Strength in unity and diversity

NMB Chamber CEO Denise van Huyssteen.
NMB Chamber CEO Denise van Huyssteen.
Image: Werner Hills


One positive aspect of times of crisis is that they tend to bring people together; demonstrating how it is possible to put aside differences of various kinds to help each other, pull together and stand together in the face of a common threat.

World wars, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, the Covid-19 global pandemic, the July 2021 riots in KZN and Gauteng — all cases in point of the power of standing together and the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

There is little doubt that our metro and our country are living through a time of crisis — drought affecting the metro, flooding in other areas, extreme load-shedding, crumbling infrastructure, potholes, political instability, worsening poverty and unemployment, disinvestment, out-of-control violent crime, cable theft, vandalism and corruption, the list goes on. And yet, in these dark times, there are glimmers of hope.

Earlier this week, Justice Malala in his column in The Herald on Monday highlighted the judiciary and the office of Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, and the SA Revenue Service that is repairing a badly-dented reputation and restoring efficiency, as examples of the still many good people doing good things in our country.

Locally the reactivation of the Nelson Mandela Bay Civil Society Coalition, a broad collaboration of civic stakeholder groups, of which organised business along with various stakeholders is a part, is encouraging citizens to work together to reverse the decline of our metro.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, local businesses stepped up with the Chamber to work with government on preparedness, emergency relief, setting up field hospitals and so on.

And we have seen this commitment and spirit of activism continuing with businesses volunteering their time, resources, services and expertise in our initiatives to curb leaks and install water-saving and rainwater harvesting at schools and clinics.

Working with the Chamber and the Municipality, businesses helped save over 1.6 million litres of treated water per day through repairing household leaks in low-income communities.

Businesses have adopted 19 substations in industrial areas across the metro, the latest being four in Struandale, to provide additional security to guard against cable theft and vandalism that disrupts their production as well as the lives of surrounding communities.

Under the Chamber’s umbrella geographical clusters have emerged in Perseverance, Deal Party, Kariega, Struandale and north End, all driven by passionate business people who are working together to address common issues.

Together with the Municipality, the 24 hour stage 5+ voluntary load-shedding schedule was developed, thus assisting to mitigate against some of the negative impacts of load-shedding on the continuity of manufacturing operations.  We greatly appreciate the openness of the Municipal officials to adopting this innovative solution, which is playing an instrumental role in  protecting investment and jobs in Nelson Mandela Bay. 

All of these examples highlight the positive change that can be brought about through unity and collaboration, and focusing on solutions and action rather than criticising from the sidelines.

Most of these could not have been achieved by individual businesses working alone, nor could they have been achieved without constructively engaging with government, unions and other authorities, proposing solutions and getting their buy-in to work together on solving problems. 

This ability to offer strength in numbers and a united voice, a platform for collaboration, demonstrates the importance for business of being an active corporate citizen and participating in organised business formations like business chambers or chambers of commerce.

It is not the intention of organised business to take over the running of the Metro or to create a parallel Municipality, rather it is about combining skills and resources during this time of crisis for the greater good.

A key strength of a business chamber is that we are apolitical. We don’t take sides or entertain political agendas, but are prepared to work with whoever is in power to make a positive difference, particularly in retaining investments and jobs, for the overall betterment of the Metro and its communities.

Business chambers are a centuries’ old concept, but in today’s turbulent operating environment, they have never been more relevant.

There is a reason that in some European countries, Germany for example, membership of a business chamber is compulsory for all registered companies — because it gives business a representative voice in government decision-making, and gives government a single point of engagement on matters that affect the business community.

There is an outdated perception that business chambers are focused on the interests of big business, but that is no longer true.

We need big business, for the weight they lend in terms of size of investments and numbers of employees, but we also know that entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized businesses are the engines of economic growth, and that they face multiple hurdles in making it from start-up to sustainability.

The chamber’s Entrepreneurship and SMME Desk, for example, now has over 100 signed-up members in less than a year since inception, and 80% of them black-owned businesses — because it is providing relevant, value-adding services in areas such as access to markets and finance, mentorship, and networking opportunities.

Those are primary reasons for a small business to join a business chamber, but what we are now seeing is also a more inclusive environment where there is no longer a divide between how small and big businesses participate and benefit from involvement in a chamber. We are seeing big businesses reaching out to the entrepreneurs and SMMEs, offering pro bono business support services to give them a hand up. And we are seeing small businesses getting much more involved in the volunteer aspects of the Chamber, giving of their time and participating in various Chamber interventions.

In this inclusivity and diversity, lies our strength as a local business community.  On this score, I thank all those who are actively involved for their commitment and positive actions which are helping to make a difference.

Denise van Huyssteen is CEO of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber


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