Why You Should Join a Chamber of Commerce
“How’s business?” the old greeting goes. But these days, one might do better to ask: “Where’s business?”
Thanks to advances in technology, we now operate in a global marketplace where Australia is but one small, albeit magnificent, stall. All commerce has become, whether directly or indirectly, international commerce.
It can be a little overwhelming.
Fortunately, where there is commerce there are, more often than not, chambers of commerce, making it easier to negotiate the immense opportunities, and not a few risks, in this big marketplace of ours.
What is a Chamber of Commerce?
In a nutshell, a chamber of commerce is a member organisation that organises and promotes the common interests of a business community.
But what exactly does a chamber of commerce do?
And why should you join one – that is, what’s in it for you?
We decided to interview a number of chambers to get down into the nitty gritty of why you, your business and your staff, can benefit from joining a chamber of commerce.
What do Chambers of Commerce do?
A common misconception is that chambers of commerce are merely organisations that exist solely to promote business.
Yes, business is a cornerstone of any chamber, but the reality is more complex.
Chambers of Commerce work across various sectors: trade, industry, advocacy, as well as national and international mobility.
While actively promoting members, chambers also endorse their local and broader communities. By facilitating relationships, chambers of commerce ensure that businesses are able to collaborate in creating opportunities for themselves, their partners, and their clients.
There is no single model followed by chambers of commerce, and their mandates might be State, National or International. They may also be private, compulsory, or community based. More on this below.
State, National, and International Chambers are defined largely by their physical location and reach. For example, a State based chamber, like the NSW Business Chamber, advocates for business owners specifically within NSW.
Likewise, International Chambers will usually promote relationships and business opportunities between their specific country and Australia. International Chambers may choose to focus on the mobility of business, including the facilitation of resources across international borders. For example, a chamber may assist with the deployment of staff and resources, advising on import restrictions and visa requirements.
Private vs Compulsory Chambers
This article largely focuses on the more common, private model. In private chambers, there is no obligation to join. Companies pay a membership fee in exchange for opportunities such as networking and industry connections.
Conversely, a compulsory chamber is one where membership is obligatory. For example, in Germany, the IHK-Gesetz, or the Chamber Act, governs when ‘enterprises are members’ and are required to be statutory bodies. Two examples of this include the Chambers of Commerce and Industry (IHK, Industrie und Handelskammer) and the Chambers of Skilled Crafts (HwK, Handwerkskammer).
So, What’s in it for You?
The benefits of joining chambers of commerce can be immeasurable. However, no two chambers of commerce are identical, with benefits varying depending on the chamber and the business involved.
Barry Corr, CEO of the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce explains that even within a single chamber, benefits will depend on the individual member and what they’re trying to achieve.
Notwithstanding the above, in our discussions with different chambers of commerce a few benefits came up again and again:
This is a given. One of the major benefits of joining a Chamber of Commerce is the opportunity to cultivate business though networking, as well as to create lasting relationships with like-minded people.
For example, the Australian Malaysia Business Council Queensland’s (AMBCQ) “primary focus is … on providing opportunities for [members] to engage with others at all different levels and across sectors.” Shona Leppanen-Gibson, president of AMBCQ, recognised the importance of networking, and placed great emphasis on “finding positive connections that lead to business and career opportunities”.
By attending events, and engaging with people in the wider business community, chamber of commerce members are able to make strategic connections. And even where they don’t walk away from a contract, it can be a great way to learn from industry leaders.
For example, the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ANZCCJ), promotes networking opportunities for “meeting government leaders and specialists”, in particular their Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP), “aims to provide young professionals and students in Tokyo insight into various industries in Japan and to learn more about how to pursue a successful career”. Judith Hanna, ANZCCJ Executive Director, explained that “YEP networking events offer a fantastic opportunity to hear from inspiring young professionals who have excelled in their careers, speak with recruiters and business leaders in Tokyo looking to acquire young talent and to mix and mingle with likeminded young people”.
