BPA committed to promote regional empowerment, CSR and conflict transformation

by Ifham Nizam

Business for Peace Alliance (BPA) has developed strong links with "Big Business" mostly through the Colombo based chambers and chamber movements, says Manique Mendis, Secretary General, Chief Executive Officer, BPA.

She added: "We get tremendous support from the organizations, as "Big Business" establishments based in Colombo realize the importance of collaborating with a regional business network which is based at the grassroots. BPA has much to gain through such collaboration as the expertise and experience of these organizations can contribute a great deal towards regional development."

Excerpts from the interview:

What is the Business for Peace Alliance?

The Business for Peace Alliance, BPA, is Sri Lanka’s regional business network, made up of regional business chambers, committed to promoting regional empowerment, Corporate Social Responsibility and conflict transformation at regional level. BPA’s current membership comprises twenty four (24) regional chambers throughout the country.

Why was this network set up?

In the Sri Lankan context where there is tremendous marginalization of the peripheral areas and most policies affecting the regions are made in the centre, in Colombo. BPA was established five years ago as a collective initiative of the regional chambers themselves. The regional chambers who constitute the membership of BPA, were motivated to set up BPA to generate peace dividends at local level, strengthen regional linkages and economic activity through Chambers of Commerce, lobby for regional aspirations through regional private sector inclusion in economic development and the peace process, to practice Corporate Social Responsibility at local level and create local ownership for regional empowerment and the peace process.

Is BPA duplicating what is already being done by the Colombo based Chamber Movements?

BPA does not duplicate or compete with the Colombo based Chambers. BPA collaborates with these organizations and complements what they undertake. BPA is distinctive with its ‘bottom up approach’. BPA’s Committee of Management is made up exclusively of representatives from the regional chambers. Hence, all decisions taken at BPA and BPA projects are implemented by the regional representatives themselves, in order to cater to the specific needs of the regions.

What type of activities does BPA implement?

BPA’s activities are based on the experience it has gathered and expertise it has developed in relation to promotion of regional empowerment, sharing of experiences between regions -networking, strengthening regional identity across ethno- political lines and joint lobbying on economic issues, policy advocacy in Colombo and setting good examples on peace building in the regions and sharing of experiences in terms of best practices.

Could you please cite some examples of projects carried out by BPA?

1. Inter- regional meetings,- to discuss local issues, brainstorm solutions, share best practices, 2. Peace visits, 3. International exchanges, 4. Domestic investor dialogues, 5. Training workshops, 6. Publication of the Regional Business Directory of Sri Lanka, 7. Networking regional business for Conflict Transformation, 8. Peace Bridge Ð Inter-regional Trade & Investment Fair, 9. Serving as a catalyst for mobilizing direct funding to the regions, project feasibility studies, project proposals and networking of groups working at ground level, 10. Exchanges with "big business", 11. Communication and media coverage to foster national unity and regional empowerment, 12. Submission of proposals for constitutional reforms - developed through regional understanding for national unity and 13. Submission of proposals for the national budget developed through regional understanding for regional economic empowerment

How does the regional business community in general regard the ongoing ethno-political conflict and where does BPA fit in?

A war- torn climate is detrimental to the economy and the regional business is at the receiving end. Hartals, curfews, unrest and violence cause huge losses to the regional entrepreneurs. The business community, in general, whether they be large, medium or small scale operators, is not interested in promoting war. They are only interested in a climate that is conducive to business development. The regional business community all over the island, whether they be from the North, South, East or West have many commonalities. They face many common challenges and problems. Therefore, they find through BPA a common platform to raise a common voice and share information on common areas of interest. They also take advantage of the BPA network to forge business links with counterparts from other regions, cutting across geographic, ethnic, religious and social divides.

You mentioned promotion of CSR as one of BPA’s focus areas. How is this done?

CSR is nowadays a buzz word amongst the big corporates. However, for a long time over our history, businessmen throughout Sri Lanka have been engaging in philanthropy and activities to help lesser fortunate individuals and groups in the community. This type of activity is still popular in the regions. BPA is promoting and facilitating such activities in a more organized and professional manner, in keeping with modern CSR practice.

We appreciate very much the support we receive in this context from the big business represented through The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), which has reached considerable heights in promoting CSR in Sri Lanka. The CCC has identified the Millennium Development Goals for its CSR initiatives this year. BPA will strengthen the CCC’s efforts in this regard at regional level. Since BPA is also committed to fostering peace and reconciliation, we are specially focusing on CSR activities that fall within this realm.

Could you give a few examples of a few such CSR initiatives that have been facilitated recently through BPA.

Following are three recent examples of regional CSR projects that were spearheaded by the regional business community with support from BPA.

During the recent Vesak festival, a grand celebration was organized in the Galle District. A unique feature of this celebration was that since Galle is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic area, representatives from all religions and races joined hands in the organization of the festival. Unfortunately just after the mega Vesak show, Galle was devastated by floods. It was marvellous that the same multi-ethnic, multi -religious group that organized the festivities, joined hands again and worked tirelessly together on relief operations for the flood victims.

Similarly also during the recent Vesak, in Kegalle, where there have been incidents of ethnic violence, a grand perahera was organized as a joint effort of all the religious and ethnic groups represented in the area.

Also in the Kalutara District, all the ethnic and religious groups got together and organized a fun-filled evening to view the finals of the World Cup together in a public park. All these events served to strengthen community level participation and communal harmony.

In the context of the escalating conflict, can BPA make a difference to bring about peace?

BPA has been lobbying for a negotiated settlement to the conflict with a power sharing solution. Sharing of power is not something that is needed for the North and East alone. It is something that is needed by all the regions. The regions need to be empowered and allowed to take charge of their own development without everything being planned in Colombo and thrust down the rest of the county from the top. Businessmen are respected in all communities and play an influential role as opinion leaders. BPA’s members can play a catalytic role in fostering harmony and reconciliation by forging business links and personal links amongst various communities within their respective regions and also amongst various regions themselves.

How does the "Big business" relate to BPA?

BPA has been operating informally over the last five years. It is whilst operating at such an informal level that BPA has been able to organize some important projects which have had a strong impact at national level. During this period, BPA maintained a low profile. However, BPA has developed strong links with "Big Business" mostly through the Colombo based chambers and chamber movements.

We get tremendous support from these organizations, as "Big Business" establishments based in Colombo realize the importance of collaborating with a regional business network which is based at the grassroots. BPA has much to gain through such collaboration as the expertise and experience of these organizations can contribute a great deal towards regional development. BPA can work productively together with "Big Business" for mutual benefit

What is the way forward for BPA?

BPA has made significant progress as it operated informally over the last five years. However, the need was realized for BPA to undertake the process of institutionalization. In this context, at the end of last year, BPA established a Secretariat in Colombo as a focal point. The Secretariat is being developed to adhere to high standards of professionalism. Well qualified and experienced staff have been recruited to cater to the needs of the members more effectively and take BPA forward in its next phase. BPA is now ready to take up new challenges in its journey to achieve peace and prosperity in a united Sri Lanka through regional understanding and empowerment.

For more information, please visit BPA’s website:



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