The Arab States and Asia Pacific Employers Leaders Network held for first time in Saudi Arabia

Digital transformation, income diversification, evolving consumer needs, social dialogue, international trade cooperation, change management and internal management were among the core issues discussed by employer representatives at the meeting in Riyadh.

Article | 07 March 2023
The ILO-led "Employers Leaders Network" initiative brings together senior representatives from Business Associations across Asia Pacific and the Arab States. This is a pioneering initiative, aimed at creating space for reflection and ongoing sharing, including an online forum and opportunities for bilateral ‘twinning’ exchanges. Network representatives met in an event hosted by the Federation of Saudi Chambers in the Saudi capital Riyadh to set the agenda for the months ahead.

The meeting in Riyadh, the first Employers Leaders Network meeting to take place in Saudi Arabia, presented case studies from Oman, Korea, Singapore, Bahrain, India and Jordan.

Participants discussed key issues of mutual interest. Following is a snapshot of some of the core themes discussed during the meeting:

1.     Digital transformation is an ongoing journey. As well as harnessing digital tools to enhance services and advocacy impact, Business Associations are working with national governments to nurture future-focused, digital economies as part of ambitious long-term visions. A major barrier to achieving a digital ‘tipping point’ is a lack of technical skills. Business Associations are taking ownership of this issue – in particular, by championing vocational training.

2.     Diversifying income streams to ensure financial sustainability is an overriding priority. Leading-edge training programmes that reflect (and pre-empt) the evolving needs of members are just one of the ways forward.

3.     Evolving expectations and needs of consumers and clients are impacting on business models. The research and insight generated by Business Associations can facilitate strategic reviews and help members to remain competitive in volatile times. Peer-to -peer networks and support services can also help business leaders make bold investment decisions.

4.     Co-operation between national employers’ organisations will remain a big driver on international trade and new market opportunities. In an interconnected world, building partnerships can be an absolute game-changer.

5.     Navigating a fast-changing world of work is a challenge across all regions. Therefore, support on workforce issues is more important than ever. Business Associations can be at the forefront of this – in particular, through specialised labour market and employment units - and can drive thought leadership on the future of work.

6.     Business Associations are developing innovative ways to engage with a new generation of business leaders and of managing the structure and composition of their internal committees. Managing the change process is a major challenge and is one of the areas where experience-sharing can make the most impact.

7.     Effective approaches to social dialogue is also fertile ground for ongoing exchanges. The time for building trust and relationships with national governments and worker organisations is when the economy is strong and the external environment is stable. This is 'money in the bank' when a crisis hits.

At a time of relentless change and disruption, high-impact support services and advocacy activities have never been more important and urgent. Taking stock of innovative approaches and sharing new solutions to emerging challenges can be a motor of continuous improvement and reinvention for Business Association leaders. Driving this is at the heart of the Employers Leaders Network. Saudi Arabia was a fruitful and energising first step.