5 highlights from opening day of the 10th World Chambers Congress

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The 10th World Chambers Congress got underway in Sydney, Australia today bringing together over 1,000 chamber and business leaders from 100 countries for discussion on some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

We’ve been covering activities via our Congress app and more widely on social media but here we’ve picked five highlights to sum up an action-packed first day:

1. A royal welcome for participants

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales addressed participants in a recorded video message, saying: “It is increasingly encouraging to know that the mission of promoting responsible business is meeting with an ever more ready audience of active and enlightened business leaders.”

Prince Charles said: “I have never underestimated the importance of chambers of commerce…The support that the World Chambers Federation offers to my responsible business network…is invaluable and I know this sentiment is echoed by many other business networks that benefit from the Federation’s thought leadership.”

Following formal acknowledgement of Australia’s indigenous peoples and cultures, Congress delegates were also welcomed in a traditional smoking ceremony, a cleansing ritual to ward off bad spirits, acknowledge ancestors and pay respect to the land and sea of the country.

2. A pivotal and vital role for chambers to address global issues

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who officially opened the Congress, said that in a time of rapid economic change and disruption, the role of chambers worldwide was more important than ever.

“Organisations like yours are vital as partners for governments and the community in pursuing economic opportunities and generating investment, innovation and jobs,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Looking to the future of chambers, World Chambers Federation Chair Peter Mihok said that chambers must recognise the need to connect globally and to embrace change.

“The challenge to chambers today is to keep pace with the changing world in which we function,” he said. “This entails embracing technological change, considering the changing face of entrepreneurialism, diversifying membership to include new and emerging sectors, and reflecting on the needs of companies to provide new and value adding services.”

3. Re-balancing debate on global trade

“Trade is seen as an enemy, not a friend. But is this is simply not right. Trade helps lift millions out of poverty, promotes economic growth and job creation, and drives technical progress to unprecedented levels. It makes our lives better.” This was the message of ICC First Vice-Chair John W.H Denton AO who called on delegates to get behind ICC’s global #TradeMatters campaign and to help re-balance the public debate on global trade with real-life success stories of how trade contributes to inclusive growth and global prosperity.

“Those of us who see the benefits of open markets in our daily work must reconnect with those who believe globalisation has failed them,” said Mr Denton, underscoring the importance for business and chambers to communicate about the benefits of trade in a way that means something to the citizen on the street.

4. Delegates commit to Global Goals

As an official partner event of Global Goals Week taking place this week during the UN General Assembly in New York, the Congress aims to raise awareness of the 17 Global Goals adopted by 193 world leaders in 2015 and showcase the ways in which business and chambers are working to ensure their attainment.

Business and chamber engagement to advance the Global Goals was demonstrated at the ICC WCF exhibition booth where delegates have been making personal commitments to specific goals and will continue to do so for the duration of the event.

5. The role of chambers in promoting global stability and peace

Business thrives in a stable environment. But how can small businesses with limited time and resources make a difference when it comes to peacebuilding efforts?

This was a question raised in the first plenary session of the Congress which focused on business, conflict and terrorism. Highlighting the detrimental economic effects of conflict on the global economy, session moderator Steve Killelea of the Institute for Economics and Peace highlighted the strong interplay between business, peace and economic development and urged chambers to be instrumental in communicating this relationship to governments.

Highlighting the importance of chambers as the active voice of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Sofia Patel, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said that civil society was more open to working with SMEs because of the perception that larger companies had an alternative agenda. “SMEs are more flexible and more willing to work with tailored interventions rather than taking a broad brush approach,” she said.

Monica de Greiff, President of the Chamber of Commerce of Bogota, said that the value of small business was big when it came to preventing corruption and other illegal activities like contraband that help fund conflict and terrorism.