Paving the Way for Economic Inclusion: In conversation with Colombia’s LGBT Chamber Of Commerce

By Erasmo Sánchez Herrera and Jacob Blumenthal | Via The OECD Forum Network

The NGLCC Global Division of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s (NGLCC) dedicates itself to the empowerment and advancement of LGBTQ+ businesses internationally. Through its quest for economic empowerment and equality, NGLCC has partnered with numerous global affiliates to strengthen and expand its mission—25 and counting. The macrocosmic accumulation of strong, proliferate and industrious LGBTQ+ businesses has fostered a family that is equally as dedicated to each other’s growth as they are to their own. By talking to Felipe Cardenas Gonzalez, CEO Colombia’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce (CCLGBTco), we can experience the warmth and success that comes with such close teamwork.

In Mr Gonzalez’s words, “The experience of partnering with NGLCC has been crucial for our evolution as a chamber of commerce”. Thanks to the operational support given by NGLCC to CCLGBTco, Mr Gonzalez and his team have been able to design relevant programming and create different initiatives to encourage equal access and increase economic growth opportunities for LGBTQ+ businesses in Colombia. Through these events, NGLCC has been able to connect different business owners, entrepreneurs and corporations not just within the country but transnationally: for example, United States initiatives that are based in Colombia as well as big domestic corporations that are finally entering into an inclusive procurement arena. For Mr Gonzalez and his team of 12, NGLCC’s partnership has been a “game changer”. They have been able to utilise these trans-corporate relations to grow and develop themselves professionally, especially in terms of learning to manage a non-profit entity that acts as a fully self-sustainable chamber of commerce with a platform to grow the operation in both revenue and impact.

For the CCLGBTco team, empowering LGBTQ+ business owners in Colombia has been both a very intense and humbling experience. When you live in the capital of a Latin American country such as Bogotá, a population of 10 million citizens from different backgrounds and with different personal stories to share surrounds you; think of the Pacific Caribbean, forests, the coffee region, the Amazon and all the other communities within the region. Many of these citizens are immigrants from Venezuela, and as Colombia is geographically the closest country with LGBTQ+ rights and protections for its residents, it has received a vast amount of LGBTQ+ Venezuelans within the last five years. However, though LGBTQ+ rights in Colombia were established in 2016 they remain contested: LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, especially in rural areas, are often condemned to the realm of the “closet”, where they are expected to hide their identities in pursuit of social acceptance and business opportunity.

Yet within this context there are two main factors contributing to the success of CCLGBTco. First, it makes these businesses visible—not only through financial support and mobilising opportunities, but also by acknowledging the intersectionality of their LGBTQ+ workforce. It cannot be expected that all members are white, male and cisgender. Within Colombia, Afro-Latinos, women, differently abled individuals and all other marginalised identities intersect with the LGBTQ+ community. Second, the powerfully effective concept of inclusive procurement, taught to CCGLGBTco by NGLCC, which Mr Gonzalez concedes is the best way to realise the grandiose speeches we often hear regarding diversity and inclusion. NGLCC’s model connects businesses with corporations’ procurement departments to explore opportunities within them.

The countless testimonials Mr Gonzalez receives from the Colombian Chamber’s associated enterprises speak volumes to the impact of his and his team’s commitment to these techniques. At NGLCC events and conventions, he watches numerous of his small- and medium-sized businesses present themselves to larger corporations. Equipped with pitches and portfolios, they attract Fortune 500-size companies at a scale and with a level of access that they would never have had on their own, helping to turn the words of the chambers’ speeches into a reality.

The Colombian Chamber has been an international affiliate of NGLCC since 2012, marking 2022 as their 10-year anniversary. Over the past decade, Mr Gonzalez has witnessed the creation of NGLCC’s Global Division, and how its structure, programming and leadership have evolved to bring a wealth of experienced, diverse and global perspective into business and consumer interactions. Additionally, NGLCC has fostered a close relationship with the embassies in Colombia, reinforcing the integrity, respect and international reputation of the Chamber and its role in these relationships has been crucial for the Chamber’s maintenance and ability to spearhead new projects. This has allowed both the Chamber and its affiliated agencies outside of Colombia to support LGBTQ+ business projects seeking grants.

Today, CCLGBTco unites over 200 members from eight economic sectors including tourism, finance and banking, oil, gas, and energy, as well as smaller sectors that are beginning to thrive; Colombia’s Chamber also uses its social media following to communicating with a third of a million of the country’s LGBTQ+ citizens. By working with these communities, the Chamber has established its own LGBT-friendly business programme, Friendly Biz, to certify domestic corporations as having discrimination-free working environments, and has begun designing another specifically for LGBTQ+-owned businesses. CCLGBTco has also succeeded in providing training and workshops on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) topics to nearly 30,000 participants in different companies.

The impact of NGLCC and its international affiliates, like CCLGBTco and the United Kingdom’s OutBritain, has actively improved the careers and livelihoods of thousands of people across the globe. As a result, LGBTQ+ business owners have experienced a significant increase in career stability, workplace safety, inclusionary education and social-equalising techniques. By creating safer and more stable spaces for LGBTQ+ employees and business owners, the financial independence of these participants has granted them much more freedom in the social, economic and business spheres of their countries, changing not only their lives but also those of their consumers and successors. In Mr Gonzalez’s own words, “CCLGBTco will continue to actively promote an economy in our country that is free of discrimination through empowering the LGBTIQ+ business community and advocating for inclusion of LGBTIQ+ owned businesses”.


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