By Global Mobility Immigration Lawyers (GLOMO)
“How’s business?” the old greeting goes. But these days, one might do better to ask: “Where’s business?”
Thanks to advances in technology, we now operate in a global marketplace where Australia is but one small, albeit magnificent, stall. All commerce has become, whether directly or indirectly, international commerce.
It can be a little overwhelming.
Fortunately, where there is commerce there are, more often than not, chambers of commerce, making it easier to negotiate the immense opportunities, and not a few risks, in this big marketplace of ours.
What is a Chamber of Commerce?
In a nutshell, a chamber of commerce is a member organisation that organises and promotes the common interests of a business community.
But what exactly does a chamber of commerce do?
And why should you join one – that is, what’s in it for you?
We decided to interview a number of chambers to get down into the nitty gritty of why you, your business and your staff, can benefit from joining a chamber of commerce.
What do Chambers of Commerce do?
A common misconception is that chambers of commerce are merely organisations that exist solely to promote business.
Yes, business is a cornerstone of any chamber, but the reality is more complex.
Chambers of Commerce work across various sectors: trade, industry, advocacy, as well as national and international mobility.
While actively promoting members, chambers also endorse their local and broader communities. By facilitating relationships, chambers of commerce ensure that businesses are able to collaborate in creating opportunities for themselves, their partners, and their clients.
There is no single model followed by chambers of commerce, and their mandates might be State, National or International. They may also be private, compulsory, or community based. More on this below.
State, National, and International Chambers are defined largely by their physical location and reach. For example, a State based chamber, like the NSW Business Chamber, advocates for business owners specifically within NSW.
Likewise, International Chambers will usually promote relationships and business opportunities between their specific country and Australia. International Chambers may choose to focus on the mobility of business, including the facilitation of resources across international borders. For example, a chamber may assist with the deployment of staff and resources, advising on import restrictions and visa requirements.
Private vs Compulsory Chambers
This article largely focuses on the more common, private model. In private chambers, there is no obligation to join. Companies pay a membership fee in exchange for opportunities such as networking and industry connections.
Conversely, a compulsory chamber is one where membership is obligatory. For example, in Germany, the IHK-Gesetz, or the Chamber Act, governs when ‘enterprises are members’ and are required to be statutory bodies. Two examples of this include the Chambers of Commerce and Industry (IHK, Industrie und Handelskammer) and the Chambers of Skilled Crafts (HwK, Handwerkskammer).
So, What’s in it for You?
The benefits of joining chambers of commerce can be immeasurable. However, no two chambers of commerce are identical, with benefits varying depending on the chamber and the business involved.
Barry Corr, CEO of the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce explains that even within a single chamber, benefits will depend on the individual member and what they’re trying to achieve.
Notwithstanding the above, in our discussions with different chambers of commerce a few benefits came up again and again:
This is a given. One of the major benefits of joining a Chamber of Commerce is the opportunity to cultivate business though networking, as well as to create lasting relationships with like-minded people.
For example, the Australian Malaysia Business Council Queensland’s (AMBCQ) “primary focus is … on providing opportunities for [members] to engage with others at all different levels and across sectors.” Shona Leppanen-Gibson, president of AMBCQ, recognised the importance of networking, and placed great emphasis on “finding positive connections that lead to business and career opportunities”.
By attending events, and engaging with people in the wider business community, chamber of commerce members are able to make strategic connections. And even where they don’t walk away from a contract, it can be a great way to learn from industry leaders.
For example, the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ANZCCJ), promotes networking opportunities for “meeting government leaders and specialists”, in particular their Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP), “aims to provide young professionals and students in Tokyo insight into various industries in Japan and to learn more about how to pursue a successful career”. Judith Hanna, ANZCCJ Executive Director, explained that “YEP networking events offer a fantastic opportunity to hear from inspiring young professionals who have excelled in their careers, speak with recruiters and business leaders in Tokyo looking to acquire young talent and to mix and mingle with likeminded young people”.
Amie O’Mahony, Government Relations Manager of the American Chamber in Australia (AmCham), emphasised the importance of events, stating that networking is one of the five major pillars of her organisation. AmCham achieves this through their event program, where members are invited to functions for key stakeholders. Within this program, members have access to “preferred seating” so that they can connect with specific individuals.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking this is as easy as exchanging business cards and calling it a day. Shona Leppanen-Gibson highlighted that it is important to remember that networking is not always a “quick win”, and that “it is about the level of involvement and commitment an individual or an organisation would like to have with the business council”. Members that “put in the time and effort and… are consistent… will reap the rewards”.