Amie O’Mahony, Government Relations Manager of the American Chamber in Australia (AmCham), emphasised the importance of events, stating that networking is one of the five major pillars of her organisation. AmCham achieves this through their event program, where members are invited to functions for key stakeholders. Within this program, members have access to “preferred seating” so that they can connect with specific individuals.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking this is as easy as exchanging business cards and calling it a day. Shona Leppanen-Gibson highlighted that it is important to remember that networking is not always a “quick win”, and that “it is about the level of involvement and commitment an individual or an organisation would like to have with the business council”. Members that “put in the time and effort and… are consistent… will reap the rewards”.
This sentiment was echoed throughout many of our interviews. Martin Scarpino, CEO of SwissCham Australia, put it quite succinctly by comparing it to a gym membership:
“It’s up to you. It’s like when you go to Fitness First. You sign up and you never go. Or you sign up and you become an active member.”
Having access to, and being represented through, advocacy is another benefit of joining a chamber of commerce. Many chambers and business councils have their foot in the door when it comes to discussing policy. By joining an organisation that reflects your interests, your needs will be asserted when it comes to any form of lobbying.
Unsurprisingly, advocacy varies within each organisation, as specific goals are promoted to mirror philosophy and interests.
For example, the Small Business Association of Australia (SBAA) advocates for small business by promoting policy change. One of SBAA’s major projects is its work on the Small Business Charter of Australia, where it aims to promote signature reforms and “create good policy for small business owners”. Anne Nalder, CEO and Founder of SBAA, emphasised the importance of strong advocacy. Anne suggested that we should be looking at “different initiatives” rather than continuing with “…Band-Aid solutions. When formulating policy, we have to ask, ‘how will this affect small business?’”
Similarly, Nigel McBride, former Business SA CEO, spoke about their advocacy for South Australian business. Tax reforms, ice in the workplace, and climate change, are just some of the topics championed by the Chamber through media campaigns.
Jacinta Reddan, CEO of AustCham Hong Kong, explained that her chamber has been ‘lobbying to recognise the value of [corporate experience] and to look to how we can create a better pathway for members to go back into corporate Australia’. She encourages members to ‘have a say, be involved, and have an influence in key business decisions that will affect you’.
Being active in a chamber of commerce or business council can also raise the profile of an individual business.
For example, members of AmCham are able to leverage the activities of the Chamber to increase their visibility. Amie O’Mahony explained that simply by becoming an active member, companies are able to “have their brand associated with some of the biggest names or issues”. Businesses can do this through sponsorship or representation on specific committees.
Similarly, Yachien Huang, Executive Director of the Australia New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Taipei (ANZCham Taipei) noted that ‘there are plenty of options for members to increase their visibility in the local market through exposures on our website, social media, e-newsletters and event sponsorship’.
Information & Advice
Chambers of commerce are treasure troves of valuable information and advice for companies and individuals. Usually published online, news updates and publications are given to members as well as the general public.
Some organisations go a step further, creating valuable content that is exclusive to members.
For example, Australian Business Council Dubai (ABCD) is preeminent in educating and disseminating information to its members. Not only does the Business Council’s key players read and share local Australian press, but the Council has created a members’ forum and community hub. Justine Cullen, Manager of ABCD, explained that this hub provides a variety of information. Topics such as obtaining a license and ‘life in Dubai’ make the Council the go-to resource on doing business in Dubai.
Similarly, AmCham provides cutting edge information and resources to members though events, trade missions, meetings with key decision makers, online publications, investment reports, and a trade and investment guide.
Sophia Demetriades Toftdahl, President of the Norwegian Australian Chamber of Commerce (NACC) favours using events to help businesses “stay abreast of what is happening in the community’.
Some chambers of commerce will assist or advise in relation to deployment of staff offshore: tax, visa and immigration and so on. Others, for example most International Business Councils, focus on broader aspects of commerce, rather than the nuts and bolts of personnel and their movements.
Nigel McBride, former Business SA CEO, explained for example that his chamber is able to assist with export stamping.
