Bridgetown, May 12th. 2021 – As part of its COVID-19 recovery programme, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Barbados & the Eastern Caribbean has partnered with The University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus and Frankfurt School (FS) to support more than 300 Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (MSMEs) increase their digital skills and resilience to external shocks.
MSMEs play a crucial role in the economic development of Caribbean economies. Collectively, they generate about 40 percent of the Caribbean subregion’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and constitute over 95 percent of the total companies in the Caribbean subregion. As MSMEs rely strongly on tourism, they have been the most affected sector during the pandemic. Strict measures of quarantines, lockdowns, and travel restrictions have imposed a major risk on businesses to close their doors permanently. The UNDP Future Tourism Project was born out of a need to adapt to the new post-COVID environment, and to help MSMEs to be more resilient and respond better to shocks and new market needs through revamping their digital skills.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, The UWI established its COVID-19 Task Force – a body with the purpose of leveraging the University's knowledge and experts to assist the Caribbean in its readiness and response to the virus outbreak – mindful that the region's best defence is a coordinated and collaborative approach. These experts bring skills in the areas of tourism, online delivery and learning, continuing and professional education studies, and more. It is under this mandate, that UNDP has signed an agreement with The UWI via its Open Campus and will seek to develop capacities in Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises within the Eastern Caribbean.
Dr. Michelle McLeod, The UWI COVID-19 Task Force -Tourism Expert whose experience spans over 30 years and who will lead the implementation from The UWI, highlighted that this alliance complements the ongoing work of the Open Campus to promote the relevance of lifelong learning through serving the people of the region. This platform offers higher, distance and lifelong educational programmes, as well as research, innovation and outreach services from all of its locations across the Caribbean.
Effectively supporting MSMEs in time of crisis can prove challenging and requires working as a network to leverage the expertise of different leading institutions. Frankfurt School has a strong track record in implementing and managing lending facilities within the MSME sector, providing training programmes and capacity building measures to commercial banks, microfinance institutions and their beneficiaries. UNDP has partnered with Frankfurt School, one of Europe’s leading business schools, to work hand in hand with The UWI during the process of training and tailored coaching to MSMEs.
Klaus Hesse, the team leader of FS mentioned, "we are certain that Frankfurt School's experience in the field as a university and advisory institute with high education standards and reputable accreditations, combined with the leadership of UNDP, The UWI’s strong presence in the region and their existing MSME trainings, will set the stage for a solid Technical Assistance programme to support MSMEs in their economic recovery and transformation".
“The UWI Open Campus Continuing and Professional Education Centre is well poised to deliver this training programme for the region,” according to Dr. Sarah Owen, Director of the Centre. “The Centre has been providing training in a variety of disciplines to build the human resource capacity of the Caribbean for a number of years. All our programmes subscribe to the high standard that The UWI is well known for regionally and internationally.”
For UNDP in Barbados & the Eastern Caribbean, this UNDP-UWI-FS partnership will have catalytic impact in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to assist MSMEs in adapting to a rapidly changing and evolving situation, with emphasis on the tourism sector and a special focus on women. The MSMEs component of the Future Tourism Project will provide innovative open training, technical assistance, tailored mentoring, and access to grants for MSMEs who work directly or indirectly in the tourism sector. UNDP, in coordination with the Eastern Caribbean governments, has launched an open call for interested MSMEs to register. See the registration form here. The Future Tourism Project is funded by the UNDP Rapid Financing Facility which will catalyze UNDP’s response Beyond Recovery: Towards 2030 offer, through high-quality and high-impact country initiatives. UNDP is leading the UN’s socio-economic response to COVID-19 considering gender equality, youth empowerment and sustainability as cross-cutting principles.
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 S. McLean and D. Charles, “A preliminary review of policy responses to enhance SME access to trade financing in the Caribbean”, Studies and Perspectives series-ECLAC Sub regional Headquarters for the Caribbean, No. 88 (LC/TS.2020/4 C/CAR/TS.2019/11), Santiago, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 2020.