During the last three years the Competitive Business Unit (formerly the Export Development Unit) has focused on promoting business competitiveness and export capacity in more than 200 client companies across the OECS.
The companies were primarily small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and came from various sectors including food & beverage, furniture, garments and light Industries. In the Services Sector the work programme is centred on the development of the Creative Industries with a focus on audio-visual (film and music), fashion and craft.
The CBU’s programme for the SMEs is delivered to individual enterprises based on an assessment of their requests and to clusters (or groupings of enterprises) within defined sectors that have a common need.
The programme provides support to the firms based on three (3) related pillars. In the first pillar, attention is given to assisting enterprises to strengthen their human resources, internal processes and systems to enhance management and promote efficiency in operations. The second pillar examines product and service attributes of enterprises and delivers support for aspects such as technological processes, plant design and layout, packaging, quality systems and other product development and service delivery capacity enhancement. The third pillar supports marketing activities of enterprises, promoting product and service visibility, in traditional and new markets.
The Unit serves as the foremost regional arm for advocacy and programme development targeting the private sector. In delivering on its various undertakings, the Unit has been strategic in mobilising funding support and forging strong collaborative arrangements with various development partners. This has allowed the CBU to maintain active engagement with the SMEs in the OECS to help improve their businesses. During the past 5-10 years, the major partner has been the European Union through its European Development Fund (EDF) programme which focusses on support for private sector development. With this funding support, the Unit has been placing emphasis on initiatives to stimulate regional business capacity to take advantage of the markets that are being shaped under the new trading agreements, including the CARICOM CSME and the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.
Work in the Services Sector, (specifically the Creative/Cultural Industries), is guided by a regional Fashion Development Study which was prepared in 2014 to inform the nature of the activities to be undertaken. Some of the work undertaken by CBU include training projects for OECS Screen Writers, Boot Camp for Song Writers and Producers and support for regional players participation in international music and film events to promote exposure, networking and learning.
The CBU’s work programme recognizes the importance of providing continuous support for the promotion and development of Business Service Organisations (BSOs), particularly as strong organs in the regional business environment. Support for capacity building and networking activities remain priority areas of focus for BSOs in tourism and agriculture; particularly since these are the leading sectors in the region’s economy.
An exciting, new area of work of the CBU is the Innovative Marketing Systems (E-Commerce) support program for SMEs which was recently introduced in 2013 with the aim of stimulating innovation and E-commerce models of business engagement to enhance enterprise competitiveness and accelerate market penetration in external markets. Some of the highlights of this programme include the conduct of a regional survey of enterprises E-Commerce readiness which is being followed up with support to address gaps that may be hindering firms’ ability to do business on E-platforms. Another is the ongoing work to review and reform the regional architecture for conducting E-business; inclusive of E-Payments systems.
With the advent of the OECS Economic Union, the accession of Martinique as an Associate Member of the OECS and the mandates enumerated in the Protocol to the Revised Treaty of Basseterre, the CBU’s work programme is being re-shaped to embrace a fuller role to promote business initiatives that can stimulate the region’s economic development and forging closer networks with new partners. The Unit plays a central role in translating into business actions and economic co-operation the new institutional networks and collaborative arrangements that are being formalized with OECS Governments and the Business Support Organizations in countries such as Mexico, Cuba, Martinique and Canada.
As the Unit looks toward 2018, new areas of work will include co-ordination of support for a Regional Maritime Transportation Development Programme, a Regional Investment Promotion Strategy with Fiscal Incentives Harmonization and Business Climate Reforms at its centre, a sharper focus on ICT development and application to Business Success, building upon the work started under the Innovate Marketing Systems (IMS) E-Commerce program and a defined agenda for promoting Youth Entrepreneurship across all of the priority sectors in which the Unit is engaged.
About the Author: Vincent Philbert holds a Degree in Economics from the University of Cambridge and an MBA from the University of the Virgin Islands. He is the Head of the OECS Competitive Business Unit located in the Commonwealth of Dominica.