia and Serbia, CIPE is helping the private sector mobilize to take proactive steps to reduce corruption. These programs demonstrate the transformative impact that private sector Collective Action can have on a country’s fight against corruption.
Recently I stumbled across Andrey Kurkov’s Death and the Penguin,
a deadpan satire of a single man and his pet penguin struggling to get by in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. The little novel points squarely at the sometimes absurd but functional atmosphere of Ukraine, where corruption runs rampant and entrepreneurs struggle to hold their own.
The novel follows Viktor, a middle-aged aspiring writer living with his pet penguin, Misha. True to real life, the zoo had been giving away hungry animals to anyone who could feed them. Viktor, abandoned by his girlfriend, took Misha in. For Viktor, too, times were hard, so when he is offered the questionable opportunity to write obituaries for VIPs who are still living, he is quick to accept. Unfortunately, these obits turn out to be a sort of hit list: following each obituary, the subject’s death ensues, which he discovers only later in the morning newspaper. He soon comes to realize that the last obituary he will write will be his own.
Andrey Kurkov poses with a penguin. (Photo: Random House UK)
Kurkov’s depiction of post-Soviet life is lined with deadpan satire that clings to the edges of the structures of corruption that have made the country hostile to its own people. One day a commercial comes on the television: penguins in Antarctica, splashing, at home. Misha begins to throw himself at the screen. Ukrainians researchers pop into the frame.
“I appeal to private entrepreneurs and others with funds – on you depends whether our scientists will be able to continue their work in the Antarctic. Have a pencil and paper ready for the account number to which sponsor donations can be made, and a telephone number on which you can hear details of what your money will be spent on,” says a woman. Viktor runs to jot down the information. Despite his friend’s skepticism, Viktor makes a donation, hoping to send Misha to Antarctica. But when that last obit is requested, it is Viktor who takes a place among the crew – it is these entrepreneurs who have saved him.
CIPE Pakistan Deputy Country Director Hammad Siddiqui was interviewed by the Business Recorder this week, discussing the history and reform of the country’s chambers of commerce and business associations. Siddiqui highlights the role that CIPE has played in strengthening the chamber and association movement since launching its program in 2006, beginning with an effort to re-register all Pakistan’s associations.
As Siddiqui points out, “Back then a lot of these associations did not have offices; they were operating from homes; they lacked staff and had other traits of what is oft termed ‘brief case associations.’ Over 30 percent of these briefcase chambers and associations vanished through the re-registration process.” Siddiqui also illustrates some of the problems that typically face chambers and associations in South Asia generally, including that the original founders have “a hold on the chamber or the association, even when they do not directly hold a position” and that “when they appoint a CEO to run the association’s affairs, they do not really see them as CEOs…. and in spirit, the board does not treat that person as a CEO.”
Siddiqui lays out some recommendations for the further development of chambers in Pakistan, including the need for more competition among chambers and associations, more emphasis on service provision, and a push to empower staff. Read the whole article here.
Marc Schleifer is Program Officer for South Asia at CIPE.