Chairperson and President of the Garifuna Heritage Foundation – Mr. David “Darkie” Williams, Miss Raquel Hamlett – Ministry of Tourism, Mrs. Merle Gellizeau – Organizing Committee, members of the Garifuna Heritage Foundation, Distinguished Guests, Exhibitors, ladies and gentlemen.

May I begin by thanking the Garifuna Heritage Foundation for honouring me with an invitation to present the Feature Address at the Opening Ceremony of its Cultural Marketplace. I am so pleased to be here to share this moment with you! I congratulate you for making this event a reality. I also want to wish you all the best with your activities for this National Heroes and Heritage Month.

I want to focus my message to you today on economic independence and how you can play your role in realizing this dream as small businesses.

In a developing country such as St Vincent and the Grenadines, where entrepreneurship plays a significant role in stimulating, promoting and maintaining economic activities to produce and distribute goods and services, you the individuals behind these activities are a critical component of the engine of economic development.

We are all aware of the harsh economic downturn that has affected us, like the rest of the region and the world over. However, we have fared much better than some countries, mainly due to our resilience.

The National Economic and Social Development Plan of our country, 2013-2015, identifies the problems of poverty and unemployment. These problems can be effectively addressed by empowering you to tap into your entrepreneurial potential, thereby leading to self-employment and employment for a large section of the society, thereby generating wealth in the economy.

In presenting the 2018 Budget address last month, Minister of Finance, the Hon Camillo Gonsalves, acknowledged that our economy will grow if businesses flourish. And I quote…

“A greater spirit of entrepreneurship is the ingredient that can be a catalyst to greater economic growth in St. Vincent and the Grenadines” …

“While every new business is important to the economy and lifting individuals out of poverty, it is the entrepreneur that has the potential to radically expand our growth and developmental horizons.”

Micro and small businesses such as yours are crucial to addressing the socio-economic issues that affect us. Entrepreneurial development creates economic independence through self-employment. There is no doubt about this.

There is a Chinese proverb that says: “You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.” What does this mean? Simply, it is more worthwhile to teach someone to do something for themselves than to do it for them.

Your participation in today’s exhibition is testimony to the fact that small and micro businesses are thriving in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Many of you have been in business for more than ten years. I want to say to you today that the time has now come for you to take your businesses seriously and to take a more commercial approach to operating your enterprises. Your businesses can generate greater economic wealth if you position yourselves to do so, by making sure that you get things right from the start:

  • Ensure that you register your businesses with the Commerce and Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). There is still too much misconception about registering your business; many people in small and micro businesses are still of the view that this is a means of government imposing taxes on you, Nonsense! It is important to register your business with a legal name and get the proper permits, licenses and tax numbers. Why?
  • It gives you legal protection;
  • It gives you registration against theft;
  • It gives you the right to pursue collection of bad debts;
  • It gives you a defined legal status as a business; and
  • It protects you against fraud and bad business practices by others.
  • Get sound technical and financial advice from BSOs such as the Centre for Enterprise Development Inc. to plan and operate your businesses successfully. It can be frightening when you have a business idea or a business. Fear alone sometimes causes people to abandon great business ideas or prevent those of you who have businesses from taking the leap to expand your businesses. DO NOT LET FEAR STOP YOU! Failure is a part of business. Many successful entrepreneurs today did not make it big without first experiencing failures; for example, Apple, Fedex and many others – even locally.
  • Work closely with the SVG Bureau if Standards to ensure your products meet the requirements to be on the market, locally and abroad. Adhere to regulations and stipulations in and maintain excellent quality in what you produce. You have to go beyond just making something and putting it in a bottle or bag and selling it. A lot of products are being sold in our communities that have not been tested and approved for the market.
  • Engage in good practices for the success of your businesses. Each of you here today certainly want your businesses to grow. However, the challenges that come with growth can be overwhelming if you are not prepared. Therefore, the desire for growth can be far different than the actual ability to manage growth. It is therefore very important that you have good business practices.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to develop yourself. Training is available for building capacity to manage your businesses. Remember, owning and runner a business requires more than your skill to make the product or providing the service.

These are but a few of the things that you need to do to ensure your business grows and succeeds and lead to economic independence for yourselves and those who you employ.

There are entrepreneurial opportunities all around, but you must ensure that you are positioned to take full advantage of these opportunities. Locally, regionally and internationally, opportunities for your products are emerging as the demand for products from St. Vincent and the Grenadines increases. This presents a greater urgency for us to pay keen interest in strengthening your capacity as small and micro businesses in a very competitive business environment.

If we are to look at it historically, we have our experience of the fallout of preferential treatment for our bananas with Europe not too long ago. It is an ever constant reminder that we cannot rest on our laurels and that it cannot be business as usual. Additionally, you must acknowledge that as small and micro businesses you have the potential to drive the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as you also create jobs for many people who may be unemployed. These businesses provide a steady form of income for you the business owners and your employees, leading to economic stability.

You may be thinking that you are too small to make any meaningful impact of the country’s economic well-being. But I challenge you today to erase that thought. You are small indeed, but there is strength in numbers. If you as small businesses can come together then you can achieve much. I know we have a culture of not trusting each other or fighting against each other as small businesses. If you are to move forward then you must change this mindset.

In addition to the synergies of working together, collective action can be leveraged for advocacy in policy and support from government, and it also creates a platform for joint production, shipping and distribution. These shared costs can significantly reduce the cost of production for participating members of a small business association.

Today, we are also celebrating International Women’s Day 2018. It’s a day when we recognize the achievements of women around the world, as well as acting as a catalyst for change when it comes to gender equality. And right here you are recognized; as I cannot help but acknowledge that most of you here today are women! I therefore say to you in closing that you – we – can all play a part in realizing our economic independence individually and nationally, so let us press for progress and make ourselves economically independent!

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