COSME program aims to stimulate local and regional economies

POSTED: 10/4/14 11:00 AM

St. Maarten – Stakeholders from different Caribbean islands came together at the COSME (Caribbean Overseas Countries and Territories Small and Medium Enterprises) 2-day Stakeholder Forum with the common goal of creating a healthy and stable economic environment within the Caribbean region for small and medium-sized enterprises through the development of a regional SME (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) program. Divi Little Bay Beach Resort hosted the event. Each country present developed and submitted its own individual SME program, based on its economy, to meet the needs of its local business enterprises. The purpose of the forum, which was funded by the European Union 10th EDF, was for representatives to exchange ideas and know-how to better develop their individual SME programs, within the greater goal of establishing an EU-funded regional SME program.

In her welcome speech, PM Sarah Wescot-Williams commended the efforts of each of the island stakeholders, while emphasizing the overall significance of small and medium-sized businesses in developing economies. “I recognize that even though there are many proposals that have been put forward, the many initiatives that have been made, there is a clear line… SME development and maintenance are important for all our countries. We recognize that small and medium enterprises, even microenterprises, are critical to the further development of our countries, the development of our people, the development of our economies and, surely, the development of this region.”

Wescot-Williams stressed that in a tourism-based economy, which is a service-oriented industry, it is important to provide people who work in this industry with the proper training: “I want to see training from a larger perspective. I want to see it from the perspective of empowerment of our people, making people confident.” People working in the service industry should be trained and empowered to feel proud of their country, so they can effectively represent their country, as they sell it to the outside world. She later added that despite the upcoming change in government, St. Maarten remains committed to Caribbean regional cooperation and, to a certain extent, even integration.

Also present was Diana Hendrickson-Fleming, team leader of the COSME program, who provided further insight into the program about its goals. “We want to strengthen the Business Support Organization (BSO), but the ultimate goal is to increase the competitiveness of small and medium businesses, so we will figure out different tools and instruments that will assist in that.”  The EU has allotted 15 million Euros for this program. In budgeting the money, Hendrickson-Fleming said, “We discussed a strategic approach. There are two ways of budgeting the money. One is by means of direct commitment: let’s say there’s a training program that needs to take place. We would put up a tender where we would get a contractor to do that training program for everyone. The other is where you use restricted international contracts.” Hendrickson-Fleming stressed that the program is not a funding program or a funding agency. It’s about creating initiatives that will benefit all through the collaborative efforts of a steering committee comprised of chairpersons, government and private-sector representatives, and observers along with the stakeholders.

In his introductory speech to the stakeholders, Neil Smith, Financial Secretary and Deputy Regional Officer for EDF 10, stated that this program was set in motion in June when consultants visited every OT (Overseas Territory) to meet with focal members and SME stakeholders to explain the program on a one-one-one basis and answer any questions on its workings. Based on the concerns of the different stakeholders and OTs, the consultants were able to design a plan to assist in the development of SMEs.

Smith explained that the second step in this initiative was threefold: firstly, an effective focal point was established to guarantee optimal participation from each island; secondly, stakeholders filled in a description form so that the consultants could prioritize each island and its needs; thirdly, these forms were then translated into activities that would be incorporated in the program.  124 forms were submitted.

Smith’s final advice for the representatives was to not let individual egos and pride get in the way of this regional endeavor. “I urge you to recognize that you’re not representing yourself, but that you’re representing your territory back home. In these settings you realize that it’s not about you. It’s about the thousands and thousands of people back home that you are privileged to represent.









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