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Chamber leaders discuss redesigning membership strategies for post-Covid era

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Chambers of commerce must innovate and adapt their strategies in line with members’ needs as they prepare for the post-Covid era, chamber leaders and executives said during a recent Chamber Connect Series event hosted by Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The virtual event, titled Reframed: Designing Member Strategies for Tomorrow’s Chambers, was attended 126 delegates from 38 countries. Speakers included H.E. Hamad Buamim, President & CEO, Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Chair of the ICC-World Chambers Federation; and Nola Watson, CEO & Former President, Business NSW.

During Chamber Connect Series event

Discussions delved into the events of 2020, with the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting millions of businesses and organisations worldwide. As economies reopened, participants noted the concept of “business as usual”, was no longer working for most business operations.

In addition, the shift of business activities to virtual channels has changed the way chambers engage with their respective business communities. Chambers have become more strategic, efficient and proactive in their interactions, they noted, while they are taking steps to enhance the value proposition to their business communities and examine new ways to support members and remove barriers to trade.

In his welcome remarks, H.E. Buamim explained how the Covid-19 pandemic created a silver lining that led global chambers to go back to basics and chambers of adapt existing strategies in line with the changing needs of member companies.

“Now is the time to recognise digital innovation as a critical component in changing chambers for the better. While digital transformation has been a talking point for years, the pandemic underlined the fact that a ‘digital-first’ approach is no longer a luxury – but a necessity,” H.E. Buamim said, adding that the uncertainties brought by the pandemic will also help chambers be more prepared for the future – for both the challenges and opportunities that tomorrow brings.

Dubai Chamber’s President & CEO described the Chamber Connect Series as a precursor to shape the dialogue and agenda for the 12th World Chambers Congress – set to take place in Dubai between 23-25 November 2021 under the theme Generation Next: Chambers 4.0. He added that the event series builds on research conducted by Dubai Chamber analysing how chambers around the world are dealing with unprecedented challenges and improving the value proposition as they prepare for the post-Covid era, and explore new ways to attract and retain members.

For her part, Nola Watson CEO, Business NSW, shared the experience of New South Wales Chamber in raising awareness about the value-added benefits to members among younger business people. Business NSW’s research also found that the way people and businesses view membership programmes had changed, with some – especially SMEs – reluctant to pay a joining fee.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to membership, she explained, pointing out that larger businesses are content with paying significant fees to gain access to preferential treatment and access to key figures affiliated with the chamber, while particularly SMEs and new start-ups, want to be part of a network without compulsory fees, which led the organisation to offer a category of free membership.

“I think member organisations have to adapt or go out of existence,” she said. The membership model continues to adapt, said Watson, with a focus on technology and data analytics playing a huge part in the organisation revamp. The chamber is looking at providing tailored support to companies, considering where they are on their business journey.

The discussion also highlighted the fact that virtual events have enabled chambers to engage with more business communities, expand their reach and grow their international networks. Digitally-savvy chambers are now attracting new members, mainly tech companies and start-ups. Removing a payment threshold removed one disincentive; becoming borderless and more relevant in the digital area has also added new benefits to chambers and their members alike.

Looking ahead, participants said face-to-face meetings will return as business people look forward to forging connections in the same room. They added that the future will ultimately be focused on a hybrid model; one that comprises a mixture of in-person and visual meetings and seminars, allowing a broader reach than ever before.

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