Fellow Barbadians it gives me great pleasure to celebrate with you and the entire small business fraternity “Small Business Week 2021” under the theme “Building Back Better – The Road to a Resilient and Resourceful Recovery”.
This year’s theme aptly describes this moment when countries across the world, are experiencing the highest levels of vulnerability due to the socio-economic challenges generated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Beyond the socio-economic shocks triggered by COVID-19, we as Small Island Developing States (SDGs) have long been mindful of our own vulnerabilities. Those vulnerabilities have manifested themselves via natural disasters, climate change, globalization, and myriad other developments that have negatively impacted and undermined the several gains which we have achieved over the years. These disruptive changes have collectively struck at the heart of small business sustainability.
A cherished and treasured friend once commented to me that the challenges we face, lie in the fact that small businesses including the youngest of entrepreneurs today, now fight alongside the corporate giants from their backyards, garages or living rooms in order to gain rewards. The acclaim of such companies and brands is well documented, we have all heard of the success of Facebook, Yahoo and Google which were conceptualized in dorm rooms and Apple which started in a garage. Despite these most humble of beginnings, these are all celebrated success stories. The defining element, that cherished friend once said, was that they all embodied the entrepreneurial dream, the belief that the individual desire to reach the stars, leads one to believe that success is only days ahead. But beyond the passion that drives the entrepreneur, is the desire to be a part of greatness, the desire to be a part of the wider network that showcases your unique skills and talents.
Despite the trials therefore, it is imperative that Government works with stakeholders to formulate strategic responses to the inherit risks and potentially adverse impacts of the various challenges that confront the sector.
To protect and offer support to this vital sector, in order to mitigate some of the negative effects caused by this pandemic, my government introduced several policy prescriptions and regulatory interventions in order to assist SMEs to weather this storm and improve the environment within which recovery can take place. Among the initiatives introduced have included:
A Financial Assistance Programme which was instituted by Government and executed through the Ministry with the intention of providing a financial lifeline to small businesses affected by the ‘national pause’ during the period February and March 2021. Under this initiative, over eight thousand (8000) applications were assessed and approved, which collectively allowed these small businesses the opportunity to reset their operations and to pivot towards being more competitive and self-sustaining.
Having recognized the significant contribution that vending has made to the development of Barbados, and the need to decriminalize vending, the Government also introduced a new policy and legislative framework for vending. The result of this will be to empower these unsung heroes and to position them to play a more meaningful role in the national effort to “build back Barbados better”. In this regard, my Ministry in collaboration with the Barbados Association of Retailers, Vendors and Entrepreneurs (BARVEN), the Samuel Jackman Prescod Institute of Technology (SJPI), the Barbados Community College (BCC), the Barbados Co-operative and Credit Union League Limited (BCCULL), the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), and the Markets Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has embarked on a project to provide a number
of innovatively designed vending kiosks for the vendors of Swan Street and its environs. Additionally, my Ministry will facilitate the construction of a number of vending facilities, in specially designated vending zones, equipped with running water, appropriate sanitary facilities and electricity, so as to allow those vending on the nation’s highways to do so in a safe, aesthetically pleasing and commercially viable environment.
Additionally, My Ministry has championed a new liquour licence regime in order to “Repeal and Replace” the antiquated Liquor Licences Act, so as to better facilitate business by creating multi-year licences; entertainment licences and to protect our children by the introduction of a legal age for drinking. Beyond that, the issuance of liquor licences will now be done via an e-service platform, which shifts administrative responsibility from the Magistrate’s Court to the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
The launch of the Financial Literacy Bureau in October 2020, was done to facilitate the generation of higher levels of financial literacy among the nation’s population segmented into educational institutions, households and businesses. It is my Ministry’s intention, through this initiative, to facilitate inter-generational wealth creation, promote economic enfranchisement and to equip Barbadians at every level of this society with the requisite financial knowledge and tools to competently sustain their livelihoods.
Key among the initiatives to promote growth is the creation of an MSME Registry which is designed to position my Ministry to capture, collate and analyze relevant, timely and accurate data on the MSME sector for the first time in the history in Barbados. This is absolutely essential, if we are to effect better decision-making for the sector, provide more targeted assistance, and allow for its increased contribution to national economic development.
My Ministry is also working with Impact Justice and the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus to develop a Collateral Registry in Barbados. Such a registry would allow MSMEs to benefit from an online facility, where they can register charges and collateral created by borrowers to secure credit facilities provided by lenders, as well as to facilitate the provision of a wider range of assets in this country. Once brought in fruition, this registry will empower micro and small business people in an unprecedentedway, by allowing them to use their equipment, tools and machinery, crops and livestock, vehicles and accounts receivable as collateral in this economy. When previously, collateral in Barbados was largely restricted to the ownership of real estate and bricks and mortar structures.
It is no secret that renewable energy interventions must be deployed, if Barbados is to maximize its efforts to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is more economically viable. To this end, my Ministry continues to collaborate with the service providers of renewable energy solutions so as to build out this sector more efficiently while on the other hand encouraging household, individuals and small enterprises to benefit from the numerous opportunities that have been made available through Government’s evolving renewable energy interventions.
The initiatives highlighted here, are but a few of the actions being pursued to encourage sustainability and growth. The “Road to a Resilient and Resourceful Recovery” must be paved with a spirit of cooperation and collaboration if we are to survive an uncertain future and if our businesses are to occupy their rightful space in the global market place.
The theme on which Small Business Week 2021 is grounded, is very fitting and I pledge Governments’ commitment towards building back Barbados better and promoting its recovery through a more resilient small business sector that is globally competitive and nationally relevant.
Fellow Barbadians, I thank you!