Manoj Ladwa speaks to Mohan Kaul on the importance of the Commonwealth…
1. What was the key motivation behind the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC)?
The Council was set up by the Commonwealth heads of government at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 1997, as it was believed the Commonwealth’s tremendous potential for enhancing trade and investment for its members was underutilised. The CBC was set up to be the voice of the private sector within the association and ensure that business considerations are well represented at Commonwealth meetings.
2. How have the dynamics and relevance of the Council changed since its inception?
The CBC started predominantly as a policy forum, a place for the public and private sector to come together to discuss economic, trade and investment issues. However, as the Commonwealth’s developing nations have advanced their needs have changed and the solutions CBC delivers have changed with them. CBC business and investment forums have now become places for companies to do actual business, it is now common for multiple MoUs and contracts to be signed during the course of an event.
3. What are some of the major milestones and achievements so far?
The CBC has often been the pathfinder for others to follow. We were the first organisation to hold an investor conference in Nigeria after its return to democracy and were key to introducing MTN into the Nigerian market. Similarly, CBC was the first to bring private sector investors into Sierra Leone after the civil war ended. Follow up events in London have ensured that Sierra Leone is now firmly on the business and investment map.
The Commonwealth Business Forums held alongside CHOGM have all been significant for the countries that have hosted them. In 2005, Malta saw a tripling of trade following the forum; in 2007, Uganda received $3 billion worth of investment proposals after the forum; and in 2009, over $1billion worth of projects were discussed at the forum and 11 MoUs were signed over the three-day event.
4. Is there more that can be done to make the Commonwealth a stronger business coalition?
Business is about networks and the Commonwealth is the ultimate network, made up of 54 market economies, many in dynamic and emerging regions. Over 4 trillion in trade happens every year within the association and investment flows have reached $200 billion – the Commonwealth is already a vibrant and growing business coalition, but there is more that could be done. I believe that Commonwealth trade ministers should meet every non-CHOGM year and the private sector should be invited to attend, this would help ensure that business issues stay at the top of the Commonwealth agenda.
5. Who is your inspiration in the pursuit of socially responsible economic tie-ups?
I have a great deal of respect for both Narayana Murthy and Bill Gates, both of whom have grown their own business into world class corporations that lead in their chosen fields. Narayana Murthy’s advocacy of India on the world stage is incredibly admirable and Bill Gates’ decision to give so much of his wealth to worthy causes is an example I hope others will follow.
Dr Mohan Kaul was appointed director-general and chief executive officer of the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) on its establishment in 1997. He is also chairman of Commonwealth Inclusive Growth Services (India) Limited.