When we think about our life experiences, we realise that one thing we all have in common is that we started off our journeys as small babies dependent on others, and, over time, with the right support, we have become productive adults. Businesses mostly share similar experience. Even large companies like Ford have a photo of their first car, whilst McDonalds started with one hamburger restaurant. Considered in this light, we recognise that businesses develop and grow from humble beginnings. Small businesses are like seeds. If they are well planted and nourished, they can grow into something bigger and when we see them for their potential, we see many opportunities.
Perhaps more interestingly, according to the World Trade Organization, small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent over 90% of businesses, and are responsible for 60-70% of employment, as well as 55% of GDP in developed economies. SMEs therefore do not just significantly contribute to the economy – they ARE the economy.
However, the evolution or growth of a business can be particularly challenging, especially in a developing country. Compared with more developed countries, some of the barriers here in Vanuatu affecting businesses include; the small market size which limits economies of scale, growth opportunities, and puts pressure on the return on investment, deficient access to capital funding, a high cost of doing business (such as utilities), and a limited understanding of formalisation of business and due process. On top of this all there is a lack of literature or learning opportunities for new businesses to help them navigate their journey. This results in many people being unwilling to take the risk to start a business, and for those that do, business growth is often complex, and many businesses stagnate.
With this in mind, the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), with support from its major donor the Australian Governance for Growth program, has launched the “Givhan long Bisnis Prokram.” This provides mentoring support to small and medium local businesses to assist them to navigate beyond some of these hurdles and support their development and growth.
There are many features of this program that are unique, for example, compared with other business programs, VCCI’s focuses on existing businesses rather than new ones and accepts clients across a very wide spectrum of business types. Some of the clients have rent houses, private schools, private trade companies, some are bus owners, and others food vendors. Each of these businesses has existed for some time and has proven a worthy service to their communities. Small businesses provide employment, learning opportunities, and bring required goods and services to a community. Because their size is modest, it’s easy to overlook their importance. This program also respects the dignity of the individual business client by ensuring that no one is excluded and each business is valued no matter what it delivers.
Another unique aspect of The Givhan program is that the one on one business mentoring is delivered by local mentors who themselves have run and own businesses in Vanuatu and speak fluent Bislama. Because of this real firsthand experience of the mentors, there is a much quicker connection to the realities faced by the small business clients and this builds a common understanding and strong relationships. These relationships provide the foundation of trust that is required for mentoring to be effective. The mentoring is also able to provide tailored support clients with unique needs as every business is not the same. Each business has its own challenges related to the staff, the environment it operates in, and the experience of the owner. ‘The Givhan’ program recognises these challenges and offers targeted and tailored support.
The chamber also provides its clients with the opportunity to attend workshops. These group learning opportunities are delivered by subject matter experts and focus in on specific business topics. There have been approximately 400 business members attending the workshops offered in the past 6 months.
The Givhan mentoring program started in October and currently has over 21 registered clients who are supported twice monthly by their specially selected mentors. These mentors being local business people also benefit from the program through extending employment opportunities to them at a time when the economy is particularly depressed. To ensure that the program was rolled out to VCCI’s standards, there was a month-long induction program for the mentors. During this time, they were coached in the approach and standards that VCCI required.
“We’re delighted to watch this new approach to business support evolve” said Adrian Toka, the Business Services Co-Ordinator responsible for the Givhan mentoring program, adding “it’s only the beginning, but indications are we’ve planted a seed in this program that we expect to see flourish and grow.”
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a variety of new programs to support businesses in Vanuatu. To know more, like the Facebook page or register for updates on www.vcci.vu