Changing Times

Some thirty years ago I was an active member of an organisation called British Junior Chamber, part of the worldwide Jaycees International. It is an organisation for young people in their 20s and 30s who meet on a regular basis for fun and friendship, and participating in many inspiring events and projects. It aims for members to broaden their network of contacts, get involved in community projects and develop new skills. For those fortunate enough to be able to afford it, there is the opportunity to travel to international events.

As a member of my local Chamber, I launched a regular news magazine to keep members updated on events and also held the position of Secretary seeing as others were reluctant to undertake the onerous task! The Chamber formed part of the Midlands Regional Group which was later divided into two areas … west and south. My local branch fell into the latter division and formed one of eight Chambers to the south of Birmingham. This reorganisation enabled greater interaction and competitiveness between Chambers as it minimised the travelling distances involved.

Inter-branch activities included regular debating competitions and business games. One such activity was the World Trade Game and what follows is a report of the 1982 task …

The cold night of 26 October, destination the Brandon Hall Hotel twist Coventry and Rugby. The experienced world traders Jayne, Andy and Nick (the writer) all primed for big business – if only we could locate the hotel in question.

After driving around in semi-circles (the fault, no doubt, of the person responsible for drawing the sketch map attached to the rules!) we arrived at the hotel some ten minutes later than the scheduled start time of 7:30pm. Various thoughts of immediate disqualification or severe trading penalties began to loom, but these feelings were quickly dispelled upon entering the venue as only about 60% of the teams had arrived. The sketch map was obviously causing problems to others too! Countries were allocated to teams by way of a draw, so obviously the early arrivals had a greater chance of drawing one of the so-called rich countries. For the purposes of the game, the rich trading countries were USA, Europe, Japan and Russia (then USSR). There were also nine poor countries comprising India, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Iran, Iraq, Brazil, Pakistan, Egypt and Venezuela. What a selection! In order to avoid any domestic disputes, we had elected Andy to make our draw seeing as he was responsible for us entering the game. Thankfully he did us proud as we were to represent Japan, a rich country, and so we thought a piece of cake in terms of world trade.

The rules of the game were explained to the competing teams. Unfortunately it wasn’t going to be a free for all as rich countries were obliged to offer spare manufacturing capacity to a poorer nation in order to, supposedly, improve that country’s financial standing. Briefly the object of the game was for each country to satisfy its consumption requirements in a specified trading period by trading with other countries, goods and raw materials that were surplus to requirements. Also money had to be accrued through selling spare manufacturing capacity (if you were lucky enough to have any) plus stockpiling goods which would convert into cash at the end of the game. After the final trading period, cash adjustments were made for each country depending upon their location and potential manufacturing capacities. This adjustment was known as the Equalisation factor with Japan bearing one of the highest amounts of cash to be deducted. You can probably see where this is going and hearts quickly began to sink!

During the trading periods, we quickly experienced a certain reluctance on the part if some countries to do business with Japan. Could this be an inbuilt prejudice? Sometimes we found ourselves being far too generous to other countries in order that we might satisfy our pre-determined consumption requirements. Needless to say, the organisers hardly played fair in that they arranged for an acute shortage of meat in one trading period. This helped those countries with surplus requirements but did little for countries like Japan who had to make high bids or barter more expensive commodities in order to obtain the necessary meat requirement. Should a country not have met its consumption needs in each trading period, a cash penalty would be applied at the end of the game. Japan only had a wheat commodity with which to commence trading, and there was always a grain surplus throughout the period in question. Even the USSR was able to meet its grain requirements – a far cry from the situation in real life!

Amidst the fun and frolics were several important lessons to be learned from this challenge. Above all, we found that setting up trade agreements with other countries on a regular basis proved far from satisfactory as there is always another party who will offer a more attractive deal. The end result – Japan was second behind Europe prior to the afore-mentioned Equalisation factor being taken into account. The result then was that Japan finished in seventh place, though the real surprise was that the USA failed to reach higher than eleventh place on both counts!

This was but one of many challenges. Others included participating in both the White Rose Walk in North Yorkshire and the Three Peaks Challenge in South Wales. The Chamber was also responsible for organising debating competitions between local secondary schools, community projects and fund raising events. Amidst all the serious business were regular social activities and visiting speakers on topics as diverse as the Mary Rose, guide dogs and wine tasting. In essence, the organisation was great for self development and education provided that individuals were committed to participate.

You may now be wondering what relevance all this has. When I was a member of the organisation, there were branches of Junior Chamber in most large towns, thereby providing opportunities for many young adults. The British arm of Jaycees International is still going but sadly is only represented in 22 locations nationwide. Only Birmingham survives in the greater Midlands area with all those branches with which I worked closely now a distant memory. There are huge pockets across the country now that have no representation whatsoever. Whilst I’ve long passed the age of eligibility, the nearest branch of Junior Chamber to my home is 170 miles away. I suspect complacency has been the death knell for so many former branches. Changing times indeed!


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