The Australia Zimbabwe Business Council (AZBC) uses an internal legal department. Evans Mukonza, President AZBC, explains that this is particularly useful for assisting with staff mobility. Evans explains that the agency ‘provides employment to young people’ by helping them find a job and ‘get their resume up to scratch’. Evans notes that his organisation is able to match employees with employers, highlighting that they can also handle the visa requirements.
Which Chamber Will You Join?
Chambers of commerce are a great source of support for your growing business. Whether you want to build connections, increase exposure, or promote your core values, chambers can offer unique and worthwhile opportunities for you and your business.
So, what are you waiting for? Go on and join!
What Each Chamber Said:
The Australian Lebanese Chamber of Commerce
Michael Rizk, Head of Trade Relations
The ALCC strengthens trade relations between Australia, Lebanon and the Middle East. For over 33 years we have supported local businesses expand their operation nationally and internationally.
We create opportunities for members and guests to network and expose their business to a wide community. The ALCC produces a biannual publication that addresses current business issues and updates on international trade relations.
The ALCC provides assistance with export documentation and certification and safe methods of payment.
We organize trade missions to and from Lebanon and the Middle East and hosts/receives high profile business delegations from the M.E. and East African region.
The ALCC holds regular seminars to cover current Economic and business issues/climates with high profile guest speakers from both the public and private sectors.
The Chamber is here for its members as they endeavour to grow.
“Our main goal is to strengthen trade and investment opportunities between Lebanon, Australia, and the whole middle east region.”
Michael Roberts, Executive Director and CEO
The Australian Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam (AusCham) is an independent, not for profit, membership-based NGO (non government organisation). It does not receive any funding from the Australian Government or any of its agencies. Its revenue is generated through memberships, sponsorships, events and advertising.
AusCham represents and promotes the interests of Australian businesses operating in Vietnam. We are proud to have a pivotal function in providing invaluable business and cultural support to our members’ and sponsors’ activities in this country.
“The Chamber provides an invaluable service for its members in Vietnam, through connecting and networking; providing informative and educational briefings, meetings and conferences; and advocating to the Vietnamese Government on behalf of its members”
“The exposure provided by AusCham in the community allows for members and sponsors to leverage their Australian roots and connections to the wider Vietnamese business community. We believe that value attributed in Vietnam to the “Brand Australia” element, which the Chamber represents, is an important factor contributing to the success of Australian business interests in Vietnam.”
Australia New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Taipei (ANZCham Taipei)
Yachien Huang, Executive Director
The Australia and New Zealand Business Association (ANZBA) was formed in 1991 to represent Australians and New Zealanders doing business in Taiwan, and to complement other organisations promoting trade, investment, and general relations among the three nations. In January 2005, ANZBA became the Australia and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Taipei (ANZCham Taipei) and officially registered with the Taipei City Government to further enhance its effectiveness on behalf of its members. ANZCham Taipei has close relationships with both the New Zealand Commerce and Industry Office (NZCIO) and the Australian Office (AO). Members include major Australian and New Zealand companies in Taiwan, Australians and New Zealanders working for multinational and domestic corporations, and Taiwanese nationals with ties to Australia and New Zealand.
“[Our benefits include] networking, information sharing and company exposure: we provide a range of events for networking with AU/NZ/TW business and government leaders. Members could also gain some insights into the latest offers and developments in different industries from our business luncheons and e-newsletters.”
Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce
Simon White CEO Queensland
The mission of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce is to encourage business-to-business networking within Australia and bilateral trade between Australia and Israel, which it has successfully been doing since 1970.
The Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce (AICC) is Australia’s pre-eminent international Chamber of Commerce and one of the country’s most prestigious and active national business organisations. The AICC’s national membership exceeds 1,000, leading Australian companies across a broad range of industry sectors. Fifteen of the top 25 companies in Australia are currently members or sponsors of the AICC.
“Membership based organisations tend to be centred around specific industries. We tend to cover a broad stream of industries; therefore we have a mixed group. Technology, energy, AI learning, cyber security, venture capital, start-ups. Israel as a country promotes innovation and knowledge.”
