By Pavel Subrt e Ludo Swinnen
There are many organisations, which work with and for the LGBTI community. They range from large international institutions to very small local NGOs. The Eastern part of the European continent was somehow forgotten and for many organizations, Europe stopped where the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’ existed until 1989.
It was back in 2013 in Prague that the 2 future co-founders of the East meets West, Ludo Swinnen and Pavel Šubrt, were once again confronted with the phenomenon that conferences, although taking place in a Central European country, had a mainly West European content and the speakers and most participants had a feeble local, East European background. In the last years the East meets West network grew and became gradually the main catalyst in the LGBTI organizational ecosystem in Central and Eastern Europe by connecting NGOs, diplomatic representatives, officials, corporate players, entrepreneurs and a variety of other inspiring personalities.
East meets West had the unique opportunity to play a relevant role in this changing environment by increasing the social acceptance of LGBTI people in the business world powered by a redefined Corporate Social Responsibility. This was and still is the underlying reason for the business focus of the organisation and was also visible in the theme of the June 12th 2020 International East meets West Conference “CONNECTING THE DOTS” attended by over 360 participants from 38 countries. We meet as East meets West many individuals, NGOs and companies who by their actions improve the status of the LGBTI community in their environment. These heroes are not always known and get seldom the recognition they deserve. But as everybody, they deserve a positive stroke, so we decided to start with the East meets West “Tap on the Shoulder” Awards. The premiere 2020 Awards had an Austrian touch and a strong symbolic meaning. The 3 Swarovski flowers are covered by a Crystal bell. It symbolizes the many initiatives that pop up everywhere and that are covered and protected by organizations like East meets West and the EGLCC. The winners of the 2020 East meets West Awards premiere in the three categories are: an NGO: ERA (LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey), an individual: Jens Schadendorf (Germany) and a Corporation: Barilla (Italy).
Barilla, the company that has gone from being perceived as a company for traditional families to pasta for everybody. Barilla started officially his Diversity & Inclusion Journey in 2013, even if diversity, equality and inclusion have always been an integral part of the Barilla Group’s culture, values and Code of Ethics. In fact, these values play a vital role in the growth model and way of doing business. It became a diverse enterprise which drives diversity & Inclusion internally but also among their supply chain. Barilla have now people who speak out and make a difference. One of them is Eliano Apicella who leads the Barilla Supplier D&I Program in Europe, program that aims to ensure a Supply chain truly diverse and inclusive.
We also know the world around us is constantly changing and asking from us flexibility in thinking and finding new ways to progress the LGBTI community. We have become aware of the potential of the changed perception of the Corporate Social Responsibility which truly has a positive impact on the LGBTI community. We are convinced that by connecting the two dots, the traditional social action and a clear business focus is not only possible but will boost the results of our efforts.
LGBTI owned and managed businesses are, just like women owned businesses, clearly underrepresented in the economical networks of countries. East meets West wants to motivate the many LGBTI owned and operated businesses to come out and become a positive role model in their community. This has become the real mission of East meets West. They saw that negative social attitudes towards LGBTI people are not
based on facts or experiences but on questionable values that have been handed down from generation to generation and that these can only be debunked by visible and positive roll-models, especially by LGBTI business representatives. This new strategy needed an additional role of East meets West so the association turned into a de-facto LGBTI Chamber of Commerce for the CEE region with the idea of introducing such Business Units all over Europe.
Europe is composed of many independent nations, each with a different legal, economic and social culture. So, to be successful one needs strong local affiliates that aim for the same objectives but in accordance with local business customs. For this, East meets West needed to set-up a network of such national LGBTI Chambers of Commerce and the day after the 2018 East meets West Conference, the 3 already existing national European LGBTI Chambers of Commerce met. Present were East meets West, covering the CEE region, Italy with the IGLBC, the Italian GLBT Business Chamber and the SGLC, the Scandinavian LGBT Chamber of Commerce (they were soon joined by the German Chamber, the GGLBC). They decided to join forces and founded the EGLCC, the European Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. They signed the ‘Vienna Declaration on LGBTI businesses, as formal message of their joined mission and vision. The EGLCC is an organization that functions as the umbrella organization for all present and future national LGBTI Chambers of Commerce. An EGLCC – LGBTI Chamber can have different formats but with one common main focus – grouping the LGBTI owned and managed businesses so that they can become valid partners for larger corporates who have a supplier diversity policy as part of their CSR.
Diversity & Inclusion in a Business environment covers many topics, incl. the well-known Workplace Inclusion, but also the way a business works with their suppliers is a crucial topic. If a company wants to be diverse and inclusive, it also should follow a divers and inclusive policy when engaging with external suppliers. When we look closer at the part “minority owned businesses”, like LGBTI owned & managed businesses, as suppliers to larger companies, they are clearly heavily underrepresented in the general pool of suppliers. The same goes for e.g. women owned businesses or businesses owned and operated by ethnic minorities. Why is this so? Larger companies have so-called procurement teams that take care of the contacts with external product providers and to get in this list of usual providers is almost impossible for smaller companies. If we want to improve this, we need to convince the large companies as well as government and public organisations to be diverse in working with minority businesses and include these when selecting suppliers. But we also need to have the smaller LGBTI owned and managed businesses to register as candidates for cooperation with large businesses and government authorities.
Supplier Diversity is the pro-active sourcing of products and services from previously underused suppliers, which includes businesses owned by minorities, in order to reflect the demographics of the communities in which the business operates. Ultimately, the aim of supplier diversity is to create an equal marketplace where opportunities are open to all participants regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Advocacy groups play an essential role in supplier diversity. They educate the wider public on supplier diversity, its rationales and benefits. By running a network of minority-owned and operated businesses they are their advocates and promoters and help discovering untapped business opportunities. To corporate procurement teams they act as facilitator. Educate wide public on Supplier Diversity, its rationales and benefits. Typically, they offer “self-registration” (a self-declaration of the business ownership by a minority group) and certifications (thorough assessment). There are several well-established major advocacy groups. WEConnect International is a global network that connects women-owned businesses to qualified buyers around the world. They offer global self-registration and certification in a growing number of European countries typically through partnering with local business networks. This includes the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and soon Belgium, France and Italy. MSDUK is a UK-based network advocating for ethnic minority businesses. Despite ambitions to expand and offer certification outside of the United Kingdom also in continental Europe, they are confronted with the challenge of how ethnic minority is defined in various European countries. The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, NGLCC, is the US-based national advocacy organisation dedicated to expanding economicopportunities for the LGBT business community. NGLCC offers certification only in the USA.
The LGBTI business voice and advocacy organisation in Europe is the EGLCC, The European LGBTI Chamber of Commerce (www.eglcc.eu). The main function of EGLCC and its national and regional chamber members is to promote the growth of LGBTI Business across Europe and this primarily through introducing the concept of supplier diversity. This reflects on the fundamental need of today’s society, which is to increase the social acceptance of LGBTI people in a business environment so that they can become an influential player in their business community. Coming out in business should not be seen as a threat to their existing successes, but that it is as valuable as a personal coming out. It makes the businesses stronger, more authentic and more successful. By giving an opportunity to an LGBTI owned and operated minority business, this business can grow and be not only an inspiration inside the LGBTI community but also a proof that LGBTI business owners have their rightful place in the society.
PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN DIVERCITY VIII September 2020