The Nor­we­gian Aus­tralian Cham­ber of Com­merce wants to find new ways to bring more Nor­we­gian com­pa­nies down un­der.

The Nor­we­gian Aus­tralian Cham­ber of Com­merce was founded three years ago, but hasn’t wasted any time es­tab­lish­ing it­self.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - CHEYENNE HOL­LIS

With nearly 100 mem­bers, the or­gan­i­sa­tion wants to find new ways to sup­port its mem­bers and bring more com­pa­nies down un­der. The Nor­we­gian Bri­tish Cham­ber of Com­merce and the Nor­we­gian Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce are both more than 100 years old. Mean­while, the Swedish-Aus­tralian Cham­ber of Com­merce has been in ex­is­tence since 1911. Given this his­tory, one might think that a Nor­we­gian cham­ber in Aus­tralia would boast a sim­i­lar lin­eage, but it took un­til 2015 for the Nor­we­gian Aus­tralian Cham­ber of Com­merce ( NACC) to come into ex­is­tence.

“The NACC wasn’t some­thing that had been in the pipe­line be­fore we launched it. It ended up fill­ing a gap,” Ms Sophia Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl, NACC Pres­i­dent, notes. “There was the Scan­di­na­vian Club be­fore us, but it was very much an old-school group and a lot of mem­bers grew old. No one wanted to be a leader and it sort of fiz­zled away.”

Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl be­lieves the clo­sure of the Sjø­mannskirken [the Nor­we­gian Sea­man’s Church] in Syd­ney was a key turn­ing point. The church needed fund­ing and more vol­un­teer­ing to sur­vive, but no one in the Nor­we­gian com­mu­nity was aware of this un­til it was too late. If the Nor­we­gian com­mu­nity in Aus­tralia had been or­gan­ised, this could have been pre­vented. The clo­sure of the Sjø­mannskirken was un­for­tu­nate, but it would help lead oth­ers to un­der­stand the need for com­mu­nity.

“Pre­vi­ously, no one had the drive to start the cham­ber. There was a group of us that thought we should do it,” Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl says. “The em­bassy was cau­tious about their in­volve­ment and sup­port at first, but sev­eral com­pa­nies said they would be in­ter­ested as long as we didn’t host too many events they had to be present at”.

Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl’s in­ter­ests, ex­pe­ri­ence and stud­ies pro­vided

a lot of use­ful re­sources for set­ting up the NACC. She also un­der­stood the im­por­tance of com­mu­nity be­ing so far away from Nor­way. “I’ve al­ways been in­volved in build­ing com­mu­ni­ties that build strength, and this is es­pe­cially nec­es­sary when you are this far away from Nor­way. Liv­ing or work­ing in a place as far away from Nor­way as Aus­tralia is very dif­fer­ent from liv­ing in a place closer to home such as Den­mark or Ger­many. The dis­tance it­self makes it strange even if the coun­try and it’s peo­ple are nice,” Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl points out. “Be­ing a part of NACC is more than sim­ply a busi­ness de­ci­sion. It’s a place of be­long­ing, com­mu­nity, trust and friend­ship”.

In or­der to be suc­cess­ful, the NACC needed a clear, ac­tion­able plan that would ben­e­fit mem­bers and show the Nor­we­gian em­bassy in Aus­tralia they were se­ri­ous in their ef­forts.

“Our first step was to cre­ate a strate­gic plan. We started or­gan­is­ing

events and even­tu­ally launched groups in Perth and Mel­bourne. This al­lowed us to cover the ci­ties with the most Nor­we­gian busi­nesses,” Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl de­tails. “After about one year of get­ting it off the ground, the em­bassy got in­volved which was a big boost for us. It would have been nice to have their sup­port from the start, but I also un­der­stand why they were cau­tious. They wanted us to prove that we were se­ri­ous and in it for the long haul.”

The ge­og­ra­phy of Aus­tralia presents the NACC with a few lo­gis­ti­cal is­sues that some other Nor­we­gian Cham­ber of Com­merce chap­ters may not have to deal with. For ex­am­ple, Syd­ney is more than a four-hour flight away from Perth.

“We have to travel a bit and needed to set up com­mu­ni­ca­tion via so­cial me­dia to keep in touch with all of our mem­bers,” Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl says. “It is quite im­por­tant to reach out to ev­ery­one. Given the dis­tance be­tween our branches, we con­tinue to look at ways we can im­prove our com­mu­ni­ca­tion to en­sure ev­ery­one can stay in touch.” Dis­tance and com­mu­ni­ca­tion chal­lenges can also be an ad­van­tage. Those of us who travel a lot all make sure to catch up with each other when we are in town. Award-win­ning ef­fort De­spite be­ing only three-years old, the NACC has al­ready been recog­nised for its ef­forts. At the APAC 2018 In­ter­na­tional Cham­ber of Com­merce Awards, it was named as the Small Cham­ber of the Year. Other win­ners in­cluded the Bri­tish Malaysian Cham­ber of Com­merce and the Fed­er­a­tion of Kar­nataka Cham­ber of Com­merce & In­dus­try, a pair of or­gan­i­sa­tions with more than 150 years of ex­pe­ri­ence com­bined.

