One of the realities that is increasingly being driven home to small business owners and aspirants, Business Support Organisations (BSOs) and the government is that it really makes no sense standing around and bellyaching over the lack of access which SMEs must endure in their efforts to secure funding from local commercial banks for the expansion/ upgrading of small businesses or for the creation of new ones. It is not so much that the banks have not been prepared to budge. It is that they set their own paradigms to small business lending, pa
radigms which they say are fashioned in the context of the extent of the risks they can reasonably take with depositors’ money. The fact of the matter is, however, that there are some small business-type projects which, if given a chance, are probably likely to realise some measure of growth, but which commercial banks would probably still not touch with the proverbial ten foot pole.
Two weeks ago, at a forum hosted by Caribbean Export, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and other groupings, GCCI Vice President Lance Hinds raised the issue of the stringent lending conditionalities of commercial banks and what this has meant for aspiring small businesses. It was by no means the first time the issue was raised locally – except that this time around the speaker was not simply bellyaching about the issue. A proposal was being put on the table which Hinds wanted participants at the forum to see as an opportunity that might be infinitely more advantageous than what commercial banks have to offer.
The Caribbean Export’s Direct Assistance Grant Scheme is a funding window that is open to SMEs in all 15 member countries of Cariforum. Not only is it a way around commercial bank conditionalities but the support comes in the form of grants, not loans. Not that it is by any means, free money.
The conditionalities associated with accessing Carib Export Grants focus on providing assurances that business proposals are sound and that the businesses themselves are being efficiently and transparently run. The idea behind basing the whole scheme on the applicant spending first and being reimbursed later is that it builds on the virtues of prudent spending and accountability, requisites which are, in a distressingly high number of cases here in Guyana, absent in the small business culture.
Previous experience also tells us that access to information with regard to Carib Export and what it has to offer could actually inhibit small businesses in their efforts to access the agency’s services. Here again, we believe that part of the problem is one of breakdowns in communication, shortcomings that arise mostly from indifference and inefficiency at the local end.
Nor is it sufficient simply to publish the Carib Export website and insist that potential applicants for grants check the site; for a whole number of reasons that will probably not work well.
One positive outcome of the recent interaction between Carib Export and Guyana is that the agency now has ties of one sort or another with a number of local entities including the GCCI, Go-Invest and through its local board member with the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce. This newspaper, which is concerned in large measure with promoting small business issues, has also written to Caribbean Export asking to be kept abreast of developments that have a bearing on the advancement of the small business sector here.