One of the core principles in the BLP Manifesto’s Covenant of Hope was: Improving the livelihoods of all of our people and widening economic enfranchisement. I was therefore very happy to see two planned Government initiatives that address that principle in the press in the last few weeks.
The first one was the Building Blocks Program which Minister Adrian Forde has promised will help return the blocks to communities in positive ways. He was quoted as saying that the goal is to empower people by giving them a start at the business of their choice and the one that best suits their locale as well.
This is a very progressive and much needed initiative. I have discovered that some young people who have left school with few or no qualifications and have not been able to find work, do not want to be idle. They just need a helping hand to change their situation and are prepared to work.
If many of the potential businesses mentioned by the Minister (vegetable vending, sports bars, barber shops, beauty salons, nail salons, etc.) sound very familiar, it’s because they are. We can literally find them on every corner in Barbados and all throughout town. While I don’t want to throw a damper on the program, we need to begin to teach the youth to innovate as they come up with business ideas.
If someone is going to open a vegetable stand, how can they make it different from the other fifty vegetable stands in Barbados? Could they research creative ways to use the vegetable (from the internet) and give away or sell at a marginal price, a few recipes to prepare the vegetables differently? If someone is braiding hair, can they go to their customers’ houses and charge a little more for the convenience? Just some ideas.
It may not be realistic to expect these potential entrepreneurs to come up with a climate innovation or a game changing App (yet), but we need to encourage them to think outside the box and go beyond the same old types of businesses.
A friend also sent me an article in which the Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce Dwight Sutherland was quoted as saying: “It is the mission of my ministry… to facilitate the expansion of the entrepreneurial class in this country and drive growth.” Hallelujah! He said the Government is committed to providing much needed start-up capital for small and medium enterprises and that they were going to facilitate the ease of starting businesses. Hopefully, the two ministries will work together to ensure that the block program benefits from the plans of the Small Business ministry.
I welcome that news because in doing research on entrepreneurship trends in Barbados, I found the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2013 Barbados Report which showed that there was a decline in start-ups in the survey period. Given the economic situation we have been in since then, it’s likely the situation has not changed and has possibly worsened. So, there is definitely a need to stimulate growth.
However, one of the findings of the survey, and my own experience in finding candidates for my WINC Acceleration Program, show the problem lies not only with getting people to start businesses but also in getting them to transition into well-established businesses that can grow, employ people and export. This is particularly true for female-owned businesses and, in fact, the GEM report showed that only 32 per cent of established businesses were female-owned compared to 68 per cent for men.
One of the male guests at the recent graduation for the WINC program asked me why there isn’t an MINC (Men’s Innovators Network in the Caribbean) Acceleration Program. The statistics show why. Women need more help in growing their businesses and for a number of reasons which I won’t get into here. That is why I am now raising funds to run another WINC program as a first measure, and secondly, to create a clinic (for want of a better word) to help businesses progress from start up to established so that they can impact the economy more significantly.
At present help is available through organisations like the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme (YES) and the Barbados Youth Business Trust (BYBT) who are doing an excellent job with the 18 to 35 age group. BIDC also provides help with the start-up phase to all ages and even with exporting, but there is no program (to my knowledge) that helps with business growth and the issues that women entrepreneurs (in particular) face when trying to grow their business.
I am happy this Government has seen the need to expand the entrepreneurial class and drive growth and that they are in the process of putting programs in place to achieve it. These are initiatives that I would gladly give my support to and I encourage everyone to do the same for the benefit of us all.
Donna Every is an author, international speaker and trainer. She was the Barbados Ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (2014-2016) and is the Barbados Facilitator for the WINC Acceleration Program.
Contact her at [email protected]