Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce, Dwight Sutherland and OAS Executive Secretary with the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development, Kim Osbourne, signing the MOU at the Hilton Barbados Resort this morning. (C.Pitt/BGIS)

Barbados today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Organization of American States (OAS) that will go a long way towards supporting micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).

Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce, Dwight Sutherland, initialled the document, along with OAS’ Executive Secretary with the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development, Kim Osbourne, at Hilton Barbados, Needham’s Point, St. Michael.

Acknowledging that the signing formed a critical part of a wider initiative to establish a Caribbean Network of Small Business Development Centres (SBDCs), Minister Sutherland said the event underpinned “Government’s continued commitment to enfranchise Barbadians and building out a modern MSME sector through intentional stakeholder engagement, global collaboration, and strategic reach to you the people that matter most in the international entrepreneurial ecosystem”.

He added: “Caribbean countries have long recognized the importance of MSMEs as major contributors to employment, growth and poverty alleviation within their communities, nations and region as a whole.”

With the island set to relaunch its own SBDC programme, the Small Business Minister explained the concept behind SBDCs, noting that they are the central, comprehensive source of technical and managerial support for MSMEs, which originated in the United States of America and they made up a collective network, an established, inter-connected matrix of centres dedicated to the overall development of the private sector in the USA.

He expressed gratitude to the OAS and its strategic partners, the Compete Caribbean Partnership Facility and the Caribbean Export Development Agency Partnership Facility for their invaluable contribution towards the development of this island’s MSME sector and the wider network of regional MSMEs.

OAS’ Executive Secretary with the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development, Kim Osbourne; Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce, Dwight Sutherland; and SBA Chief Executive Officer, Senator Lynette Taylor chatting at the MOU signing ceremony today. (C.Pitt/BGIS)

Referring to studies by the OAS on challenges faced by Caribbean MSMEs, Mr. Sutherland said these included limitations in the absorption of labour surpluses; limited development of a diversified economic structure; shortcomings in the development of a supply base to serve the needs of development; and low levels of productivity and quality, which impact on the overall competitiveness of Caribbean countries.

Additionally, he noted the studies, which also examined sector development support, reported the inadequacy of special support programmes to assist vulnerable groups such as women, youth and rural producers.

The minister also stated that the MOU would position regional MSMEs, through a collaborative cohesive approach, “to better leverage the many opportunities that have long escaped our grasp by hitherto going it alone”. 

Meanwhile, Ms. Osbourne said that despite their tremendous potential as engines for growth, Caribbean MSMEs tend to remain small and are considerably less productive than similar sized businesses in other developing and developed countries.  

Noting similar constraints as the minister, she said: “The OAS is determined to break this cycle and support member states in their efforts to improve competitiveness of the MSME sectors, not only as a means of achieving sustainable economic growth, but also as an integral part of a mutually reinforcing strategy for promoting security, democracy and the eradication of poverty in the hemisphere. 

“Our goal is to employ a multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral approach to addressing the challenges in this sector by combining all the secretariat’s programmes and established areas of comparative advantage. We see the opportunity to build the skills base of the MSME sector by providing training under our scholarships and training programme, through our consortium of universities and training institutions around the world.”

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