Yesterday, Government delivered on its promise to provide a financial lifeline to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs with the establishment of a ten-million-dollar Trust Loan Fund.
We welcome this move in a climate of austerity where scores have lost their jobs in the public sector and are now anxious to put their skills to gainful use to keep roofs, feed mouths and clothe backs.
Only the soulless cynic imagines gleeful ex-civil servants laughing all the way to the bank. They, too, are Barbadians. For all our flaws, we are still a nation of workers not shirkers.
From the outset of the restructuring exercise, while authorities lamented that job cuts were inevitable, they have attempted to cushion the blow by encouraging the soon-to-be-displaced to venture into entrepreneurship, offering their services and products to Government and other buyers.
Indeed, it was at the official launch of the trust fund, that Acting Prime Minister George Payne made it clear that the Government was on a mission “to build a culture of entrepreneurship to truly pervade the Barbadian landscape.” Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce Dwight Sutherland chimed in that the aim was to foster “a national entrepreneurial spirit”.
“The goal is to transform the Barbadian economy by focusing on the creation of new wealth and building a more entrepreneurial Barbadian who is empowered and encouraged to take advantage of opportunities at home and abroad,” Sutherland said.
It is common during times of economic volatility, when there is little to no job security and the spectre of jobless stalks abroad everyone either wants to be an entrepreneur, thinks they are an entrepreneur or becomes an entrepreneur.
This can only be for the good, for, in Barbados, as in all grown-up economies, small businesses are collectively the largest employer.
But we feel duty-bound to issue this reality check against fatally fanciful expectations.
Being an entrepreneur is hard. And whether we admit it or not, not everyone is built to be an entrepreneur. There are long days and nights of toil and frustration, of a flood of perspiration following a trickle of inspiration.
Without a doubt, building a culture that encourages entrepreneurial behaviour is challenging but absolutely necessary, for entrepreneurship to be the engine for job creation, innovation and economic growth it was meant to be.
Barbados needs to embrace this culture, but it should seek to do so in the right way. In addition to the right policy framework — appropriate agencies, legislation, regulation, and access to capital and low-cost credit – there is an even greater need to develop a mindset for entrepreneurship.
So let’s ask ourselves – are our displaced workers innovation-ready? Are they prepared to think outside the proverbial cashbox and develop unconventional products and services and serve non-traditional markets? Must the shopfronts be necessarily all be of bricks and mortar or will they be the virtual portals of wealth creation, of export by e-commerce?
Prior to their departure from the civil service, the workers were in varying degrees encouraged to contribute ideas and initiatives to develop their institutions – albeit with wildly varying degrees of success. Some got that memo; so many never did.
Now on their own, these workers will need more than just encouragement, pep talks and scolding.
In addition to unfettered access to start up loans, they will require strong support from entrepreneurs already living the dream and experts who can ably guide them in these unchartered waters.
The last thing they need is to walk out of their old paper mill only to enter into yet another.
And beyond a new and brave world for our former public sector workers is a brighter future of entrepreneurship for their children and grandchildren.
The Cofounder of the $20 school’s entrepreneurship challenge Keith Miller, the Government’s Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme and other champions for entrepreneurship need to become an integral part of the education ecosystem.
While previous generations were taught to go to school, get certificates and get a job in the public service, our young people live under no such illusion, and rightly so.
We need to teach our children to dream big, flex critical thinking sinews, communicate and collaborate in order to give them the grounding to invent their own careers. Teaching our kids entrepreneurship will help them to nurture unconventional talents and skills, and build more than just better mousetraps. Entrepreneurship skills will also instill confidence in our young people to find their unique place in the sun, whether as businesspeople, professionals or employees.
Just as both crisis and opportunity are the same word in Mandarin Chinese, our current economic crisis is opportunity enough to grow a culture of entrepreneurship, thereby unleashing the potential of our people, young and old, to innovate, create wealth and build our nation.
But all that starts with getting it right.