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COMMONWEALTH: Put Your Heart Into Business

Sanjay Suri

ABUJA, Dec 2 2003 (IPS) - The Commonwealth will set up a new global index to measure socially responsible investment at a business forum in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, later this week.

The forum is being held to promote business with an eye on sustainable development, ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Abuja, (Dec. 5 – 8).

The move to link business with social responsibility – long the domain of civil society and do-gooders – has got several governments interested. As many as eight government leaders are turning up early in Abuja to attend the business forum.

“We have studies that show that many giant companies and pension funds prefer to invest in businesses committed to socially responsible development,” Mohan Kaul, Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC), told IPS. “But 97 percent of that investment goes into the developed world.”

The new index will link factors such as the gross national income of a country, its purchasing power parity and the investment it is drawing. The index will also suggest what is possible by way of investment in developing countries in the Commonwealth.

“We are talking to a major fund manager,” Kaul said. “There already is an (similar) index – like FTSE 4Good. But, we will create our own index.”

“While a lot of the investment is not going into developing countries, it is also true that many developing countries have not created a business environment that would encourage companies to compete in the international arena,” Kaul noted.

“At Abuja we are working for a manifesto for business and government together to remove obstacles to wealth creation.”

The moves are led by a new push for partnerships that involve private companies, the government and civil society.

The Commonwealth will also set up a certification system for companies that can be players in the international arena. This will give potential investors in the developed world pointers to companies they can do business with.

These moves by the CBC are more than just more “Commonwealth talk”. Regional forums organised by the grouping led to business worth more than three billion dollars in 1999, and 2.3 billion dollars last year, Kaul said. “The largest component of this was business between developed and developing countries,” he added, much of it in infrastructure, mining, power projects, telecoms and financial services.

And, the CBC has found unique ways to make these business marriages work.

Businessmen are persuaded to attend the business forums. Everyone who comes along gets a password and a homepage on the forum website, and access to everyone else who has registered. So you have everyone’s business interests on the dedicated website, and an idea what they are looking for.

The CBC assembles a diary and puts together everyone who ought at least to talk. It then asks what happened once they met, and offers to give matters a helping hand if nothing did. Some successes:

– The CBC played a part in getting MTN of South Africa to make a massive investment in the mobile telephone market in Nigeria. MTN executives were invited to meetings at the Ministry of Telecoms in Nigeria. MTN is now the leading mobile phone company in the West African country.

– The South African power giant Eskom Enterprises was put together with the National Electricity Production Agency (NEPA) in Nigeria. It now plans to take over several of the divisions into which NEPA has been divided.

– South Africa’s Shivacom company made a deal to sell pre-paid telephone cards in Mozambique, after business-to-business meetings set up by the CBC. The deal is expected to lead to several others.

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