Participants of “Go See Visit 2017,” a pilot project of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), expressed optimism toward setting up enterprises locally, following five days of engagement with the private and public sector, which concluded last Thursday.
The forum, according to the Ministry of the Presidency, sought to build effective and sustainable diaspora engagement for development in the Caribbean.
According to the Head of the Diaspora Unit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Michael Brotherson, the project was aimed at stimulating interest for investment from individuals in the diaspora, which would in turn complement ongoing development efforts in the country.
Brotherson said that the project has been deemed a success, as the initial objectives of getting the participants here and engaging them have been met, adding that the feedback from the participants also supports this.
Ten participants from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom were chosen after a rigorous selection process which involved prospective participants having to send in expressions of interest and project proposals and then conducting an interview via Skype with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the IOM.
Brotherson said that information regarding the forum had been disseminated through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, the ministry’s embassies and consulates and diaspora organisations.
Over the course of five days, nine participants (the UK participant did not make it for the workshops) who hailed from the United States and Canada, were able to meet with government officials and those in the private sector to network and be provided with information in regards to setting up business locally.
Brotherson said that the Ministry is hoping that the engagement spawns at least a 40% investment rate from the participants.
As was explained by the participants, their interactions over those few days were specifically tailored to suit their areas of expertise.
These areas included Information Technology, Social Services, Real Estate, Environmental Sustainability and Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Agriculture and Tourism.
Florida resident Danielle Hodge started up her coconut oil business after attending Guyana’s coconut festival last year. The festival was enough to spark this marketer’s interest, leading her to establish the brand ‘Indigenous Coconut Oil,’ which is made in the Pomeroon and then shipped overseas, where it is packaged and distributed. Her business was launched in February.
Hodge related that most of the meetings facilitated for her throughout the week focused on her coconut oil business, but said she is looking to diversify her brand to cover other coconut-based products and to involve other communities.
“When I was younger I would come and I would be like, ‘oh it’s hot!’… Now I’m coming and I’m like, ‘oh it’s beautiful’… I look at it through a different perspective now, and especially as I’ve been growing and being in marketing, my eyes are like, ‘oh my God there’s so much opportunity here,’ so we just have to create it is where my mind is,” an animated Hodge stated.
Travel and Tourism expert Gillian Richards, who has spent 32 years in the industry, is interested in setting up an office locally to continue her work of promoting Guyana as a tourist destination.
Her reason for attending the engagement, she explained, was to “have a firsthand look at what Guyana’s commitment is to tourism”.
Richards’ has been living abroad for approximately 39 years. Her agency, The Tour Company, currently facilitates trips for overseas based Guyanese living in the United States to travel back home and experience Guyana’s tourism product.
“I currently have a number of Guyanese that live in the South Eastern United States that are traveling back to Guyana, coming back as visitors wanting to do all of the things that the country has to offer that they might not have done before they actually left Guyana… So they’re coming back now as tourists, staying in the hotels. They want to do the trips to Kaieteur and Arrowpoint and Baganara and all of these different places that they did not have a knowledge of necessarily or an opportunity to visit prior to their operating out of Guyana.”
Asked what her view was on the local climate for the tourism industry, Richards said that she believes that the landscape for business investment is better now than in the past.
“I actually came back in 2011 to explore the possibility of opening an office, a business in Guyana. At that time I didn’t think that the environment was as amenable to business investment as it seems to be at this time. I know for sure that the change of administration has made a very big difference in the minds of the people in the diaspora and I believe that just the very fact that there was a change, after such an extended period of time of one party being in office, just the fact that there was a change, gave people a sense of excitement, a sense of possibility,” she stated.
Malcolm Cho-Kee has been living abroad since 1972, and although his background is real estate, Cho-Kee said his main aim for attending the forum was his interest in marketing Guyanese products abroad.
He did not, however, object to giving his take on the local industry.
“I’m a firm believer that we in Guyana at one time were very creative. The old Georgetown is very much an architect’s museum. The new homes that we are seeing today are literally square boxes, rectangular boxes, looking like North American homes. And the most disturbing, I don’t want to be critical, but the direction of the homes that are being built is not conforming to the wind direction, which means most of those homes are little ovens. They’re not cooled by natural breeze,” Cho-Kee, who is a real estate broker, stated. Cho-Kee has taught commercial real estate in Toronto for the past 14 years.
“The real estate sector in my opinion, which I am most qualified to comment on even though I did not come to Guyana with housing in mind because there are too many competitors and their business model and mine do not work. I believe I have the answer for housing in Guyana, and I’m not a genius, but I have studied [the] North American business model of housing its people, it worked over there and I believe it could work over here with a simple adjustment for Guyanese, but it can be done”.
According to Richard Whyte who has been living overseas for the past 22 years, the diaspora engagement has provided him with the information needed to move his project to the next stage.
