BPA says, “Together we can!”

Wednesday, 4 January 2012 00:34 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Let’s win the peace in 2012 by giving a “Hand Up” to Sri Lanka’s regional SME’s

The Business for Peace Alliance (BPA) has called on all stakeholders to support Sri Lanka’s regional Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in 2012 thereby win peace in the New Year. “Together we can,” emphasised the BPA.

Following is the statement issued by BPA.

The BPA which came together nine years ago has grown to a network of 30 Regional Chambers of Commerce that represent a vast number of SME’s across Sri Lanka. During the first four years (2002-2006), a group of volunteers, nominated by the regional chambers themselves and supported by UNDP and International Alert, were mandated to give “Regional Business Leadership for National Unity.”

Its main activities at the time included: Travelling throughout Sri Lanka, networking with counterparts in every District of the country. Networking with Government institutions, and other Colombo based organisations – NGO’s, INGO’s, Donors and Corporate entities. Conducting Regional Empowerment Workshops to develop communication and presentation skills, conflict transformation skills and peace building. Conducting domestic investors and policy makers dialogs to lobby for regional aspirations.

Publishing Sri Lanka’s first regional business directory. In 2006 we formalised BPA as “Sri Lanka’s Regional Chambers of Commerce Network for Conflict Transformation, Reconciliation, Regional Empowerment and Corporate Social Responsibility.” In 2006 we also formed a Secretariat with a mandate to promote networking among the regions as well as between the regions and Colombo, for business and peace. From 2006 to 2010, in addition to the activities listed above, BPA spearheaded many successful and high profile programs that included: Networking regional chambers for conflict transformation and reconciliation, “BizNet4CT”. Developing the “Voice of Regions” newsletter. Publishing Sri Lanka’s first compendium of small and medium regional producers, “Pride of the Regions” Directory. Empowering young leaders from the regions through the “Learn and Lead” scholarship program. Giving Regional SME’s a “hand-up” through context sensitive investment promotion events, “BizPAct”. Showcasing regional opportunities at a mega event, “Sri Lanka Unveiled – Importing Wealth”.

Lobbying for regional and SME aspirations at various public and private forums. With the end of the war and Sri Lanka being declared a middle income country, BPA’s funding to maintain a Secretariat came to an end in the later part of 2010.

Simultaneously, the regional chambers themselves were struggling with sustainability issues and finding it impossible to maintain offices and provide adequate services to its members. Years of ‘top down’ and ‘exclusive’ relationships, total donor dependence and unsustainable practices had developed to an extent where the chambers did not have confidence in their own capacity to sustain these institutions. Even the BPA network was looked upon as a source for donor assistance, and managing expectations became increasingly cumbersome.

Although reconciliation is a high priority in the aftermath of the conflict, the BPA now needed to support its membership to gain sustainability. Therefore, BPA’s Working Committee, together with leadership from the Hambantota Chamber, took to the road, to reconsider and reconfirm BPA’s mandate.

With a concept to prepare a five-year Regional Chamber Development Program, BPA consulted with all 30 Regional Chambers, at meetings held in five cluster locations around the country. BPA received a unanimous thumbs-up to develop a proposal that will attract good partners and donors for a “bottom-up” and “inclusive” five-year program.

Concurrently, BPA held meetings with strategic local and international partners to support this concept. Subsequently, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), Sri Lanka’s Pioneer, and 173 year old Chamber came forward to take on the challenge to collaborate with BPA to support the Regional Chambers.

On the occasion of BPA’s fifth AGM on 11 December 2011, in Kandy this year, CCC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with BPA to provide BPA with Secretariat Capacity.

CCC will work together with BPA in order that the work of the two organisations could be better coordinated to serve the needs of the Regional Chambers for the mutual benefit of both organisations. The strengths of BPA and CCC will complement each other in providing services and the implementation of projects and other regional economic development initiatives.

The recognition that a powerful organisation such as CCC has given BPA must be seen as a great achievement of the BPA and for the Regional Chambers themselves.

Furthermore, those of us who have untiringly lobbied for regional and SME aspirations over the years are happy to see that the 2012 National Budget affords many opportunities for SME’s, especially from the regions. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been loud and clear in his statement that, “SME’s are the backbone of our Economy.”

In order to derive benefits equitably from these opportunities, our regional business community and the SME’s in Sri Lanka have to be empowered – have to come in line with the opportunities. BPA is our own network and platform for empowerment. Our close association with CCC will give us access to powerful networks that can make a difference for us.

CCC is the focal point for business contacts both locally and abroad and has specialised committees, affiliated associations and bilateral business councils. The CCC membership ranging from the sole proprietor to the multinational, encompasses virtually every sphere of economic activity in Sri Lanka – industry, import, export, agriculture, banking, hire-purchase, leasing, tourism, shipping, engineering, mining, consultancy services, wholesale, retail, financial services legal and other services.

CCC also functions as an effective spokesman of the business sector. Its members serve on various institutions and committees set up by the Government as well as the private sector, either as CCC nominees or in their personal capacities.

The CCC Solutions (Pvt) Ltd, the project arm of CCC, implements projects that benefit the regions. Some of these projects have a specific output within geographical concentration and are implemented through the Regional Chambers already.

We strongly believe that powerful multi-stakeholder networks must be leveraged to fast track regional development – to transfer information, technology and investment to our regions, to develop appropriate local policy, to practice good governance, to empower SME’s and to sustain the Regional chambers.

To leverage these networks we must participate and play a proactive role in networking. Resourceful stakeholders must give our SME’s a ‘hand up’ (not a ‘hand out’). Regional chambers must be empowered to be the “voice of the regions” and lead local SME’s. Membership value and institutional sustainability must be the goal.

An old Gaelic Proverb says that, “There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.” BPA members aspire to be the ones to make things happen!