Imagine the world without Micro, Small or Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). Does their existence make a difference? Do they even play an important role in the economy given their size?
The answer to these questions is a resounding YES! MSMEs matter, and play a pivotal role in the economic development of any country. However, COVID-19 destroyed millions of jobs and with it the ability of many to earn a living.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UWTO) has estimated that between January and April 2020 there was a decline of 47% in international arrivals to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and in April 2020, a sharp decline to 97%.
MSMEs are particularly vulnerable to these shocks as they often have narrow margins, fewer cash reserves, and the inability to recover quickly after severe external shocks. This is particularly harmful in the Caribbean context, as MSMEs account for approximately 67% of employment. In addition, only 30% of MSMEs can process online payments while many tourists prefer to book online and do not carry cash around.
To address these challenges and support MSMEs in the tourism sector in the Eastern Caribbean, UNDP Multi-Country Office for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean created the Future Tourism initiative using a three-prong approach: Regional Policy Dialogues about the tourism sector, technical support to MSMEs, and the use of grants to stimulate growth for those MSMEs receiving technical support. In addition, the Future of Tourism was an effort to put into practice the “Blue Economy for Green Islands” approach which encompasses the interconnectedness of the blue and green economies and promotes economic diversification, job creation, and resilience.
The Regional Policy Dialogues* were designed to collectively rethink the future of tourism in the region, counted with the participation of more than 30 experts, including governments, regional and international organisations, UN agencies, and the private sector. The dialogues reached an estimated audience of 6,000 people.
At the same time, in alliance with the University of the West Indies Open Campus and the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, UNDP is supporting MSMEs as they restart, rebrand, and even reinvent themselves in this new post-COVID-19 era through the Business Adaptation Programme (BAP), which is divided into three components. The first component — which finalised in early September and benefitted 400 MSMEs — was a virtual Open Training focussing on digital technologies, financial planning, and marketing. The ongoing second component is providing 164 MSMEs technical assistance and tailored mentoring sessions to develop business improvement plans (BIPs). Finally, the last component is financial assistance, and the idea is that all MSMEs that submit their BIPs are expected to receive an average of US dollars 4,000.
Gender empowerment is at the core of this initiative and an average of 70% of the beneficiaries are women.
At UNDP, we recognize that supporting the recovery of MSMEs is essential in building forward better. Along with the good leadership of regional entities to avoid reinventing the wheel and push this agenda forward. The pandemic has caused a dramatic shift in the way we work, and despite its devastation, it has also inspired growth.
This initiative has sparked the spirit of innovation and resilience in the Eastern Caribbean and it has shown that the road to recovery is a bit easier to navigate.