The Guyana Small Business Association, cooperatives and SEBRAE

By Jacquelyn Hamer

In the course of my enquiries into aspects of small business development in Guyana the outcomes of which I have been using as a basis for publication of occasional columns in this newspaper I learnt of the existence of the Guyana Small Business Association (GSBA) which, I was advised, has been serving as an umbrella organization for small and micro-sized local businesses  for some time. I thought that it might be an excellent idea to speak with the officials of the GSBA and following persistent enquiries I learnt that the GSBA’s office was situated in Waterloo street. I have enquired and this has turned out not to be the case. Bewilderingly, I have also been unable to locate a listing for the GSBA in GT&T’s 2009/2010 telephone directory. One would imagine that an organization which, through its title, lays claim to being a national organization concerned with the welfare of small would be relatively easy to find.

The lack of serious institutional support for the growth and development of the small business sector is not an issue about which we can really ever say too much particularly given the high levels of unemployment and underemployment in Guyana and it would be comforting to know exactly what sorts of functions the GSBA performs, who are its officers, the size and geographic spread of its membership, its sources of funding, whether or not it produces an annual report and whom it reports to. I raise these issues because I believe that an organization that styles itself the GSBA  ought to be a substantial organization and ought to function in a structured and accountable fashion. Without pointing accusing fingers at the GSBA I say unhesitatingly that there are far too many organizations in Guyana that purport through their titles to serve one specific purpose or another but which, in fact, exist only for the sake of existence.

This week too I have been wondering about the status of cooperatives in Guyana; about the number of vibrant cooperatives that still exist; about the kinds of economic activity that are fashioned along cooperative lines and about whether or not these conform to any rules and regulations as used to be the case several years ago.

The proliferation of individual and family-owned businesses, notwithstanding, I continue to believe that there is something to be said for cooperative ventures. In my view  they are probably likely to work best in poor rural communities where most people are probably unlikely to have the level of capital necessary to start individual businesses and where business ventures like agriculture, fishing and certain types of manufacturing can be organized along cooperative lines. Some changes will have to be made to the practices of yesteryear. What made so many cooperatives collapse in the past was the sheer number of untrained people who were involved. A cooperative is a business pursuit which, like any other business, is run for profit and whatever the extent of the enthusiasm among its members, the absence of skills associated with the orthodox running of a business is a huge disadvantage.

Restarting a culture of cooperatives along business lines will require certain kinds of community organization and business training which both the private sector and the government ought to support. Such support has to be based on sound business plans that at least demonstrate the likelihood of success in much the same way as an orthodox business does. I can envisage rural cooperatives across the country that open up employment opportunities for many of our thousands of unemployed young people; and the added benefit is that they will be working for themselves.

Earlier this week I got an opportunity to attend the opening session of an encounter between local businesses and a business delegation from Brazil that traveled to Guyana under the auspicies of of a Brazilian organization known as Sebrae – a non-profit organization which, among other things, is concerned with providing support services to small and micro-businesses in Brazil. What I have read about Sebrae suggests that it has had a successful relationship with small businesses in Brazil, that while it is a private organization it has the support of both the Federal Government in Brazil as well as several key Brazilian research entities. The National Deliberative Council which coordinates the policies of Sebrae comprises more than 350 institutions represented by the government, business entities, and educational and research institutions.

Its budget is derived from a contribution made by Brazilian medium and big businesses and the greater part of its resources is expended on programmes that include credit and capitalization support, sectorial and regional development, professional and technological qualification,  among others.

It is not difficult to discern that we can learn much from Brazil and, as far as small business is concerned, from Sebrae. The organization, from all of the information that I have seen, has been able to influence valuable government initiatives, including legislation to help small businesses grow. In Brazil there is  micro and small enterprise legislation that has created a legal framework for small businesses. FÁCIL (The Easy One) programme seeks to hasten the pace of procedures associated with the registration of businesses. The SIMPLES (The Simple One) is a single tax regime for small businesses that seeks to reduce the taxation burden and simplify  the bureaucratic processes associated with honouring tax obligations.

Four years ago the organization received a US$2.1m IDB grant from the Bank ‘s Multilateral Investment Fund to fund the  sustainable development of the wood and furniture supply chain in Brazil’s Amazon Region. The preoject brought together public and private sector stakeholders who sought to identify new technological solutions for sustainable economic use of wood in Amazonas and Pará. In the context of Brazil it was by no means a large grant but at least it serves to demonstrate the vitality of Sebrae – in sharp contrast to the inaction that has followed the passage of small business legislation several years ago.

I believe that there is much that we can learn from Brazil.

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