At a time when local business houses are not averse to openly frowning on what they say is the underperformance of business support organizations (BSOs) the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) says it believes its agenda is moving ever closer to meeting some of the critical needs of the business community.
Calls, unheeded so far by the APNU+AFC administration for a lowering of VAT rates, customs bottlenecks and the need for more government support for the small business sector are high on the agenda of issues over which the business community frets frequently. But the Chamber’s President Vishnu Doerga told Stabroek Business recently that the organization’s forward-looking leadership team refuses to allow challenges to stand in the way of its mission to serve its members.
There are signs, he says, that the Chamber’s approach is bearing fruit. He points to the 14 business houses that have signed up as members since January this year as evidence of the fact that the work of the Chamber is getting the attention of the business community. This year’s inductees include the 60-year-old third generation company, Muneshwer’s Ltd, one of the best-known businesses in the country, quite a catch in the Chamber President’s view. Significantly, the other newly signed-up members of the Chamber include several emerging enterprises in the Information Technology sector.
Other new inductees include P&P Insurance Brokers and Consultants, Euphoria Entertainment Parks and Rid-O-Pest. In 2015 other prominent business houses including Eureka Laboratories, Ashmin’s Fun Park and Resort, Fujitsu Caribbean and Global Technology Inc became members of the Chamber.
Doerga says that you don’t have to look far to discern the reasons for the growing interest in membership of the Chamber. Part of the attraction, he says, has to do with the work it has done to attract an influential group of international institutional partners that include the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Carib Export), the Canadian Executive Service Organization, Cuso International and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Apart from its current collaborative initiative with the CDB to execute a one-year project on “improving competitiveness in Guyana and Strengthening of SMEs to increase non-traditional exports,” Cuso International has also been supporting the Chamber in providing mentorship to local business organizations to assist them in navigating the world of business.
Doerga, who operates his own coaching and consultancy business, Action Coach, from its Kingston complex believes that the strength of the Chamber reposes in its understanding of its mission. Simply put, it is about understanding and creating the appropriate enabling environment in which business can thrive and that can embrace services ranging from seeking out financing and technical assistance with which to support the growth of small businesses to engaging government on bottlenecks in one state agency or another that might represent blockages to the smooth running of trade and commerce.
The Chamber President told Stabroek Business that it would not have escaped the attention of the business community that the GCCI had also sought to render itself relevant as an important national institution. Last year, the Chamber’s critical assignments included meeting with the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) ahead of the group’s economic survey of Latin America and the Caribbean, a meeting with the internationally renowned Time Magazine journalists on assignment in Guyana and PricewaterhouseCoopers of Trinidad and Tobago.
Beyond formal engagements the Chamber’s initiatives in training and knowledge enhancement have ranged from staging a CDB-funded workshop on “modern techniques for mould-design and manufacturing for ceramic and pottery producers” to a another on “serve safe training and certification” for food service managers and handlers.
Some weeks ago the Chamber announced that it had secured a grant from the CDB under the Cariforum-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) Standby Facility for Capacity Building totalling more than US$200,000. The grant will fund an initiative in the local business community aimed at improving competitiveness and strengthening the capacity of SMEs to increase non-traditional exports. The art and craft, agro-processing and apiculture industries are among those that are expected to benefit from this project. Earlier this week the Chamber conducted pre-consultancy workshops with representatives of the agro-processing, music and art and craft sectors, preparatory to the full launch of the initiative.
The CDB-funded project, former GCCI President Lance Hinds had said, is an example of the aggressive implementation of a decision taken by the Chamber some time ago to raise the level of its assistance to the small business sector. The full implementation of the project is taking place with the collaboration of the state-run Small Business Bureau which manages a register of small businesses across the country.
The Chamber is currently in its second year of a collaborative arrangement with Scotia Bank under which persons are invited to submit business pitches for a competition to become eligible for a prize of $500,000 and business coaching. The competition was launched in September 2015 as part of Scotia Bank’s celebration of Small Business Week. This year, entrants will be required to submit a 60-second video pitch for a new business or expansion of an existing business.
Reviewing the recent activities of the Chamber which had been undertaken “in the interest of its members” the organization’s 2015-2016 Annual Report alluded to a May 25, meeting between Chamber officials and a business delegation from the city of Fuzhoui in China as well as a May 27 meeting between Doerga and commercial and economic officials from the United States Embassy in Georgetown. A week earlier, on May 19, Doerga met an official of the Bank of Guyana financial section to discuss barriers facing SMEs in seeking to access finance, including collateral requirements, land registries in cases of agriculture and other related issues.
In recent years, the GCCI has also secured technical assistance and funding for seminars and other training for targeting the handicraft and other sectors.
While the Chamber’s efforts to make available a window through which smaller business enterprises could become members of the organization had met with only limited success so far, its president said the organization’s doors remain open to making available to small businesses such support as it can.
Part of the current focus of the Chamber, according to its president, is to offer support to other regional Chambers of Commerce across the country in order to better position them to give service to their own business communities.