Last week I spent a fascinating couple of days in London at the Commonwealth Business Forum. This was an event like no other I have attended, not really a trade show or a conference in the normal sense but something altogether more exotic.
I am ashamed to say that I only had a fairly vague idea of what the Commonwealth was before I went. Certainly not a unified trading block like the EU or an arbiter of international law and national behaviour like the UN, in all its many forms.
The Commonwealth consists of 53 nations, as diverse as Canada and Vanuatu, approximately 2.4 billion people, of whom about half are in the Indian sub continent, and about 14% of global GDP. Beyond that it is perhaps deliberately… rather vague.
It is also rather wonderful, over 3 days and in some of London’s most imposing venues, we listened to the Prime Minister apologise for Britain’s role in the creation of cruel laws during the time of empire, I sat on a panel discussing philanthropy and entrepreneurship with Prince William (he didn’t stay to hear my views sadly). We learned about the catastrophic impact of climate change on small island nations, and met lots of fascinating and inspiring people from unexpected places with different perspectives but a shared enthusiasm to do some business.
We were well fed, made to feel welcome and more importantly, valued, and attended a huge variety of events and conversations. Once you were inside the, very British – casual but convincing – security cordon, the great and the good were conspicuously on show. Selfie with Boris anyone? You know who you are…
I was wearing two hats, first representing the Isle of Man as an international business centre, for which it would be difficult to imagine a better forum. And second wearing my PDMS hat, as a newly appointed Commonwealth Export Champion. Once the buzz has warn off and I ask myself if it will lead to any new business, I have to honestly say I don’t know, but I do know that doing business with any of those 53 countries now seems that little bit easier – like getting to know a long lost relative again.