“This isn’t the world’s big­gest award, but there aren’t that many awards for cham­bers to win. We feel like it is a great achieve­ment and it val­i­dates our ef­forts in many ways,” Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl pro­claims. “We were judged on our strate­gic plan and rapid growth, which proves our ef­forts were worth it. It wasn’t just a PR stunt.”

For the en­tire team at the NACC, the past three years have been an ex­haust­ing yet re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. While mem­bers have seen the NACC’s ef­forts in or­gan­is­ing events, the ef­forts be­hind the scenes to get the or­gan­i­sa­tion off the ground may be over­looked.

“It is a lot of work. We had to show we were se­ri­ous as a busi­ness net­work be­fore we could even of­fi­cially ap­ply to be a cham­ber. Do­ing that re­quired us to jump through quite a few hoops,” Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl ex­plains. “There was a lot of pa­per­work and ex­penses, which we had to pay for out of our own pocket. We learned a lot and it was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t easy to get this go­ing.”

The NACC may be a rel­a­tive new­comer, but Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl is con­fi­dent Nor­we­gian busi­nesses are al­ready see­ing the ben­e­fits that hav­ing a cham­ber brings.

“Not hav­ing a cham­ber in Aus­tralia puts Nor­we­gian com­pa­nies at a dis­ad­van­tage com­pared to our Euro­pean and Asian coun­ter­parts. We are stronger to­gether.” Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl states. “Nor­we­gian busi­nesses here have ex­pe­ri­enced both hav­ing and not hav­ing a cham­ber of com­merce and they all men­tion how they can feel the dif­fer­ence. It is pos­si­ble to get by with­out one, but the sup­port and com­mu­nity is a valu­able thing to have.”

Look­ing ahead, the NACC is op­ti­mistic about ex­pand­ing even if there are a few chal­lenges that will need to be ad­dressed.

“Fund­ing is al­ways im­por­tant. It can also be dif­fi­cult to find peo­ple with the drive to vol­un­teer. Peo­ple who do vol­un­teer find the ben­e­fits of ex­pe­ri­ence and net­work­ing are well worth it,” Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl says. “We also want to keep ex­pand­ing our op­er­a­tions. Hir­ing staff and en­sur­ing we pro­vide real out­comes for mem­bers. The most im­por­tant thing is to keep build­ing on what we have done. If we stag­nate or sim­ply main­tain the sta­tus quo, we won’t sur­vive.” Con­nect­ing with Asia Nor­we­gian busi­nesses have been ea­ger to ex­pand into Asia, eye­ing both China and South­east Asia where a grow­ing mid­dle class and strong GDP num­bers have cre­ated new op­por­tu­ni­ties. How­ever, the econ­omy in Aus­tralia is solid with the Re­serve Bank of Aus­tralia pre­dict­ing GDP growth to av­er­age more than three per­cent in 2018 and 2019.

Ac­cord­ing to Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl, this, along with Aus­tralia’s high per capita in­come, makes it an at­trac­tive place for Nor­we­gian busi­nesses, es­pe­cially those al­ready in Asia.

“Aus­tralia is quite iso­lated. We want to con­nect to Asia since this is a re­gion Nor­way pays a lot of at­ten­tion to. Aus­tralia is closer to Asia than Nor­way, but at the mo­ment it feels like we are on the out­side of this ac­tiv­ity,” Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl notes. “We have to con­nect up to Asia. Aus­tralia should be seen as a part of it, not its own sep­a­rate re­gion.”

She adds that Asia shouldn’t be the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion. A num­ber of Nor­we­gian com­pa­nies are al­ready op­er­at­ing in South­east Asia and it makes sense for these firms to at least con­sider Aus­tralia. The NACC is look­ing at ways to get Nor­we­gian busi­nesses in Aus­tralia more in­volved in Asia as well.

For busi­nesses, new op­por­tu­ni­ties and sup­port are an im­por­tant rea­son to join with a cham­ber of com­merce. How­ever, Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl urges that they also be ac­tive and con­trib­ute.

“Per­haps the most im­por­tant thing about be­ing part of a cham­ber is that it isn’t about what you get out, but what you put in. If ev­ery­one con­trib­utes, ev­ery­one ben­e­fits,” Ms Deme­tri­ades Toft­dahl con­cludes.


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