Thoughts from Colombo

I was recently asked to take part in the second Commonwealth Asian Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs’ (CAAYE) Summit, which this year was taking place in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I was asked to attend in both my role as Co-Founder of the Young Brits Network and as a Director of the Association of MBAs.

I was sadly only able to be at the summit for 48hours, but I had a hectic and insightful 2days and wanted to quickly share some of what I got to see and hear.

So why was CAAYE set up? Well I have been supporting the Alliance from its birth and it focuses on 4 key area:

  • To give a voice

  • To share ideas

  • To develop trade

  • To network

The forth area was the point that hit home most when I was with the delegates attending the summit in Colombo.  To network with like-minded individuals, regardless of where you come from and what your background might be.

I will go off piste slightly here, but I wanted to quickly share something that I heard from two of the delegations. India and Pakistan. Both been involved with CAAYE since the start, they have been working together to help create and drive a successful Alliance. Their governments don’t always get on, but the entrepreneurs representing their countries got on with each other, faced similar business challenges and shared common aspirations. This level of collaboration for me was cemented when I heard that entrepreneurs from India and Pakistan had managed to get the relevant visas and documents needed to cross on foot the border between each other’s countries and take part in a bilateral youth entrepreneurship event. For me this is what CAAYE and similar networks are all about. Putting people together that just want to get on and work with each other regardless of history or disagreements between nations at a political level.

This year’s summit took place directly before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and the signed communiqué at the summit was handed directly to the leaders attending CHOGM. The leaders meeting had attracted a lot of press regarding the recent civil war in Sri Lanka. The CAAYE Summit is not political, it is a network of, and the voice for, young entrepreneurs, which is driven by young entrepreneurs from across the region and it was really great to meet Tamil and Sinhalese entrepreneurs at the CAAYE summit. These young men and women from both groups, told me they just wanted to create a future for themselves, their families and their country that is strong, stable and ensures equal opportunities and equal rights for all. The more I go to events like these and meet young, dynamic, driven individuals, the more I feel sure that these are the type of people who will drive future change in their countries and their regions. From what I have seen and heard this change will be one that stands a very real chance of seeing people working together across borders, cultures and religions to create a positive future for all.

Now on to a few stats… I hardly need to tell you that the Asian market is growing rapidly, in the 1960s Asia accounted for 14% of the world total GDP, however as of today is it now delivering around 36% of the worlds total GDP. Asia’s population was circa 1.4billion in the 1950s and it is now in the region of 4.6billion, which is 60% of the world’s total population. However one stat really stuck out for me that a speaker at the summit covered, this is that on average at the moment Asian countries currently have only 8% of their GDP coming from cross border trade. This must be a huge opportunity to develop, allowing countries in the region to trade and grow together and this is exactly where networks like CAAYE have a very important role to play. Pulling like-minded people together and facilitating trade, because you would rather work and do business with people you know than starting out cold.

One of the other key topics that was covered and struck a cord with me was around education. This was highlighted across all member nations of CAAYE as being key to ensuring a strong and stable economic future. A number of core areas on education were bought up that needed to be encouraged and focused on:

  • Firstly, female access to education. Everyone I met talked about the importance of ensuring women in their societies have equal access to education at all levels and to also ensure that the employment opportunities are there post completion of the education journey.

  • Secondly, the need for education to be available for all regardless of where you might live and what your financial status might be. With key limiters being location, infrastructure and family economics. E-learning and virtual educational programmes were highlighted as ways this issue could be addressed and a number of best practice examples where shared.

  • Thirdly, issues around turning ideas into successful businesses. Areas around employability skills sets, executive education and business leadership were all highlighted. There was a very real feeling that there was a need to get the right people in at the right levels to ensure an idea can be taken from concept to a viable business

  • Finally, the topic of social enterprise was looked at. It was very encouraging to hear how there was a drive to try and get the message out into the CAAYE regions about the positive effects social enterprise have and ways it can be bought into wider understanding through education at all levels.

I will leave you with my final thoughts from the summit. I personally felt that networks like CAAYE, driven by individuals who are driving this network, have a very real opportunity to choose their own destiny. It is said that a true measure of a person’s strength is how they master a moment of change when it arrives. The moment to create meaning full and long term positive change is now and I believe there is real capacity and passion in the people driving CAAYE to meet this change, to act as a force multipliers and to truly create something that is impactful. But it is a long road ahead, the network must keep pushing itself and they will need to have limitless capacity to meet the responsibility that they now have. If they do this, which will be hard, they will ultimately achieve something great.

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