Finally SMEs are about to get the recognition they deserve!

It is written in the Bible that there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. I had the privilege of attending a Roundtable for Small and Micro Enterprises on Strategic Plan and Coordinating Mechanisms sponsored by the Caribbean Community ( Caricom) Secretariat and supported by USAID at the Hilton Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica during the period, 7 - 9 July, 2003.

St. Lucia was represented by at three man delegation, Messrs Gerald Morris, Executive Director - NRDF, Peter Lorde, Executive Director - SEDU and Edward Harris - Small Business Advocate / Net Worker. From the outset I wish to state that this gathering of small businesspersons provided a real opportunity for networking. During the first two days several papers were presented which included such topics as Financing and Incentives Legislation, Technology Issues, Quality and Supply Management, Marketing Management Issues, and Information Technology Issues relating to SMEs in the Caribbean.

Two presentations were made, then participants broke up in Groups to deal with issues arising out of the presentations. The several groups came back together to receive the findings of the various groups though their group leaders. On the third and final day, the participants were presented with a Draft Strategic Plan which was followed up with group discussions and presentations by the group leaders.

The programme was very interactive and presented a unique opportunity for exchange of experiences among representatives from member states. While the papers presented were biased towards the Jamaican experience, interjections from Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago were very enlightening. This brings to the fore, the urgent need for an intervention to involve the lead agencies in the Region in preparing a list of support organizations dedicated to the Small Business Sector. Organizations such as the Small Enterprise Development Units - (SEDUs), National Development Foundations, (NDFs) and similar organizations in each Caricom Member State to compile information on the several institutions in their respective territory established to support small businesses, financially and technically. When that information becomes available, it should be circularised to Governments, Small Business Associations and other Organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce that offer support to the Small and Micro Business Enterprises.
This exercise should be followed by a meeting with the providers of the information convened by Caricom with recommendations to be forwarded to Heads of Governments so that the issue of support services to SMEs could be rationalised. Thus presenting a unified set of services to SMEs across the region. It is expected that Representatives of SMEs will be involved at all levels.

While all More Developed Countries, (MDCs) within Caricom have Small Business Associations, within the LDCs - OECS sub-region, there are only two States, namely St. Lucia and Antigua that have Small Business Associations. The Executive Director of the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC) unveiled plans to give support to the Small and Micro Enterprises' Sector through Chambers of Commerce within Caricom.

An interesting development took place at the Roundtable with the intervention of two gentlemen on the second day, one from Trinidad and the other from Jamaica. They insisted that SMEs must have a voice at the meeting. After some negotiations, they were accommodated and as a result made a number of recommendations that should be considered, as officials of Caricom Secretariat seek to establish a new relationship with SMEs in line with international expectations.

Big businesses no longer fuel the engine of growth exclusively, it is the small businesses that are today providing most of the fuel for the engine of growth. Big businesses are being taken up in mergers which result in cut back in staff as they try to achieve more with less. Where will all the persons who are laid off as a result of mergers, closures, and become redundant because of technology find jobs? For many the answer lies in self employment or in a decision to establish a small business, as a supplier of goods or services or a combination of both.

The meeting struggled with the definition of a small business. On the morning of the first day, I was having breakfast at a table with five other persons from Grenada and St. Kitts and the definition of a Small Business came up and I proposed that a small business is a business with an asset base under US$100,000.00 employing under 25 persons and has an income of under US$1,000,000.00 per annum. By the end of the meeting, the Draft five year strategic development plan for SMEs in Caricom, on the 1st page, presented a working definition of Small Enterprise as a small business which can be defined as one with an asset base (excluding land and building) with annual sales of less than US$1,000,000.00. A Micro-Enterprise is defined as one with an asset base (excluding land and building) not exceeding US$10,000.00, US with an annual turnover of less than US$125,000.00.

On the final evening, participants were invited to attend the Official Launch of the “Quality Jamaica Project” introducing ISO Management and HACCP Systems to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). I was glad I attended this launch as I am now more than ever convinced that STANDARDS are for every business. Jamaica is seeking to position its SMEs to face the challenges of FTAA, ECSME and WTO. The project is being coordinated by the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ). Jamaicans are currently being trained to certify the local companies. It must be noted that as generic management systems, ISO 9000 and 14000 Standards can be applied to any organization large or small, any product or service, any sector of activity - business, public administration or government department.

The official launch was followed by Cocktails and it was on being introduced to the Project Manager for Quality Jamaica Project and during our conversation that the definition for a Small Business came up and I was introduced by him to the IDB's definition “Sales of $1.00 - 3,000,000.00 and 1-100 employees and we were not talking about Jamaican dollars which the current rate is J$55-60.00 to US$1.00 but rather US$. So my friends, we do not have many medium sized businesses in the region much more large ones. We are all in it together so it is for all Entrepreneurs, micro, small, medium or large to get together and assist each other. It is for this reason that the idea being put forward by CAIC, giving due respect to existing associations and help to establish cooperation among the Associations seeking to serve SMEs at the local level, while at the same time supporting the efforts of the proposed Caribbean Small Business Association.

Keep the Faith!!!