Australian Malaysia Business Council Queensland’s (AMBCQ)
Shona Leppanen-Gibson, president of AMBCQ
The AMBCQ is an independent bilateral business council incorporated and headquartered in Brisbane and recognised by Malaysia and Australia. We are not funded by government and are a membership-based incorporated organisation. We play a very active role in strategic bilateral, government, trade and investment issues and also at a grassroots level, and the AMBCQ is the preeminent organisation dealing with the large Malaysian community in Queensland. Our members range from professionals, to small business owners, to large corporations. We have a strong business, trade, government and investment focus, and we also are involved in community events, social events, and sports and recreation as a useful way of engaging our business stakeholders and members.
“The philosophy of our business council is quite different from others. The primary focus is on our members, on providing opportunities for them to engage with others at all different levels and across sectors. We also engage with the community both the mainstream Australian community and also the Australia Malaysia community. We also see our role as supporting business and trade relations, and the wider bilateral and people to people relations that bind Australia and Malaysia together. We are a very active and vibrant business council, and membership offers significant benefits.”
“Both individuals and organisations can benefit greatly. Our members range from sole operators to very large organisations and institutions with tens of thousands of people – and they all see the benefit of being a member. Again, it is about the level of involvement and commitment an individual or an organisation would like to have with the business council. We certainly do our best to support our members and their respective businesses, and we have a collaborative approach to our corporate partners. We have some wonderful long lasting partnerships that have been very beneficial for the business council, our members and our corporate partners.”
“We also provide a networking platform for newcomers, into their industries, business networks in general, and into the Malaysian community in Queensland. We have quite a different approach as a business council, and we do a lot of activities both in business and outside of business. We often provide general care and support for members and for the Malaysian community as well. This includes helping and mentoring international students, providing general advice to our members, and providing care and support to family members of Malaysians who have passed away in Queensland. It is not what one would usually expect of a business council, but our members see this as an essential role that the AMBCQ plays in the community.”
On the visa process:
“Generally most Malaysians are well informed of the visa process and many are able to undertake the process themselves. However, I always recommend that applicants go through a reputable migration agent or lawyer. In my previous work, I used to help individuals with migration issues, and over and over again I saw the same thing happening – people trying to save money by doing it themselves and getting into all sorts of trouble. Migration law can be quite complicated and it is very easy to make mistakes – an experienced migration agent or lawyer knows the process back to front and won’t make those mistakes. Spending a bit of time and money engaging with a good migration agent or lawyer is well worth it for peace of mind, compared to the heartache and expense one goes through when things go awry.”
Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ANZCCJ)
Judith Hanna, ANZCCJ Executive Director
The Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ANZCCJ) is an independent, non-profit organisation that has been dedicated to the development of commerce between Australia, New Zealand and Japan since 1972. The ANZCCJ’s mission is to play a constructive and meaningful role in developing Australia/New Zealand-Japan business by providing Members with an effective source of information, representation and commercial connections.
The membership consists of Australian and New Zealand members conducting business in Japan, Japanese companies with economic ties to Australia and New Zealand, overseas members and others maintaining business relationships between Japan and Australia/ New Zealand.
Sports for Business (SFB) – is a program to develop business opportunities and relationships for ANZCCJ members through sporting related activities and to create opportunities for Australian and New Zealand companies to gain business from major sporting events hosted in Japan.
Food, Agriculture and Hospitality Committee (FAHC) – provides a forum to share information, and discuss the implications of developments in the Australian, New Zealand, and Japanese food, agriculture and hospitality industries. This includes market access issues and policy developments, to share information on food safety and food security issues that impact upon imported food and food ingredients and to provide a key network of contacts for new and existing exporters and importers.
SME Support Program – Is an event series that aims to connect Japanese businesses with little or no international experience with Australian and New Zealand executives, businesses and organisations with substantial experience, expertise and know-how in international business, trade and investment.
The Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP) – Aims to provide young professionals and students in Tokyo insight into various industries in Japan and to learn more about how to pursue a successful career. Our YEP networking events offer a fantastic opportunity to hear from inspiring young professionals who have excelled in their careers, speak with recruiters and business leaders in Tokyo looking to acquire young talent and to mix and mingle with likeminded young people.
