by Lord Marland

Whether it’s economic growth in developing states, or the global fight against climate change, accessing finance is at the root of many of issues dominating the headlines. Here in the UK, it’s all about helping small businesses to get their start and enabling growing businesses to scale even further. It’s also about international challenges, such as climate finance, and expanding credit opportunities in countries without developed banking infrastructure.

Given the UK’s globally recognised role as a financial services hub, these are conversations that London’s business community rightly has a voice in – yet it can often be difficult to identify the best forums for those discussions. In an increasingly globalised world, it’s important that we draw on a wide range of experience.
However, it’s also important that those discussions are as productive as possible. Businesspeople simply don’t have time to get bogged down in the sticky geopolitics that all-too-often gums up the inner workings of well-intentioned international organisations.

Enter the Commonwealth.

With 56 member states and more than 2.5 billion people, few organisations can match the Commonwealth for variety and scale. Where else can services superpowers like the UK and Singapore meet with rising stars like Nigeria and Bangladesh, alongside small island states at the forefront of the global fight against climate change? Though the specific financing challenges differ from country to country, Commonwealth member states share a web of economic, historical, and cultural connections that help to build a familiarity which, in turn, makes dialogue more productive.
It’s not just the Commonwealth’s extent and diversity that makes it such a powerful conduit for dialogue, though. Unlike most international organisations, the Commonwealth is notoriously decentralised, offering businesses and other civil society organisations a prominent position in shaping its aims and objectives. Since its inception, the Commonwealth has prized the dynamism of the private sector.
The Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) is the Commonwealth’s primary business organisation and works to harness that dynamism. It is not just engaged in fostering new opportunities for pan-Commonwealth trade and investment; it is also interested in amplifying the Commonwealth business community’s collective voice on matters of global importance, including expanding access to finance around the globe.
So, what does that look like in practice?

At the upcoming Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) in Samoa, which will run alongside October’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), access to finance will be high on the agenda. This is CWEIC’s flagship event and provides an opportunity for businesspeople from across the world to come together for an action-orientated dialogue on pressing global issues. Given Samoa’s place as a small island developing state in the Pacific, we’re expecting to see plenty of interest in the issue of climate finance – and rightly so. More and more, policymakers are beginning to recognise that the private sector will need to play a role in financing the enormous costs associated with climate-resilient infrastructure and the global energy transition.

Financial inclusion
More broadly, we look forward to continuing to engage the Commonwealth business community on the challenges that they’re facing in seeking financing, and the opportunities that greater financial inclusion has to offer. All too often, those conversations have a regulatory dimension, and so we’re keen to explore how international cooperation on standards and regulation, including through the Commonwealth Standards Network, can improve access to finance for those in developing markets.

The work doesn’t stop when CBF stops, though. Through our network, we work to build trust between Commonwealth markets, and to spread knowledge and expertise that helps finance go further, particularly for SMEs. Helping insurgent businesses in developing markets to access funding and scale sustainably is one of the key challenges facing the Commonwealth business community, and we’re keen to tap into the expertise of London businesses in rising to those challenges. Indeed, many of our strategic partners are involved directly in helping to expand financial literacy and broaden financial access – ours is a membership which actively recognises the challenges around accessing finance.

CWEIC maintains a close working relationship with the City of London and the Lord Mayor, whose support has been instrumental since our inception. The City of London stands out as a beacon of financial expertise, showcasing its stature in the global financial landscape. It’s commendable to see the city generously sharing this knowledge with the Commonwealth, and we are actively working with partners across the Commonwealth to facilitate the sharing of this expertise and accelerate the development of new financial centres in emerging markets.

As London’s business community plays its part in responding to the global challenges posed by the 21st century, forums like the Commonwealth are more important than ever. The UK, and London’s business community in particular, should seize the opportunity with both hands, and recognise the role that this global family of nations can play in steering conversations around access to finance.

Lord Marland is chair of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council