This sentiment was echoed throughout many of our interviews. Martin Scarpino, CEO of SwissCham Australia, put it quite succinctly by comparing it to a gym membership:
“It’s up to you. It’s like when you go to Fitness First. You sign up and you never go. Or you sign up and you become an active member.”
Having access to, and being represented through, advocacy is another benefit of joining a chamber of commerce. Many chambers and business councils have their foot in the door when it comes to discussing policy. By joining an organisation that reflects your interests, your needs will be asserted when it comes to any form of lobbying.
Unsurprisingly, advocacy varies within each organisation, as specific goals are promoted to mirror philosophy and interests.
For example, the Small Business Association of Australia (SBAA) advocates for small business by promoting policy change. One of SBAA’s major projects is its work on the Small Business Charter of Australia, where it aims to promote signature reforms and “create good policy for small business owners”. Anne Nalder, CEO and Founder of SBAA, emphasised the importance of strong advocacy. Anne suggested that we should be looking at “different initiatives” rather than continuing with “…Band-Aid solutions. When formulating policy, we have to ask, ‘how will this affect small business?’”
Similarly, Nigel McBride, former Business SA CEO, spoke about their advocacy for South Australian business. Tax reforms, ice in the workplace, and climate change, are just some of the topics championed by the Chamber through media campaigns.
Jacinta Reddan, CEO of AustCham Hong Kong, explained that her chamber has been ‘lobbying to recognise the value of [corporate experience] and to look to how we can create a better pathway for members to go back into corporate Australia’. She encourages members to ‘have a say, be involved, and have an influence in key business decisions that will affect you’.
Being active in a chamber of commerce or business council can also raise the profile of an individual business.
For example, members of AmCham are able to leverage the activities of the Chamber to increase their visibility. Aime O’Mahony explained that simply by becoming an active member, companies are able to “have their brand associated with some of the biggest names or issues”. Businesses can do this through sponsorship or representation on specific committees.
Similarly, Yachien Huang, Executive Director of the Australia New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Taipei (ANZCham Taipei) noted that ‘there are plenty of options for members to increase their visibility in the local market through exposures on our website, social media, e-newsletters and event sponsorship’.
Information & Advice
Chambers of commerce are treasure troves of valuable information and advice for companies and individuals. Usually published online, news updates and publications are given to members as well as the general public.
Some organisations go a step further, creating valuable content that is exclusive to members.
For example, Australian Business Council Dubai (ABCD) is preeminent in educating and disseminating information to its members. Not only does the Business Council’s key players read and share local Australian press, but the Council has created a members’ forum and community hub. Justine Cullen, Manager of ABCD, explained that this hub provides a variety of information. Topics such as obtaining a license and ‘life in Dubai’ make the Council the go-to resource on doing business in Dubai.
Similarly, AmCham provides cutting edge information and resources to members though events, trade missions, meetings with key decision makers, online publications, investment reports, and a trade and investment guide.
Sophia Demetriades Toftdahl, President of the Norwegian Australian Chamber of Commerce (NACC) favours using events to help businesses “stay abreast of what is happening in the community’.
Some chambers of commerce will assist or advise in relation to deployment of staff offshore: tax, visa and immigration and so on. Others, for example most International Business Councils, focus on broader aspects of commerce, rather than the nuts and bolts of personnel and their movements.
Nigel McBride, former Business SA CEO, explained for example that his chamber is able to assist with export stamping.
The Australia Zimbabwe Business Council (AZBC) uses an internal legal department. Evans Mukonza, President AZBC, explains that this is particularly useful for assisting with staff mobility. Evans explains that the agency ‘provides employment to young people’ by helping them find a job and ‘get their resume up to scratch’. Evans notes that his organisation is able to match employees with employers, highlighting that they can also handle the visa requirements.
Which Chamber Will You Join?
Chambers of commerce are a great source of support for your growing business. Whether you want to build connections, increase exposure, or promote your core values, chambers can offer unique and worthwhile opportunities for you and your business.
So, what are you waiting for? Go on and join!
Read the full article here.