More than a dozen foreign national business chambers operate in Cambodia. They are an integral part of the Kingdom’s business fabric, fulfilling a wide spectrum of roles that go from facilitating business connections to spurring dialogue on relevant economic issues to lobbying for the interests of its members.
For the recently released issue of the B2B handbook, the B2B team of writers sat down with representatives from three of the major, most influential chambers in Cambodia. With their help and that of other well-established business personalities, we have compiled this list with the top 8 reasons why it is in your best interest to join a chamber:
1. Increase your business network
Let’s first consider the most basic role of any chamber anywhere in the world: to help you establish the connections you need to grow your business, whereas that means getting you in touch with potential customers, distributors, suppliers, or business partners. “An organisation of this kind is principally about facilitating business networks,” comments David Tibbott, Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia (BritCham), and organisation whose core mandate is to help “people having an interest in Cambodia to meet together in a spirit of friendship and cooperation for mutual benefit.”
The weapon of choice for the chambers to fulfill this role are events. BritCham and the Australian, American, Canadian and European Chambers of Commerce (AusCham, AmCham, CanCham and EuroCham, respectively) all curate networking events on a fairly regular basis (monthly, for the most part). Held in lavished venues and generally catered with excellent finger food and refreshments, these events are extremely popular among members companies. While these networking events are great places to connect with compatriotic companies, they are also ideal to meet potential local clients and partners. If you are a member of the organising chamber, entrance into the event will come at a discounted rate.
These networking events can take a myriad of forms. In November, Auscham curated a wine masterclass that counted with the expertise of Penfold’s ambassador Patrick Dowling. That same month, BritCham held a ‘speed networking event’, granting participants 3-minute timed sessions to introduce themselves and learn as much as possible of the person sitting across the table.
But the chambers have other tricks up their sleeves to help your connections multiply. BritCham, for example, has an online membership directory to help you research, find and connect with companies that might potentially become a client or a business partner.
2. Keep yourself up-to-date
Business chambers operating in the Kingdom are big fans of organising conferences, seminars and workshops to disseminate knowledge and skills among its members. Just recently I attended a breakfast talk with the National Employment Agency, a public lecture on the UK & Asia Pacific in the 21st century, and a luncheon on Canada’s engagement with ASEAN (organised, respectively, by EuroCham, BritCham and CanCham).
This year, Chris Hartshorn of the Boeing Group, invited by AmCham, gave an excellent presentation on the future of aviation in Southeast Asia, and how Cambodia fits into the picture. Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, in another well-received event hosted by the American chamber, spoke to members and guests about the geo-political dynamics in Asia and how they will impact the way business is done in the region.
The International Business Chamber (IBC) also prides itself in bringing world-class speakers to add to the knowledge of the members. In recent months, for example, IBC had end-of-mission speeches by the outgoing resident representatives of the IMF and ADB, who were able to give candid, off-the-record talks about their views and experiences in Cambodia.
To foster dialogue, keep members updated with the latest developments, and help steer thought on the subject, BritCham put together last August a business group on e-commerce. The chamber invited some of the country’s key players in the IT and marketing sectors for participation: with the mediation of Olivia Widen, director of BritCham, Thomas Pokorny, CEO of WorldBridgE Commerce, and Christopher McCarthy, Founder and Partner at MangoTango, companies of the caliber of Ezecom know meet on a regular basis to discuss and agenda that they themselves help set up. In the words of Tibbott, “[initiatives like these] bring members together around an issue of concern, but simultaneously, they can connect members working in a similar industry or sector.”
3. Make sound business decisions
Rookies and companies eyeing the Cambodian market – but still unsure of whether or not to take the leap – can benefit enormously from collaboration with the different national chambers. They can provide newcomers with a “market overview” to help them assess the potentiality of the market. Businesses that are already seriously considering the market may contact their national chamber in Cambodia to plan a visit; chambers can assist in arranging a tailor-made programme for them.
