Businesses are the main actors in creating value in a region. Nevertheless, in many parts of the world, business is perceived as one of the drivers of social, environmental or economic problems. Often companies are disconnected from the economic and social development of surrounding areas. The main cause is shortsightedness in maximizing profits at the expense of workers, suppliers or the environment.
Today chambers of commerce around the world have an important opportunity to help redefine the role of the private sector, encouraging business leaders to rethink the way they do business, so that they impact their communities by creating shared value (SV)—a concept that states that companies can create economic value in a way that also creates value for a society.
The Bogota Chamber of Commerce (BCC) adopted the SV concept in 2011 after an innovation process to determine how to better serve the area’s companies and the city. Since then BCC has helped the private sector to become more involved and to play a major role in improving their competitiveness and the prosperity of the city. BCC has created a comprehensive SV program, executing three different types of projects: 1) Cluster Development Initiatives (CDI); 2) Innovation of products or services aimed at social challenges, and 3) Optimization of the production chain through better use of natural resources. We are submitting the first of these projects—BCC Cluster Development Initiative.
We work with a broad concept of clusters, described as a geographically concentrated group of interconnected companies and associated institutions in a particular field, linked by commonalities and complementarities. Our cluster initiatives are built on a shared valued framework, which connects entrepreneurs, universities, and government with the aim of contributing to improved business strategy as well as solving social and environmental issues in Bogota. Our approach to this project provides a new perspective on the role cluster development initiatives can play within a society.
The project has been well received by the local business community because it is using innovative methods to create teamwork and real collaboration. It was initiated in 2011 with four clusters and 300 actors working together. Today there are more than 2,300 actors in thirteen CDIs, securing an average of 300 percent growth each year since its inception.
BCC created the CDI project with clear methodology and institutions in place, and it is the technical secretariat for the project. Several examples illustrate the success of the process in action: increasing available talent for the Software and IT Cluster; promoting formalization and opening new commercial channels for the Creative Industries Cluster; and finally improving local security and access of digital information through the MICE Tourism Cluster.
BCC believes its CDI project deserves to be recognized internationally, not only for concrete results to date, but also for its potential impact looking forward. CDIs are playing a pivotal role in preparing the private sector to take the lead in expanding connections between societal and economic progress. With Colombia invested in the peace negotiation process, we hope our strategy to promote shared value creation will empower the private sector to become more involved and to play a key role in the post conflict society.
Up to date, 13 cluster initiatives have been put in place: Apparel, Business Tourism, Restaurants, Health Services, Footwear, Creative Industries, Music, Dairy, Jewelry, Software and IT, Electric Energy, Cosmetics, Graphic Communications.
These 13 initiatives gather over 2300 actors working around:
- Business strengthening projects in partnership with other entities in the cluster.
- Business environment improvement projects for eliminating bottlenecks in competitiveness, such as regulatory changes; proposals for new infrastructure; marketing activities and commercialization; and human resource development.
- Projects aimed at drawing academic institutions closer to industry to meet supply chain demands, including the creation of new programs and lines of research.
- Collaborative projects among different clusters through sartorial business roundtables and integrated production, job fairs, investment roundtables, and expos to create opportunities for business growth, marketing and commercialization.
There are many projects with excelent results, but a clear example of the outcomes of such projects is what the Software and IT Cluster has been doing around human talent:
The cluster Identified the shortage of human talent as one of the most important environmental constraints. More and better quality programs are needed at the technical, technological and professional levels to meet the demand of a fast growing industry. Currently there is not enough human capital from IT programs, too few bilingual workers and a shortage of engineers because many have left the country. In addition, there is a need for stronger managerial skills for the directors of software companies.
The cluster took on this collective challenge with a committee working on a continuing process of designing programs and actions. As a result, partnerships have been established between companies and universities or education centers. Outcomes to date include:
- UNIEMPRESARIAL: a private entity affiliated with the BCC created in 2001 with the support of the German-Colombian Chamber of Commerce and the GTZ, with the mission of training human talent for the Bogota industry, is an active member of the cluster. It has started a program of Software Engineering with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank and the active participation of software managers to define the curriculum.
- The BCC, UNIEMPRESARIAL, the Secretary of Development of Bogota: the cluster agreed on a program in 2012 to create decent jobs for underprivileged youth in sectors related to new technologies. The parties financed and launched a one-year technical program, combining academic and work experience. The program has trained call center workers to provide human talent for a fast growing sector in Bogota: Business Process Outsourcing. Ten companies have participated in providing work opportunities and the first group of 180 young people graduate in January 2015. Seventy-seven percent of them will already have employment within the companies that participated in the program. In July 2016, a new group will start the one-year training program.
- The cluster is working with the Andes University of Bogota to advance the program “Strategic IT Leadership” to improve the education of software engineers.
- The cluster has redefined the competence standards set by the industry by working with the National Service for Training (SENA), a public funding service responsible for training workers for the industry.
- The city’s software business leaders are contributing to promoting opportunities in the field with 20 schools in Bogota. They visit the schools and share their positive experiences in the industry.
- In response to the cluster request and guidelines, BCC created a program “Specialization in Software Business Administration”. It generates resources for the BCC, and is benefiting 28 company managers enrolled in the program.
- Finally job fairs have been conducted with the participation of 24 companies; 424 vacancies were filled
When working with cluster initiatives separating business results from social results is not easy, as work is carried out with the cluster actors in an effort to improve the group’s conditions thus eventually improving the individual conditions. This is why I have not specified any business results. In the near future we expect to have a way in which we can measure the impact the initiative has in the competitiveness of Bogota.
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