YEA calls for greater collaboration between Government and business associations

President Cordell Williams-Graham

President of the Young Entrepreneurs Association (YEA) Cordell Williams-Graham has underscored the need for greater collaboration between the Government and business associations, to create strategies to address the core problems facing the micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSME) sector during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

In its efforts to combat the spread of the disease, the Government has enforced an unprecedented state of quarantine measures for the citizens of Jamaica. As a result, many small business operators have taken a hit by a downturn in activities, to which the Government has outlined a $25-billion fiscal stimulus package to cushion the impact of the virus on businesses and workers.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, Williams-Graham indicated that the Government should also consider providing a guaranteed loan or grant allocation to the associations who support MSMEs.

“We want to commend the Government on its efforts. However, the stimulus package is not adequate to meet the needs of the MSMEs at this time. It is a good gesture which people will accept. However, much more needs to be done and this is an opportunity for the Government to really demonstrate how serious it is about enabling MSMEs, who are the real drivers of growth,” she told the Business Observer.

“This is a call to action for the Government to consider putting a package together to support associations that support the glue of the economy. [It] has put forth the stimulus package but [business associations] are the ones on the ground and are directly connected to these entities,” she continued.

According to her, this would assist business associations with expanding the capacity to serve MSMEs, which includes offering emergency assistance to members in the form of grants and low-interest loans and also funding various interventions which may be required during the period, as many of the concerns centre on the members' ability to meet financial commitments.

Donovan Wignall, president of the MSME Alliance also endorsed the call made by YEA, adding that by the Government working closely with the agencies and associations within the sector, unscrupulous people will not be able to take advantage of these initiatives and its intended purposes.

 

YEA, which currently has 70 active members, is a non-profit organisation whose mandate is to support young people in business and provide the ultimate community for young entrepreneurs across Jamaica who want to increase their chances of business success.

The MSME Alliance is a network of business organisations representing more than 300,000 micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises in Jamaica.

“From an association perspective, we are also doing our part. In keeping with YEA's 2019-2021 plan, the association will be launching a series of webinars starting next week for its members, on topics such as redefining business models, health and safety, flexible work arrangements, business continuity, and others to provide encouragement and emotional support,” she shared.

“Survival is crucial and is dependent on how we respond and manage this change. We continue to support our members, and they have been responding positively by redefining their business models, innovating, and exploring linkages among themselves to create new initiatives.”

NO HANDOUTS

While initiatives may require all hands on deck, the president stressed that MSMEs don't require handouts at this time, but just support.

She added that while the association has put forth recommendations to the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries about measures to be put in place, she believes that there should be more strategy meetings and think-tanks involving stakeholders in the sector for suggestions and feedbacks on initiatives.

“We believe that the comprehensive intervention and support required cannot come from the Government alone and it will require all hands on deck. Our goal as a country should be to make sure that everyone survives this crisis and that our economy comes out more resilient than ever before,” she explained.

According to her, the Development Bank of Jamaica's Voucher for Technical Assistance programme should consider reducing the 30 per cent cost of service fee to 10 per cent instead, and allow business operators who were granted loans in the past two years to gain access to another grant, for the purposes of remodelling business plans, coaching, and website development.

Williams-Graham further suggested that Jamaicans should support the MSME sector by participating in sale activities, buying gift cards and coupons from local entrepreneurs/businesses. They can do so through the Buy YEA initiative, which was launched to stimulate this patronage.

RESILIENT PLAYERS VS MURPHY'S LAW

Wignall is confident that the MSME sector will be able to bounce back from the impact of COVID-19.

“There are some very valuable lessons being learned at this time about what is really essential and what isn't. Coming out of the crisis, a lot that has been adopted will remain. We will see where our local production and 'Eat Jamaica-Buy Jamaica' campaign will mean even more, as I see our local produce moving off the shelves just as quick or even quicker than the imported produce,” he indicated.

He added that local manufacturers are now presented with opportunities to fill the gap and meet demands that have been caused by COVID-19.

“At our level, as businesses, we need to make sure that we have plans in place to recover. In fact, the country as a whole needs to take stock of what is happening and see how best we can prepare ourselves for anything like this that will occur in the future. Murphy's Law will say that it probably will, but we will be better prepared to handle it. If that approach is taken, we will have better businesses coming out of this crisis.”

Available on Jamaica Observer Online