Leadership Blog – Leading to Build Communities

“Small Business means Big Things. Small Business Owners are destined to achieve them. But only if we help them.”

Okay before we drill down into that quote, can we all agree that there really isn’t anything small about small businesses and small business ownership? After all, how can there be when small businesses have a significant impact on a country’s drive toward job creation, innovation, sustainability, and competitiveness?

Right off the bat I think we can understand that small businesses (much like any business) have tremendous value in advancing the discourse on national development, and, with that understanding, must come a deeper appreciation of what it really means to own and run a business. As I said on previous occasions, being an entrepreneur is not always about getting rich quick. In fact, it should never be.

What it should be about (and what every entrepreneur should ask themselves) is how can this business, move beyond simply providing a service or product, making money, and providing employment, towards making this community, this society, this world a better place?

Small Business and a Very Big World

Granted that starting and successfully running a business is always fraught with considerable risk, increasing numbers of business owners – true entrepreneurs with unrelenting dreams and aspirations, having been provided access to better training, resources, education, and helpful information – are managing these risks more effectively. Business leaders are learning from the lessons of the past and using them to strengthen their operations and streamline the processes they use.

The end result?

More small businesses are becoming highly adept, resilient, flexible, and capable of changing their operations to meet market needs without having to cut through much of the bureaucratic obstacles with which their bigger counterparts deal.

With each successive day, all around the world, more small businesses are doing and achieving more to maintain their viability, promote their visibility, and ensure their vitality in the face of challenging and uncertain economic times. In most Caribbean countries, small businesses con¬tribute to close to 90% of employment and at least 70% to GDP.

In Trinidad and Tobago, with a well-developed industrial sector and a number of experienced industrial services companies, it is estimated that there are at least 20,000 operating small businesses, providing jobs for more than 200,000, and contributing close to 30% to the nation’s GDP.

These small businesses operate in a number of industries and provide a diverse range of goods and services; everything from the traditional corner shop, to farmers, entertainers, service providers, ICT firms, cottage industries and food vendors.

While the most recent figures are hard to come by (those shared above came from a 2011 presentation by the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce), one can safely assume that, without much drastic change either way, today’s figures are the same, if not similar.

However, figures notwithstanding, there still remains a disparity between the opportunities for small business owners and entrepreneurs to positively affect society and economic growth and what they accomplish. The bottom line is that while conditions may be more challenging, there has not been a better time for small businesses to access the tools and resources they need to realise this potential.

The Call To Do More

The winds of change that sweep the world, and certainly Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean, are calling for diversity, or more specifically, they are calling for sustainable economic diversification.

As the gaze moves away from the usual suspects, i.e. government and big businesses, not surprisingly, it is turning to the small business sector as another invaluable ally in the pursuit of sustainable economic, social, and cultural development.

I say “not surprisingly” because small businesses and entrepreneurs –nimble, adaptable, and more connected to the community – are able to fill in the gaps that are too often missed by their bigger counterparts.

The importance of small business to local communities is beyond measure. As trusted names within the community, small businesses serve in ways that big business cannot. Therefore, they lead in similar ways; taking the fore in offering a more diverse inventory, specialising in providing unique or personalised customer experiences, and of course, developing and empowering communities through providing employment and example.

How unreasonable is it then to assume that they can also be leaders in engendering sustainable development through advocacy, investment, and mindfulness?

How many entrepreneurs and business leaders can be made to understand that about themselves? The potential they promise? That, in addition to providing an invaluable product or service, they also have that obligation to help build the communities they serve?

How many have truly understood the power of the entrepreneurial spirit that wells within and how many more are willing to act on it?

To first unleash the power of the spirit, we need to understand and encourage it.

Awakening the Entrepreneurial Spirit

If it’s one thing that we have learned as a financial organisation that serves a variety of markets, it’s that the entrepreneurial spirit runs deep within the people of the Caribbean.

However, there’s a great deal at stake in failing to take this great spirit into account and what’s more, the playground isn’t always fair.

For instance, Trinidad and Tobago is currently ranked 78 out of 140 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2018 and 105 out of 190 countries in ease of doing business.

Understandably this presents a huge obstacle to the entrepreneurs and small business owners who are forced to operate under these conditions.

Going a step further, as the rest of the world embraces the 4th Industrial Revolution and seeks to move ahead in the development of knowledge-based and technological industries, while preserving the much needed space for tourism, arts, culture, and entertainment industries to grow as viable income generators, the Caribbean still has a way to go in getting a seat at that table. This is despite the fact that the Caribbean is also home to some of the most diverse resources – both tangible and intangible – in the world.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners tend to know this better than most as they are among the most affected by our inability to capitalise on growing trends and the ones ultimately responsible for shaping our paths in the 21st Century.

It is important that they not be dismayed at the task ahead nor should those who can assist be dissuaded from doing so.

Here I’m referring to governments and big business, who, while continuing to do all they can to empower and promote entrepreneurs and small businesses, must always be cognisant of the fact that within every small business lies the seed of something greater.

We must aware of this because the sooner all the players fully understand and are prepared to act on what needs to be done to sustainably develop small businesses and entrepreneurial capacities, the sooner we can actually do more to raise their roles as leaders of social development and nation building.

I am saying here that more can be done to enable them to perform far better than simply adapting to change and thriving therein. More can be done to realise their potential outside of what they contribute to GDP and economic bottom lines. More can be done to help them actualise it.

This is awakening the entrepreneurial spirit. It is the genie in the lamp that can only be freed under coaxing and caring hands. Instead of three wishes, however, we just get the one – to make our economies and our societies stronger.

We Are In This Together

The 21st Century is calling for more to be done by and for the small business sector. While much has been and continues to be done in this regard, even in our heavily-dominated oil and energy based economy, there is still some way to go in awakening small businesses’ greatest potential as the new leaders of economic growth and sustainable development.

But is there room for small businesses to do even more? In a time when the calls for greater economic diversification grow louder and the mighty energy giant staggers somewhat, what is the ask of small businesses owners and entrepreneurs now that more economies and avenues open up daily and present new opportunities for them to serve and to lead?

The ask calls for more small business owners and entrepreneurs to fully appreciate their roles in championing the cause for meaningful sustainable development in the markets and communities they serve.

The ask calls for greater collaboration between all invested parties and stakeholders with a common view on how work in the best interests of the society.

The ask calls for nurturing that entrepreneurial spirit and inculcating an understanding that the future of our nation and our region rests in the hands of the brave, the prepared, and the capable hands of the builders of tomorrow.

Yes, the ask is great but the possibilities for surpassing expectations even greater.

So what do you think? As we position ourselves to look at this aspect of leadership development, do you think more can be done to awaken that entrepreneurial spirit and prepare them for their true roles as leaders of both economy and society?

Let me know so we can discuss in our next talk.

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