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Partnership key to SME boost

MINISTER OF SMALL BUSINESS and Entrepreneurship Kerrie Symmonds says urgent action must be taken by Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean to “resurrect” commercial activity in the region.

And he has suggested a scientific approach to the process of rebuilding the micro, small and medium enterprise sectors, which had taken a hard hit with the “implosion” of regional economies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Noting that micro, small and medium enterprises constituted 85 per cent of economic activity in Barbados, Symmonds said Governments would need to find alternative ways of funding such businesses, other than the traditional financial sources which often reacted negatively to funding requests because of their lack of confidence in the entrepreneur’s ability to manage a business.

“If we are to help those enterprises, we have to do so against the backdrop of sound research and evidence,” Symmonds said in his feature address at during Tuesday’s virtual launch of the Caribbean Micro Small and Medium Enterprise Centre at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus.

The Centre was formed by the UWI Cave Hill Department of Management Studies and the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business and Management and will offer a range of programmes aimed at developing and supporting entrepreneurship in Barbados, Belize, Guyana and the Eastern Caribbean.

Symmonds said the time had come for policymakers “to walk by sight not only by faith” and adopt a more data-driven approach to small business development “that allows us to connect with the cutting edge research of which the university is capable.”

“There is simply no capacity to the depth of research and analysis that is necessary and there is simply no capacity for us outside of the university to storehouse the relevant information and harness the data capture that is necessary without a partnership with the UWI.”

Assist small businesses

Symmonds said while Barbados had already taken the initiative to assist small businesses by instituting the Trust Loans Fund scheme, the challenge for CARICOM policymakers was the issue of micro-financing with “the demand to be able to finance people whoare unskilled; to be able to finance those people who are unemployed, bedeviled by demand to finance those people who are even unbanked”.

“That aspect of financing for small business has been missing from the conversation in this region until the creation of the Trust Loans model in Barbados,” Symmonds said.

He cited Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, a microfinance organisation and community development bank which makes small loans to the impoverished without requiring collateral, enabling them to create start-up businesses, as an example of the kind of “village bank” needed in the Caribbean’s case.

“The truth in the matter is that the conversation has not been well served because there has been evidence existing in other places, of practices that we could have focused on and tried to borrow from with a view to shaping our own West Indian version.

“I feel very strongly that if we are going to build partnership, that the benefits we can get with a partner like the university is that we need to have that broad range of research data being captured and fed into those of us sitting at the policy level.” (GC)

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