Winds of change
Moves are afoot to build a network of chambers of commerce around the world to further Poland’s commercial interests.
While not every EU country or advanced nation boasts a coordinated international chain of chambers of commerce, many do. Any country which aspires to flex its economic and business muscles around the world and wants to help its businesses maximise their potential abroad should have just such a network. While Poland has several individual chambers in various countries across the globe, there is little or no coordination between them. There are people, however, working to change this. One of them is Joanna Schuhholz, a Polish former marketing and sales manager in the logistics sector, living and working in Holland as an Executive Director and Board Member of the Polish Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands. Joanna is playing an instrumental role in efforts to set up such a network, and she’s starting close to home. “Until recently there were two Polish chambers of commerce in The Netherlands, but this wasn’t ideal,” says Joanna. “So we created one unified chamber as a first step towards aligning the chamber with the real needs of Polish companies wanting to do business in the country. They need a strong partner who knows the local market well, can share useful insights and has good local contacts.”
The Netherlands, she says, is a much more powerful country in terms of trade and business than many people in Poland think. Belying its size, the country is actually the 5th largest global exporter and the 7th biggest investor. And that’s the point – a local chamber knows its host country intimately because they run businesses there and, in many cases, have settled down. The chamber can help Polish businesses plug into the potential that so clearly lies in accessing such a country – some-thing that can be replicated around the world. Another goal of the chamber is to promote a genuine picture of Poland’s business landscape. “Information about Poland abroad is not always accurate,” she states. “It is in our interest, at the heart of the Polish business community in Holland, to make sure the press covers Poland in a well-informed way.”
From the beginning of her activities with the Chamber, Joanna saw the need to establish relations with other Polish chambers of commerce abroad. As it turned out, she was not alone. “The Spanish-Polish Chamber in Spain, led by Javier Sosnowski, contacted us to propose that we become part of an international network of Polish Chambers of commerce. And others are open, so together we started discussing how to build up such a network.” There is no wish to impose a standard model on other chambers, only to encourage a certain standardisation and conformity and develop the concept together with our counterparts.” The idea, she says, is to propose their concept to other Polish chambers abroad and get their feedback.
‘While Poland has several individual chambers in various countries across the globe, there is little or no coordination between them.’
An important question is what kind of relationship the chambers of commerce will have with the government in Poland and – by extension – the Polish embassies in their respective countries. Relations with local embassies will vary from country to country, Joanna says, but emphasises that the Polish embassy in the Netherlands is fully supportive of their mission and goals. “Chambers are associations of businesses and are not state related. We do not expect financial help from the government, although some chambers of other countries are supported by their governments, such as the British and German ones. There are many other ways we can support each other.” In due course the hope is that Polish companies looking to develop abroad will have one coordinated network of chambers which will help them access several markets through one entry point. “It could be that Polish companies will take a global membership. Companies are already asking us to assist them when establishing contacts in other countries. And the government will have a powerful, independent global network to work alongside.” Individual chambers, she points out, have very often existed for many years, putting down strong local roots and having a deep knowledge of the country. That, she emphasises, can be priceless, and again something the government can tap into.
The potential, once such a network is established, for the enhancement of Polish business around the world, is huge. Those who have taken it upon themselves to carry this through are confident it is only a matter of time.
Joanna Schuhholz, whose professional background is in logistics, is a Board Member and Executive Director at Polish Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands. She is a graduate of the Warsaw School of Economics.