Whyte, who lives in Canada, related that he is currently exploring joint-venture opportunities in agro processing that will allow his business to provide technical and financial expertise to support operations on the ground, and technology that will see products getting to the market quicker.
Whyte would not relate specifically what the product was that he was hoping to market, as he pointed out that the industry is a competitive one, and they are close to launching their venture.
Even with the competitive landscape, however, Whyte said that he still believes that the investment is a lucrative one as investing locally provides advantages that he would not gain from investing overseas, such as access to land and access to various markets through trade agreements.
Orita Semple has a background in Social Services and a passion for maternal child health.
Originally from Mahaicony, in 2004, Semple started a non-governmental organization named Before and After Services, which focuses on HIV and maternal child health.
Semple related on Friday that she was able to meet with representatives from the Ministry of Health to discuss other aspects of social services she can provide support in locally, including the provision of support services and housing for women, and domestic and human trafficking, which are all areas she does work in.
In terms of maternal child health, Semple said she is interested in conducting training sessions on breastfeeding, childbirth education, and certifying women from conception to postpartum on how to educate pregnant moms to have healthy babies.
“…As a childbirth educator, what we do is teach women not to put the baby in the bed with them because people are sleeping and people get comfortable when they’re breastfeeding and it might have been an honest mistake,” Semple said while commenting on a recent occurrence where an infant died locally while being breastfed.
“That is something I know that training and education might have come in handy…I think education is something that we need. It’s an empowerment so once you can educate somebody you can empower them to do better. If you know better you do better but if you don’t know better then you get bad results,” Semple opined.
PhD student Kiven Pierre is intent on starting up his business ‘El Dorado Renewables’ by October.
El Dorado Renewables will be a renewable energy company focused on setting up solar photovoltaic (PV) systems locally.
Pierre, who is currently pursuing a doctorate in Environmental Sustainability and Entrepreneurship, said that he has been working on this venture for the past four years and that the forum “added fuel to the fire.”
“Another thing was just really good information with regards to starting businesses in Guyana, just from the number of individuals that were here—be it from Go-Invest, the Small Business Bureau, the Lands and Surveys Commission and these different agencies so just to see how these agencies are putting provisions and incentives in place to help spur entrepreneurship and business was very interesting,” the thirty-year-old commented.
Pierre said that his business proposal was met with positive responses over the course of the engagement, and has even received a few expressions of interest from investors.
Having been a student abroad for the past nine years, where he also pursued both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, when asked why he has chosen to return home to invest, Pierre responded, “I love my country and I’ve met someone once before who said to me that it’s better to be the head of a mouse than the tail of a lion and Guyana is the mouse for me, so to speak”.
Clifton McDonald is a Director of Information Technology Management in New York and works for a supply chain company that moves freight around the world.
Having an interest in ICT and logistics and asked how he sees his expertise being used to grow local industries, McDonald explained that his main focuses would be software outsourcing and procurement.
“My core business is developing outsourced software. So hiring folks here to develop software and applications for my company overseas (is what would be done). So the work is done here but it’s sold overseas. That’s what is in play right now. Through this opportunity my company also does procurement. So for instance, those small vendors need bottles, caps, the infrastructure they need I can help them with the procurement process. So the opportunities are there to bring my knowledge of supply chain into Guyana to grow the supply chain infrastructure in Guyana. So that’s like warehousing—you’ve got Exxon coming, you’ll need large warehouses. My company is the type of company that can come and put down a large warehouse with government support of course and to expand the capabilities of transportation and warehousing and supply chain in this country,” he said.
McDonald related that last week he had the opportunity to engage with the University of Guyana over his interest in offering internships to students and new graduates.
Carlton Bharrat and Harold Smith
Participants Carlton Bharrat and Harold Smith attended representing Human Resource Time Management (HRTM), a consultancy group that covers work force management, human resource payroll, implementations and support.
“I have an established company and I have clients in the United States that I’m working on and I need support services, you know, that’s what I’m trying to build. For me I think it’s going to be, there are two models to my business, the first is utilizing resources here, trained for projects overseas, and the second one would be to encourage the government and the private sector to embrace the technology that we are offering as solutions to their business problems. That might be a little bit more challenging long term,” Bharrat, the CEO of HRTM stated.
Smith, the company’s Vice President of South American and Caribbean Operations, stated that their experience after engaging with representatives in the ministries is that there are complaints of human resource management being an issue, one they can help solve.
Bharrat said that while they have had interest expressed in their services, these have not been concrete. He noted that identifying the decision makers and engaging with them has proven to be challenging, especially in the government sector.
“I’m hoping that the government sector would engage us to study a little bit more about what are their needs and what are their challenges and what’s the solutions that we have for them and that would be a good start towards moving and engaging and actually purchasing and implementing systems. On the private sector side it would be getting an office in a safe area with the right facilities and to recruit and hire people,” Bharrat stated.