Ladies and Gentlemen, thanks to the Hungarian Business Leaders Forum for inviting me to this exhibition of your programmes and achievements over the past nine years.
I must congratulate and thank all of you for your extraordinary efforts. Nobody should forget that these things are not required of you: a combination of your enthusiasm, your vision for good corporate citizenship and commitment to voluntary effort has achieved these results. A marvellous sign that civil society and a commitment to responsible business have become firmly rooted here in Hungary.
My third visit to Hungary; the first almost exactly ten years ago, the second in 1994. Delighted to revisit earlier this afternoon the Incubator House in the former Soviet Army Barracks at Kecskemet, which President Goncz and I officially opened back in 1994. So encouraging to see how a run down area has been regenerated. Over three hundred people have found jobs with the one hundred or so new small businesses the project has helped start. More to come; other path-finding business support programmes are planned.
When we first discussed this idea here in Budapest a decade ago, some thought the idea would "fade with the sunset", I hope this is evidence even to the sceptics that partnership projects can flourish with determination, local support and a co-operative effort.
I am also delighted to see at first hand what you have achieved through the Business Leaders Forum here in Hungary, having met many of you in London, at Highgrove, and elsewhere over the past few years. What we do often seems intangible at the time, because it is the process which is so important: a process designed to involve people; to encourage them - rather than people in London or elsewhere -to own their own problems and the solutions, a process which transfers ideas, skills, good practices and hard learned lessons. Now we can show that it is also a process which leads to sustainability.
I am told that over a hundred companies have been mobilised to assist. The effort has been sustained now for ten years, led by Hungarians in partnership with others.
- Over five thousand people have been reached: from industrial towns faced with coal and steel closures; in cities and rural areas; schools; people running small businesses; both young and old.
- Almost a hundred companies have been working with schools providing work experience and other projects.
- The Hungarian hotels involved in our International Hotels Environment Initiative have gone on to win international awards for their pioneering efforts.
- Almost a thousand young people have been helped with business plans and ideas.
- The Hungarian Forum publishes an excellent newsletter and has set up a website to promote good practice as an inspiration to others.
Most important, the concept of corporate citizenship has become firmly rooted and young business leaders are committing their time voluntarily to help the community. The leaders of the Business Leaders Forums in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, who are here today, confirm that this is paralleled in their countries, with over two hundred international and national companies now working together across the region.
While these achievement are impressive, we must look forward, and draw out some pointers for the future. Many companies and many managers are not involved - just imagine what could be achieved if every company followed the good practices of those that are. There are still many who don't see the benefits, or wish to benefit from the efforts of others - without making the commitment to communication to help building the skills of the crucial "enablers" who make it happen. More business leaders could be encouraged to go and see projects for themselves and what can be achieved through what we call the "insight" process. Seeing is believing.
It seems to me that at a time when Hungary and several countries in the region are looking to membership of the European Union, much can be done by bigger businesses, following the examples of members of the Hungarian Business Leaders Forum, to help raise local environmental, social and corporate governance standards to those required for membership. Much is said about what needs to be done; what we see here, at this exhibition, is that action can be a reality and that everyone can come out a winner.
Thank you, and I hope that you survive and flourish for another decade. Meanwhile, I look forward to keeping in touch with your continuing progress.