Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are central players in the dynamics of international economies. These bodies are increasingly gaining prominence as significant engines of innovation and employment generation, typically contributing to about 90% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), outside of government, and, according to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), over 70% of employment in the Caribbean. As such, SME development has emerged as a key instrument in regional poverty reduction efforts.

Globalisation and trade liberalisation have ushered in new opportunities, as well as challenges, for SMEs. Therefore, enhancing the environment within which SMEs interact with the economy is central to stimulating continuous growth and development. Consequently, it is critical to strengthen the human and institutional capacities of these firms in order to take advantage of trade and investment opportunities.

The primary assets of any firm, especially SMEs, are their human capital. These assets are even more valuable in the knowledge-based economy, where intangible services and variable

SME Dev 1comps are of growing importance. As such, augmenting the capacity of SMEs, through a focus on human capital, will not only improve the skills of the overall population but also stimulate continuous innovation within firms and, ultimately, drive economic growth.

The Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) recognises the challenges that SMEs in the Caribbean face and has set about to undertake a series of programming in regional private sector development, which seeks to ultimately integrate Caribbean firms into the world economy. The Agency provides SMEs in select industries with the training and certification, which the enterprises need to expand their markets, diversify their exports, and enhance their product or service offering. Additionally, this training is delivered with a view to develop private sector capabilities in a range of areas pursuant to intra-CARIFORUM and CARIFORUM-EU trade in goods and services.

Caribbean Export has delivered training and certification programmes in a gamut of disciplines. Under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) Regional Private Sector Development Programme (RPSDP), two thousand three hundred and thirty six (2713) beneficiaries across CARIFORUM have benefited from training to date. This figure represents a 94% increase over participation when compared to participation during the 9th EDF Phase II, which totaled one thousand four hundred (1400).

The concentrations of these programmes include benchmarking and assessment, brand development and packaging, branding and marketing for investment promotion, copyright, economic partnership agreement (EPA) awareness, export marketing, grant proposal writing, intellectual property, management consulting, spa and wellness, and trade information, among others.

During the first three years of 10th EDF implementation, Caribbean Export delivered sixty-five (65) training and certification programmes. The most heavily requested and subscribed programmes for SMEs were Brand Development and Packaging, Direct Assistance Grant Scheme (DAGS) Proposal Writing, and Productivity Network (ProNET). Collectively, these training programmes have served one thousand eight hundred and ninety (1890) beneficiaries, accounting for 81% of all training activities.

DSC_7570cropOne of the recently executed training programmes is the Brand Development and Packaging workshop. Implemented in 2013, this workshop was developed in conjunction with internationally recognized Brand42, based on the understanding that establishing a strong brand is fundamental for any business to compete and grow. However, many CARIFORUM firms are not aware of the roles branding and packaging play in building a successful enterprise. Similarly, many of these SMEs lack knowledge of the European labelling and packaging standards and guidelines required for entry into those markets and also require the requisite skills or resources to develop their brands and package their products to appeal to an international consumer. Given this reality, Caribbean Export assembled a series of topics aimed at addressing these challenges, ranging from brand analysis and narratives to market insight and packaging design. A total of one hundred and fifty-one beneficiaries (151) were trained in these concepts.

Our company now has a better understanding of branding, in relation to packaging, mapping, and the ‘oneliness’ statement, I also believe that this workshop will help us strategically advertise and merchandise our products.” – Participant, Brand Packaging and Development Workshop.

Of all the training and certification programmes delivered by the Agency during the 10th EDF, the DAGS Proposal Writing workshop saw the greatest level of participation, with one thousand four hundred and forty-two (1442) beneficiaries, which accounts for 62% of all participants. The grant proposal writing workshops, delivered in collaboration with key regional Business Support Organisations (BSOs), cover a range of areas including technical writing styles, understanding the concepts of objectives, results, approach and methodology, activities, and budgets, thus determining the appropriate content for each category of information. Caribbean Export’s underlying approach to this training is ensuring that all participants ultimately have the ability to access grant funding from any donor programme using the provided guidelines. The workshops have proven to be successful, as 31% of the one hundred and forty-two (142) firms receiving grant funding under the 1st and 2nd Call for Proposals in 2012, had participated in the proposal writing workshops.

This seminar was educational and enlightening to our members. They expressed that the delivery of training was very timely and that the knowledge gained will assist in their preparation of not only Requests for Proposals but also enhance their writing techniques as it relates to the preparation of project proposals.” Lynette P. Holder, Chief Executive Officer, Small Business Association, Barbados. 

Another area of capacity building, which is of paramount importance to SMEs, is institutional strengthening and training in export marketing, which is delivered via the Productivity Network (ProNET) training programme. ProNET is a modular training programme designed specifically for manufacturing enterprises that want to improve the competitiveness and export-readiness. The programme aims to increase productivity and profitability in SMEs, allowing owners and managers to operate their businesses more efficiently and effectively. Modules range from business strategy and quality management to human resources and cost and financial management. To date, the 9-module programme has certified twenty-three (23) regional trainers using the “Train the Trainer” concept and has seen participation from two hundred ninety-seven (357) SMEs.  This year we have conducted DAGS training in Belize, The Bahamas, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Suriname and over a period of three months the Grand Bahamas Port Authority, Freeport is facilitating a series of ProNET modules for their SME market.

“The ProNET training has improved the management and decision-making processes of our business and motivated us to manage our operations more efficiently and effectively” – Chatak Foods Ltd, Trinidad and Tobago.

With each of these interventions, Caribbean Export aims to provide technical support to regional SMEs as they prepare to compete in the ever-dynamic global economy. Through its training and certification programmes, the Agency address the elements which encompass a successful exporting enterprise: sound infrastructural architecture and procedural operations, a distinctive and well-marketed brand, the exploitation of intellectual property  and copyright tools in order to protect that brand and, adherence to the export requirements for entry into new markets. The Agency continues to take a proactive approach to ensuring the standardization of these practices in the regional private sector in pursuit of its vision of a globally competitive Caribbean brand.