“Meet government/industry leaders and specialists; enter a network of nearly 700 business people in the Australia/New Zealand-Japan relationship representing over 200 companies; benefit from professional networking opportunities; participate in trade and economic briefings by the Australian and New Zealand Embassies and connect with government policymakers.”
“As a combined chamber, combining the Australia and New Zealand companies in Japan, we (like the chamber in Taiwan and the Philippines) offer unique insights. Our membership industry representation is broad and we offer a number of different kinds of events to provide information and connections to these different industry groups.”
American Chamber in Australia (AmCham)
Amie O’Mahony, Government Relations Manager, AmCham
AmCham’s aim is to be a critical hub offering connections and access to opportunity. AmCham gives members exclusive access to thought leadership, communities of interest, policy advice, business advocacy, information, and relationships with business and government. We are the hub providing members with a competitive advantage to grow their businesses efficiently and intelligently.
“We focus on five pillars: networking, access, advocacy, visibility, and information to provide valuable access to opportunity for members.”
Martin Scarpino, CEO, SwissCham Australia
SwissCham’s purpose is to support, strengthen and grow members’ businesses and their reputation in Australia by providing exposure, information and networking. As a hub of Swiss business in Australia, SwissCham focuses on doing business in Australia and the promotion of bilateral trade.
“If you become an active member, you can help and direct and request. Depending on the levels of your membership, it is up for you to decide where you want to be.”
Small Business Association of Australia (SBAA)
Anne Nalder, Founder and CEO
The SBAA) is an active organisation that specialises in supporting and advocating for the SMEs (small and medium enterprises) sector. Supported by both small and big businesses, government and other key organisations, SBAA is one of the fastest growing business organisations in the country. SBAA understands that SMEs are the lifeblood of the Australian economy and play a vital role in Australia’s future growth and prosperity.
”We should be looking at different initiatives rather than continuing with Band-Aid solutions. When formulating policy, we have to ask; ‘how will this affect small business’?”
South Australia Employer Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Business SA)
Nigel McBride, former CEO
Business SA ensures employers achieve fair outcomes on industrial relations matters and also works to ensure the broader economic environment is conducive to successful business in an increasingly-globalised economy. While Business SA is a state-based organisation, it recognises the need to work at a broader level to progress policy issues of national significance. Business SA exists to help you grow your business, save you money and watch your back.
“What differentiates us is that we are a peak chamber of commerce. We have members from every industry and take an industry-wide approach.”
AustCham Hong Kong
Jacinta Reddan, CEO
The Chamber’s mission is to promote and represent Australian business and values, while enabling members to connect, engage, and grow bilateral relationships.
“The value is being part of a broader community – you can be heard but your voice is amplified if you are part of organisation. You can have a say, be involved, and have an influence in key business decisions that will affect you.”
Australian Business Council Dubai (ABCD)
Justine Cullen, Manager
Overall, ABCD offers:
- Business networking opportunities;
- Assistance with links to key industry and government bodies in the UAE and GCC;
- Representing the views and interests of members to government departments and other organisations in the UAE;
- Trade and Business forums;
- Engaging Calendar of Business and Social events;
- Online Membership Directory;
- Ten electronic issues of ‘Focus’ newsletter per year;
- The opportunity to contribute business related articles within the ‘Focus’ newsletter;
- Discounts on specific fares on Emirates routes.
“Speak to the business councils, find out the reality of Dubai, don’t always trust what the International press says”.
Norwegian Australian Chamber of Commerce (NACC)
Sophia Demetriades Toftdahl, President
The NACC is a premier platform for business networking in and between Australia and Norway.
- to create networking opportunities for members and their communities
- to promote, encourage and facilitate trade, commerce and investment
- to create awareness of ties between Australia and Norway
“NACC is focused on personal relationships, introductions, closed high level events, and educational events.”
Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce
Barry Corr, CEO
In our 30th year, we operate across Australia and Ireland, with active chapters in multiple cities. The key benefits really comes down to the member and what they’re trying to achieve. We’ve created a number of membership categories to address the various needs of both our individuals and businesses of various shapes and sizes. For some, the focus is just to meet others in their local market they might do business with others having main interest in our development programs, yet others want a more active role as sponsors, speakers and hosts on an international basis. We have solutions for all.
“We are growing year on year, the Irish Australian relationship has never been as strong or as in focus, so it’s a great tome to get involved.”
Australia Zimbabwe Business Council (AZBC)
Evans Mukonza, President
The ANZBC promotes trade and investment between Australia and Zimbabwe and offers many benefits including business opportunities, delegations, advocacy, mobility, and legal.
“We advocate and promote business between Australia and Zimbabwe and do a lot of engagement with government in regard to the outcome of certain policies. We foster that relationship and allow business matching, whilst always promoting trade and investment”
American Australian Association
Ernie Bower, Chairman
The Association has a long and impressive history of serving the relationship between the United States and Australia and our corporate membership includes many of the most prominent commercial and financial institutions engaged in business between the United States and Australia.
“The companies who are our members, want to associate themselves with that high-level discussion. They want Australia and USA companies to know they want a relationship and are not just in it for business.”
Brazil Australia Official Chamber of Commerce
Gabriel Menicucci, Senior Analyst
The International Business Chamber is a non-profitable organization that groups a number of business chambers from brazil, such as the ones from Australia, China, Mozambique, Colombia, Guatemala and Canada. Nevertheless, we work with non associated countries as well, helping Brazilian and foreign companies to do business with each other by providing a series of intelligence driven services, such as market researches, commercial prospecting, business trips etc.
“Unlike most Business Chamber in Brazil, our work format is more active, meaning that we don’t have member associated companies, but we do seek the same and sometimes even further benefits by providing our services.”
Australian Philippines Business Council (APBC)
Neil Grimes, Managing Director
The APBC’s core objectives are to:
- Promote the exchange of products, services, investment and ideas between Australia and the Philippines through strategic alliances, sharing of commercial intelligence and advocacy;
- Provide a range of exclusive networking, communication and engagement opportunities with influential business and government contacts in both countries;
- Facilitate introductions and/or business enquiries to the most appropriate government agency in both countries;
- Represent APBC members’ views on pertinent issues to the Philippine and Australian Governments.
“By being a member for any business council, you are going to be given a better platform for understanding, and are going to be given the opportunity to build a stronger network because you are already talking with people who have their own networks in their own countries. You’re not going in cold.”
Australia-Latin America Business Council (ALABC)
Marcelo Salas, CEO
The ALABC attracts both large and small companies to its membership base and from sectors such as resources, mining services and technology, education, agriculture, manufacturing, transport, and professional services firms. The diversity of membership reflects the growing trade linkages between Australia and Latin America, and guarantees a strong network of experienced business people who are committed to developing business in the region.
“We mainly work with companies that have interest or presence in Latin America – mainly companies of different sizes, including corporate, small business, and small traders. We basically help them access networks of contacts in Latin America, as we work with government, embassies, and business people.”
NSW Business Chamber
Damian Kelly, Senior Manager Public Affairs
NSW Business Chamber is the state’s peak business organisation. As an independent not-for-profit organisation, we are dedicated to helping businesses of all sizes to maximise their potential.
“We can deliver any number of benefits to any number of businesses – no one size fits all. Members can join for networking and abilities to meet colleagues, competitors, likeminded people. Members can also benefit by having a seat at the table when it comes to government and big decision makers.”
Australian Saudi Business Council (ASBC)
Anna Rabin, Director
The Australia Saudi Business Council Inc. was established to develop and promote business and commercial links between Australia and Saudi Arabia. Its secondary aim is to establish, promote, facilitate or participate in joint business councils or other joint business organisations in partnership with the Association of Saudi Chambers of Commerce or other Saudi business organisations.
“There needs to be awareness that not only is Saudi open to business, but it is a social climate that is changing with pace. From a political and cultural perspective, it is interesting. If we can make people aware of opportunities in Saudi, then everyone benefits.”