4. ‘Stay in the loop’ with governmental organisations and agencies
Chambers can help you establish and maintain much-needed rapport with your embassy and government agencies (both compatriotic and local). BritCham, through their close partnership with UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the British Embassy, is able to facilitate links for their members with both of these stakeholders. “Links” with this sort intergovernmental organisations can prove particularly profitable for SMEs, as Jose B. Collazo, a former Communications Director for AmCham, points out: “AmCham works closely with the U.S. Embassy and the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce to ensure that chamber members are alerted of opportunities they can participate in that will increase their visibility in the Kingdom and throughout the Asia Pacific.”
A case in point is the delegation that accompanied former U.S. Ambassador William E. Todd and the Cambodian Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol on a “reverse trade mission” to the U.S. last May. Designed to encourage American companies to invest in Cambodia, the delegation included AmCham members like Acleda Bank, VTrust, Sokha Hotels, Coca-Cola, Emerging Markets Consulting, General Electric, Sciaroni & Associates, and the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone. These members met with several leading U.S companies which included Cisco and Intel, as well as with trade associations and government leaders in San Francisco, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. “It was a wonderful opportunity for chamber members to make new business contacts and raise their profile,” Collazo explains.
Collazo relates another instance in which AmCham helped members through its connections with governmental institutions.
“Earlier this year we were alerted by the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service office in Bangkok that Harley-Davidson, one of the most recognizable American brands on the planet, was looking for a Cambodian partner to set up a presence in the Kingdom. We quickly got the word out to our members of this one of a kind and lucrative opportunity. We worked to ensure that chamber members who expressed an interest in partnering with Harley-Davidson received all the necessary application materials, and sat down and reviewed it with some of them to see how each of them could best approach the process.
We are happy to report that several of our members passed the initial application review and met with Harley-Davidson officials to discuss the next phase. I’m optimistic that one of our chamber members will be selected.”
5. Have a voice
Chambers also carry out lobby work to represent the interest of their members vis-a-vis the government. Tibbott explains that “we facilitate a medium where our members and UK companies can lobby their concerns and challenges to the Cambodian Government.”
IBC is very active when it comes to advocacy, and participates in a number of the working groups that exist under the Government Private Sector Forum (GPSF). Most prominent among these is the Working Group on Law, Tax and Governance, which Bretton G. Sciaroni – President of IBC – co-chairs with the Minister of Economy and Finance, HE Dr. Aun Porn Moniroth. This cross-cutting public-private dialogue mechanism deals with a great variety of issues of importance to the business community.
6. Level up your brand image
Membership in your national chamber can help people associate your company with a certain standard of quality. Tibbott explains that “association with BritCham can help a company distinguish itself for having a recognised standard of doing business.”
7. Expand your horizons intraregionally
Southeast Asia’s thriving economy presents limitless possibilities for any company operating in the Kingdom. How to extend your corporate arms beyond the Cambodian borders? Well, here too, chambers can come very handy.
BritCham, for example, works very closely with nine British business chambers and groups in the region through their Britain in Southeast Asia (BiSEA) network. Members benefit from discounted rates with regional partners and enjoy direct access to a wider regional network of business. This can provide for great business opportunities, as members make themselves known throughout the region. With the participation of some of its members, BritCham has recently organised two regional events on Cambodia in Malaysia and Singapore.
8. Have access to other useful resources, tools and discounts
A chamber’s toolbox includes other helpful instruments. Their websites are often valuable resources to locate potential partners and clients, or to find literature on your field of work. Members can even use these websites as windows to showcase their own in-house content. Tibbott believes BritCham’s website is a precious asset for its members:
“We have just launched our new website, which is entirely interactive and member-driven. Not only can you now find our membership directory there, but members themselves will be able to access the site to post their own updates and articles, as well as being able to access informative documents and resources.”
Other perks of membership include the opportunity to access larger networks at discounted rates, as it is the case with BritCham and the European Chamber of Commerce. Membership to EuroCham as a BritCham member comes at 50% of the original price.
Membership into one of the many chambers that populate Phnom Penh’s business scene can be highly beneficial for your SME. In this increasingly fierce market, maximising your chances of success is now more important than ever: one good way to that is by joining your national chamber and taking advantage of some of the benefits outlined above.