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.
Last October U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Peru. Clinton’s Peru trip barely made the headlines, but her remarks deserve attention and continue to ring true worldwide, especially in Latin America.
On her agenda: discussing bilateral and regional cooperation and delivering a keynote on women’s financial inclusion. In her remarks, she emphasized that economic strength is derived from social inclusion, and “at the heart of social inclusion [is] a commitment to women and girls.” But unfortunately the world’s attention was elsewhere, caught up in controversy over Libya and other regional priorities.
Examples of some of the informal legal documents used by “extralegal” businesses in the Arab world. (Source: ILD)
On December 17, 2010, police expropriated the equipment and goods of a fruit seller in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. Because of his informal status, the fruit seller had no option of appeal or avenue for official protest. He also had no collateral to secure a loan to buy new equipment, let alone grow his business. With no means of supporting his family of seven, the man now world famous for lighting the first spark of the Arab Spring, Mohammed Bouazizi, committed suicide by self immolation.
Bouazizi’s tragedy stemmed from an affront to his dignity, an absence of justice, and economic disenfranchisement. He was not alone. As the following months unfolded, it became clear just how many businesspersons and citizens across the region shared these same grievances when hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demand political and economic freedom.
Since then over two years have passed and Tunisians, Egyptians, and Libyans have experienced the unprecedented democratic elections and the chance to choose their own leaders. But free and fair elections, even at their best, are only half the battle.
Participants at the workshop on economic and social inclusion, with moderator Jean Rogers (center). (Photo: Staff)
Social and economic inclusion have become priority themes in ensuring that democracy delivers for all. On October 16, CIPE organized a workshop on economic inclusion at the Lima Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy to explore possible routes to inclusion and the implications for giving a voice to excluded populations.
The first presenter, Selima Ahmad, founder of the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that in Bangladesh entrepreneurship has given women a voice. Women entrepreneurs have gained the ability to make decisions within the family, and men are even joining their wives’ businesses. The women’s chamber advocated successfully for women entrepreneurs to be able to get loans without collateral. Members of the chamber who have done well now create jobs and provide help to other micro entrepreneurs.
In Peru, entrepreneurship provides the only route to move up in life for many who lack formal education. Daniel Cordova, president of Instituto Invertir, described the EmprendeAhora program, which educates young Peruvians under age 25 on democratic and market concepts. This program engages youth by addressing their personal and professional interests. The key to the success of the program is giving them a concrete, entrepreneurial activity, such as starting a business or a non-governmental organization.
Osama Mourad from Egypt, CEO of Arab Finance, noted that the Arab people protested for the sake of their freedom and dignity. However, an economically empowered citizen is a citizen who cares about the future of his country. The revolution in Egypt made people feel empowered to determine their own future and to start businesses. Key issues for them are access to capital—which can be provided effectively through cooperative associations; reform of bankruptcy laws; and non-financial services.