The Business Year

Mónica de Greiff

COLOMBIA - Economy

Formal Is Better

President, the Chamber of Commerce of Bogotá


Mónica de Greiff was appointed President of the Chamber of Commerce of Bogotá in 2013. She is a qualified lawyer from Rosario University in Bogotá, with a post-graduate degree in Administrative Law. She has held important positions in both the public and private sectors in Colombia throughout her career. Prior to her current position, she was CEO of Bogotá’s Energy Company from 2009 to 2012. Between 2008 and 2009 she was the Secretary of Economic Development of Bogotá, where she implemented an Entrepreneurship Promotion Plan, which focused on offering technical training and credit access.

"Bogotá is a large city, and it will continue its growth trend over the next 10 years."

Bogotá is the economic motor of the nation, generating 26% of GDP. According to President Santos, the city has the lowest level of poverty and disease, and also has the lowest unemployment in the country. What is the contribution of Bogotá’s business community to its development?

Bogotá is a large city, and it will continue its growth trend over the next 10 years. It is also a highly diverse city with large industrial groups and an invaluable set of small- to medium-sized industries working across various sectors. Bogotá is a stronghold for the financial sector, with 90% of that sector being headquartered here. In fact, Bogotá enjoys the presence of multinationals from all sectors, in addition to the new multinational type called multi-latinas. We have been receiving business migration from the Andean region. The challenges now faced include alleviating poverty and tackling mobility and connectivity. Therefore, we are preparing and helping all small-, medium-, and large-scale companies to be aware of the opportunities of new free trade agreements (FTAs). They will also be prepared for a larger market, and to have quality products to meet the market’s demands.

How deep is the commitment of the business community to peace and reintegration of FARC and other such groups?

The first thing to remember is that this is not the first peace process that we have undertaken. I think the business community was at first wholly skeptical. Yet we have been having these conversations for a year now, and feel this is the moment for peace. Then again, many people prepared for the post-conflict era question whether they are prepared to employ ex-combatants. We have been working with the reintegration agency because this is a long-term project. And it is not just a question of signing a peace treaty, as there need to be alternatives for all people. This process is estimated to require at least six years; hence, we have much to learn in the period ahead. At the Chamber of Commerce, we have been working with the Colombian Reintegration Agency and hiring ex-combatants in subsidiaries, such as at Corferias, or at our university. So far, we have generated around 73 positions. I think that if we want to talk to the business community about hiring, we have to do it ourselves first in order to explain to businesses exactly what they are supposed to do, and how to deal with potential problems.

“Bogotá is a large city, and it will continue its growth trend over the next 10 years.”

What did your 135th anniversary celebration in 2013 signify?

I think the most important thing to show after 135 years is that we have been able to work with all governments regardless of ideology, as we are a neutral venue for all businesspeople, representative not of one sector, but of the business community as a whole. Our excellent track record has given us credibility, which we strive to maintain. We have long informed the public sector of business community developments and guided the government when it comes to formulating public policies that can empower the private sector.

In 2013 you launched a new model of services for your companies. Amongst your objectives you plan to realize 25,000 “business dreams” by 2017. Could you expand on this?

We have to understand that the business community has 340,000 productive businesses in Bogotá. This does not mean, however, that they comply with all the necessary formalities. Many lack technology, and have approached the Chamber simply to comply with the formalities required by law, such as registering with the Chamber of Commerce. However, we observe a very high failure rate among companies in Bogotá. Every six minutes, a company is registered, but only 43% of these survive past three years. It is therefore of the essence that we help them to survive sustainably. We aim to offer a personalized service focused on accountability in bookkeeping and seek to help businesspeople design the best product they can. Our new approach is to visit companies in order to help them pro-actively as opposed to only having them visit us. The numbers might change, because while currently we liaise with 100,000 businesses a year; the number may decline to 5,000. This said, we will be providing a more personal service, in essence becoming advisors.

How do you assist companies in keeping up with their contributory obligations and tax issues, and in reducing the costs and obstacles that they incur given the drive to increase tax revenues?

This is why an agreement was signed with the IFC. We are collaborating because many fear that if they formalize their business they will have to pay taxes immediately. As very small entities they should not be paying taxes. However, we try to inform them about such issues as transparent bookkeeping with correct inventories, and that they need not be afraid of being in the formal economy. There are a series of benefits to be had from formality. One of them is that the Chamber of Commerce will help them throughout the process, and they will gain experience and knowledge. We have observed that, where people have the opportunity to take formal employment, many immediately do so. Yet many fear having their details on file and resist formalization as long as possible. Therefore we play an educational role, too, pointing out the advantages of having a formal salary to pay for health services, for example.

How are you weaving the Business for Peace initiative into the culture of this organization?

We are deeply involved in Business for Peace. However, I think it is just starting, and we have to do much more. First, there is information. The business community of Bogotá will receive a significant amount of people once the peace agreement is signed, and the city already has many such people. We have to provide opportunities to create an atmosphere of peace and understanding, as it’s not just a question of employment.

What achievements has the Fundación Universitaria Empresarial de la Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá Uniempresarial registered, and what are you doing to nurture talent?

This is an important new educational opportunity that we have undertaken. The Fundación Universitaria Empresarial de la Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá Uniempresarial is an interesting new model that generates opportunities for all Colombians, regardless of their economic position. It is a German model that involves a five-year career degree that is completed in three years. You start working with a company at the beginning of the program, and start practicing what you learn at university. Participants only have 15 days of vacation per year as they are considered to be working people, and hence shave two years off the course duration. We offer business administration, civil engineering, international finance, and other careers essentially to meet the needs of the business community. Essentially, we are bridging the gap between academia and business. Our university’s greatest achievement is producing well-prepared candidates. Many students get hired at the company where they have been interning, having proven themselves good employees with their years of work experience, putting them in great demand.

© The Business Year – May 2014



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