Our Journey

The Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Network (CBWN) has its origins in 2002 when it was established as a joint initiative of the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Business Council, now the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. It recently became a Community Interest Company (CIC) registered in the UK retaining its name and accredited status by member states.  

CBWN’s works to break down gender barriers in all sectors and/or to start up and grow their own businesses through an increase in the number and enhancement of the success rate of women-owned businesses to benefit their communities, countries and the Commonwealth. We support women at all stages of their business journey and business growth and especially as they transition from micro to small to medium and larger business and, if individuals are in a corporate role, in their development and progression. This aligns with and affirms the Commonwealth Charter and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  

Key objectives (updated following CHOGM in London in 2018) are:-  

(a) increasing opportunities for women to trade internationally in the Commonwealth especially for women in developing countries and increasing their access to markets;  

(b) designing, developing and delivering training for women in the Commonwealth to succeed in business and in international trade reducing the dependency of developing countries on aid and increasing opportunities for self-sufficiency through trade; and  

(c) celebrating and signposting talent recognising women’s achievements in business in the Commonwealth including progressive steps taken by government and the private sector.  

One of the key areas that sets CBWN apart from other organisations that work with women in business is the access that its accredited status provides to engage and influence policy-makers through participation in Commonwealth Ministerial meetings which CBWN takes maximum advantage of in advocating gender equality. In the last 36 months it has probably put more women in front of more policy-makers than any other organisation including Ministers of Women’s Affairs, Trade, IT, Law, Youth, Education, Health and Heads of Government with representatives self-funding their participation.   

The CBWN journey: 

10 years in gender equality 2010-2020 

The Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Network addressed the Commonwealth Business Forum in Perth when Australia hosted the 2010 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting when history wasmade by the first female Chair of the Commonwealth (PM Trinidad and Tobago and first woman premier) being succeeded by the second female Chair (PM Australia and first woman premier) in the presence of a third woman: HM The Queen, the Head of the Commonwealth. Both the outgoing and incoming Chairs suggested and were fully supportive of a 
review of CBWN’s work to revamp, reorientate and reinvigorate it to be much more grounded and geared to how the world was changing in dynamic ways.   

This subsequently involved the most wide-ranging consultation in the Commonwealth’s history involving over 40 face-to-face meetings in as many countries with women in business, governments and the private sector between the CHOGMs in Perth in 2010 and Malta in 2015, largely undertaken pro bono by a small team. This included Freda Miriklis who in 2013 made the keynote address to the 10th Women Affairs Ministerial Meeting in Dhaka when she was International President of the Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW International), the youngest President in its 80 year history. That meeting also saw a report from the Commonwealth Business Council and ACCA on Paving the way to opportunities: women in leadership across the Commonwealth produced and presented by CBWN described by the PM Jamaica (and first woman premier) in its Foreword as a ‘ground-breaking report [which] will serve as a resource to the Commonwealth as it seeks to work towards the empowerment of women.’   

In this period both Freda and Arif Zaman, Executive Director, CBWN were invited to be members of the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles Leadership Group and CBWN convened several high profile events at and with the UN and member states during the UN Commission on Status on Women annual meetings in New York in March. CBWN also convened a joint session at the Commonwealth Business Forum at CHOGM in Colombo in 2013 with the Commonwealth Secretariat on Women’s economic empowerment and Women in leadership which was the precursor to the first CHOGM Women’s Forum in Malta in 2015 at which it held its 2nd Commonwealth Businesswomen Awards at a gala dinner attended by the Secretary General and Heads of Government.  

This work resulted in CBWN’s mission being set out as ‘advancing UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 and the Commonwealth Charter focused on encouraging, enabling and embedding women in leadership and women’s economic empowerment through work in trade, talent and training.’ This was later reflected, following discussions and collaboration with the first woman SG Patricia Scotland, in the Commonwealth Priorities for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment 2017–2020 and Beyond:- 

1. women’s economic empowerment; 

2. women in leadership; 

3. ending violence against women and girls

4. gender and climate change. 

In 2014 CBWN was spun out of CBC and established as independent entity. On 14 August 2016, Commonwealth Governments provided accreditation for the first time in the 70-year history of the modern Commonwealth to an autonomous organisation working with and for women in business and focused on women’s leadership and economic empowerment: the Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Network in the category of ‘Civil Society and Professional Organisations’. 

In August 2019, following an independent review, CBWN became a Community Interest Company or CIC (still registered in the UK with the same name), to signal its community remit, sharpen its social impact and support its sustainability and future growth. After CHOGM in London in 2018 and as part of this, Thana Sivasambu and Angela Tomazos became joint Chief Operating Officers playing key roles converting the status of CBWN into a Community Interest Company (CIC), putting in place new arrangements with Ground Partners in Commonwealth countries and securing the establishment of CBWN’s new digital platform being launched on International Girls on ICT Day on 23 April 2020. The platform is now the Commonwealth’s first digital space driven by Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Analytics and owned, powered by and for women in business across the Commonwealth. It aims to create a digital space for CBWN members to connect to share experiences, pool resources, create trade opportunities, build relationships and exchange knowledge to optimise global opportunities. There is no charge for membership except for optional value-added services such as the platform’s Marketplace.