Michael Sippitt, Chairman of the Commonwealth Environmental Investment Platform (CEIP), explained the vision for the Platform at its VIP launch reception at the Royal Commonwealth Society, on Thursday 14th March, 2013:
“The CEIP is the culmination of plans hatched in the last couple of years, and I pay tribute here to the shared vision and energy of Danny Sriskandarajah, until recently Director of the RCS, with whom I began conversations two years ago about the concept that became the CEIP, but tonight is very much the beginning of a long haul journey to create a community of business interest in the environment through a network of networks, sharing Commonwealth values and inbuilt trade advantages, and steadily drawing in more hubs around the Commonwealth to share in this common quest and substantial opportunity for greater exchange of enterprise in the fast growing and vital sector of environmental goods and services.
How appropriate that the theme of this year in the Commonwealth is ‘Opportunity through Enterprise’. Enterprise is the engine of all human progress, and is the means to address the challenges of our time. Enterprise is the source of sustained opportunity for the young who are so central to many excellent Commonwealth programmes, remembering half the 2 billion people of the Commonwealth are under 25 years old.
The CEIP is specifically about environmental enterprise and the enabling of sustainable innovation. It accords with the new Commonwealth Charter just this week signed, which includes commitments to sustainable development, the free and fair flow of multilateral trade, the protection of the environment, the deployment of environmentally friendly technologies and renewable energy, and in particular the recognition of needs of small states facing challenges including energy needs and climate change.
It is also a particular delight and very much part of our purpose to be welcoming so many here tonight who are not so familiar with Commonwealth affairs, to whom the Commonwealth may be obscure and perhaps even seemingly irrelevant. One of the CEIP`s objectives is very much to educate and inform investors and businesses of the advantages of the Commonwealth, particularly the fast developing countries of the Commonwealth who are experiencing rapid growth in GDP and economic opportunities, while also challenged by the great issues of our century in addressing impacts of climate change and volatility, energy poverty, resource scarcity, and the need above all for low carbon economic growth as the model for the new green industrial revolution. The world has never needed technology more, and has never been so well placed to share innovation and enterprise for the common good.
One question I have often been asked as we talk of the CEIP is why we are doing this project with the Commonwealth, and I do want to capture in a few brief remarks the remarkable platform the Commonwealth represents. I do not take for granted everyone here knows much about the Commonwealth or its institutions.
I have heard it said of the Commonwealth that it seems like something created in the last century ideally suited to the needs of this century. The Commonwealth is incredibly well suited, designed for what we hope to do.
Businesses and investors will readily recognise the great advantages for trade and investment of having a lot in common in terms of language, legal frameworks, principles of good governance and the rule of law, together with historic family, business and educational links, all of which put a premium on intra-Commonwealth trade.
In truth, the Commonwealth is not so much an optional platform for promoting international trade and investment as, in fact, a vital asset developed over many decades it would be grave folly to neglect. I would say it has been neglected by many in the UK in recent decades, and it is time to put that right.
One way I can express this is that I see the Commonwealth as a huge and deeply rooted tree, with a capacious canopy. The tree is indeed a common symbol across the world of the connectedness of all life, so is an appropriate illustration of an organisation that is based on principles of connectedness.
CEIP is a new shoot off a branch in the canopy, drawing sustenance from the inherent energy of the Commonwealth tree and making its modest contribution to the benefits of the tree to all the life that thrives in and around it, but very much just part of a much bigger picture as so many other branches and shoots share the same source and nourishment. As a British citizen in my mind I see a sturdy old oak. However, in the spirit of Commonwealth inclusiveness I acknowledge it may be a fine Canadian Maple or African baobab! The High Commissioner of Canada may well agree the Maple is a common symbol of strength and endurance, so I hope we shall draw on those qualities!
In practical terms, it takes only a little exposure to Commonwealth activities to discover how much is going on, how many good endeavours there are, how many organisations and networks carry on activities under the Commonwealth canopy, and very significantly how they can all help each other and are keen to do so.
The need for international co-operation on climate change and the environment is immediate, time is not on our side, and the Commonwealth tree is there to play its part in making a difference for the planet as a whole as well as its member nations.
It is not easy to know how we shall measure success or the fulfilment of this vision, but it is easy enough to see certain steps ahead and to progress steadily in the right direction.
It was always our intent to mark the launch only when we had a first cluster of hubs established, and today we are delighted to have established hubs in Canada, South Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana, as well as our UK hubs in London and Cardiff. More discussions with other prospective hubs are ongoing and we shall progressively add hubs that we determine are suitable to become affiliated. I welcome here tonight representatives from Canada, Ghana and Nigeria, with a video appearance also from Cape Town.
The reality on the ground is already manifest. After the launches in South Africa introductions of business opportunity are already occurring. The appetite for trustworthy technology is strong.
We are delighted to have developed good links with the Association of Commonwealth Universities. We place a high premium on the university networks and their alumni as sources of expertise and influence.
We were pleased to be joined on the platform in South Africa by the Africa Dean of Henley Business School of Reading University. Teaching and mentoring entrepreneurs is a vital step. The Commonwealth already has good work in progress on such matters. We hope to work alongside such endeavours and find ways to help environmental entrepreneurs who are in need of business planning coaching and advice. I emphasise that the world does not lack money, the true lack is of investment worthy projects and businesses, and of the well run enterprises to deliver them, so that is a very important focus for us.
Enterprise in the Commonwealth depends on laying strong foundations, education, training, coaching, mentoring early stage businesses, and on the other side helping educate investors in what is happening in technology developments they need to know, as Forbury Investment Network already does for its investor network in London. Investor knowledge is variable. It is vital to help investors gain confidence in environmental technologies, which is often well tried and tested in countries who have used such technologies for years. Again, lack of knowledge is a barrier to making the most of what we know already works.
Another good reason to engage closely with the Commonwealth is that the role of government is crucial to promotion of investment. The investor requires confidence in the regulatory framework, the security of investments, and the rule of law. It is plain that the Commonwealth is already there and fit for purpose in supporting and sharing such values and best practice.
For example, public procurement must be addressed, sustainable and innovative procurement is vital. Even very experienced countries can be poor at that! The Commonwealth is an ideal platform to share procurement expertise and to help developing countries profit from the experience of countries who can share their experiences of success and failure.
The world cannot afford to work in silos. It has to connect. The investors and entrepreneurs and growing environmental businesses are between them able to make a big difference to so many people in so many countries, but without connecting they never fully realise their potential. The CEIP is a connecting structure, linking like-minded enterprises and drawing investors` interest to the opportunities they dare not miss out on.
Her Majesty said in her Commonwealth Day Message this week that she was reminded of the old adage "nothing ventured nothing gained". Cannot put it better! She added "let us think about what can be gained with a bold heart, dedication and teamwork".
I regard that as an ideal message to keep us all on track on our journey to enable environmental innovation and enterprise.”