SPEECH BY EARL JARRETT, CD, JP General Manager, Jamaica National Building Society
MONA SCHOOL OF BUSINESS Doctorate in Business Administration, Cohort 1 Mona Visitors’ Lodge, University of the West Indies April 24, 2010 at 12:30 p.m. Business Development in the Caribbean … Confronting the Challenges ACKNOWLEDGMENTS • Professor Evan Duggan, Executive Director of the Mona School of Business • Directors and lecturers of the Mona School of Business • Members of Cohort 1 of the Doctorate in Business Administration programme • Presenters • Specially invited guests • Ladies and gentlemen… It is my pleasure to take part in this international Business Development Conference to discuss a critical element of our growth as individual nation states and as a region. My participation marks another level in a longstanding, mutually beneficial relationship that my organisation enjoys with the Mona School of Business and, by extension, The University of the West Indies (UWI). I commend Professor Duggan and his team here at the Mona School of Business for creating this centre of excellence within the university campus. The MSB is self-sustaining, and generates its own revenue in a fiercely competitive environment … where post graduate programmes are offered by many local and international universities, both online and via distance education. I am pleased to see that your astute assessment of the growing needs of the region’s business sector has fueled your drive to further expand the academic scope of the institution to respond to those needs.
When I addressed the 2009 Diploma and Masters of Business Administration graduating class last November, I indicated then that the education sector has become an industry. And, this industry is clearly poised to become one of the major growth areas of the future. Therefore, the Mona School of Business will not only have to compete with foreign institutions operating in Jamaica; but ultimately, will have to compete with overseas universities such as Georgia, Harvard and Cambridge to offer ‘first class’ courses and attract top flight students from around the world. The introduction of this Doctorate in Business Administration is a clear indication that your institution is intent on positioning itself within this international context, and to compete aggressively in this regard. I must also congratulate you, the pioneers, or in our colloquial term, ‘the guinea pigs’ of this programme. You are the Christopher Columbus’ of this endeavour – clearly persons who are not afraid to venture into the unknown and to chart a course for others to follow. And, I am sure that this DBA programme will be accepted as a welcomed academic complement to your high levels of expertise in business administration. This is apparent based on your decision to host this research conference to discuss, as you have termed it – “progressive ideas for transforming Caribbean businesses to become fully and competitively engaged with the global marketplace.”
The theme of choice – Business Development in the Caribbean: Confronting the Challenges – acknowledges the impediments to growing businesses in the region … and I will use the next few minutes to share my perspective on this area; and indicate what we can do to address it, particularly in relation to Entrepreneurship and the Small and Medium Enterprises sector. CHALLENGES To assess the challenges in this area, it is necessary to have a global and regional economic perspective about businesses and the factors which contribute to its stymied development. Globally, political instability and economic crisis continue to impact economies. For example, Europe’s largest economy, Germany, experienced a slide in its economic recovery in the final quarter of 2009 . Spain and Greece remain in recession, with Greece requesting a rescue package from the International Monetary Fund . In our hemisphere, the United States of America and the United Kingdom are showing early signs of emerging from this global crisis. There is also economic disagreement. For example, the Doha Round of Trade Negotiations of the World Trade Organisation to lower trade barriers around the world, and allow countries to increase trade globally has been stalled for some three years. The world, it seems, cannot arrive at a consensus on the global liberalization of trade.
In our hemisphere – we are unable to determine equity in our trading needs. To date, we have not been able to successfully negotiate the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Regionally, we have partially implemented the Caribbean Single Market – the CSM – but there seems to be no political commitment, at this time, to implement the E, the single economy and single currency. Disputes continue among CARICOM countries over export/import of goods. There have been trade issues such as Jamaican manufacturers expressing concern about access to Trinidadian markets. For example, last year there was a trade imbroglio regarding the importation of Jamaican beef patties into Trinidad. And, more recently, concerns about the sale of Jamaica’s flagship carrier to a Trinidadian airline, as well as similar trade issues with other countries. Locally here in Jamaica, the business environment is just as tenuous. There have been major disputes regarding the importation of products such as cement into the local market. And as you are well aware, the recent implementation of the Jamaica Debt Exchange is expected to provide a fillip for the economy. Our country continues to be plagued by crime and violence, and the laws and regulations in Jamaica cannot be described as business friendly. The 2010 Doing Business Index shows that Jamaica is ranked 75th overall of 183 countries, scoring 19 in starting a business, 23 in closing a business, 87 in getting credit and 174 in ease of paying taxes. These are the realities of doing business in Jamaica today. The fact is – conducting business in Jamaica is a risky exercise. People go into business assuming risks with the understanding that a fair return will be generated beyond the risk element. Business is also about establishing relationships and building a great customer base. And, against that background, having recognised the challenges and the risks, it is the job of business operators to confront those challenges by deploying the right resources and making the right decisions. This conference agenda has addressed most of these challenges – debt in community; how financial markets work; good governance; creativity and innovation; entrepreneurship and the small and micro enterprises sector. WHAT CAN BE DONE Having identified some of the impediments, the question that must be asked is: What should people do to confront these challenges? I would suggest three things: 1. The first is to foster greater levels of investment in research and support for universities.
There has to be greater focus on building linkages between universities and the business community if we are going to grow successful Jamaican/Caribbean based businesses that are globally competitive.
My own organisation, the Jamaica National Building Society, is a case study. We are a Jamaican organisation – a creature of the merger of several small, rural based building societies that have grown to become the largest building society in the Caribbean and the third largest financial institution in Jamaica, today. JN does not have an overseas headquarters; and, therefore, it must rely on itself to innovate … to create systems of governance … and to solve our business challenges; and, as such, we have determined that an important part of our long term development is a strategic alliance with the universities. We have utilised the research capacity of The UWI in various ways, undertaking projects such as: • Dr Michael Witter’s paper on the role of the National Housing Trust and the impact on housing finance from a private sector perspective…
• Professor Terrence Forrester and his work at the Tropical Medical Research Institute to determine the level of social transformation that was taking place in households that were benefitting from micro-credit financing… • Graduate students of the Caribbean Institute for Media and Communication (CARIMAC) engaged in a Financial Literacy Project to study the financial habits and knowledge of high schools students… • Our insurance subsidiary, NEM Insurance Company, commissioned the Earthquake Unit at The UWI to conduct a study to assess the impact of earthquakes on its insured properties… • Mona GeoInformatics Institute (MGI) was contracted to conduct a mapping exercise of NEM Insurance’s entire property portfolio, by community, in order to evaluate the distribution of its customer base, including its points of concentration. • MGI was also commissioned to map the Jamaican landscape, looking at the level of financial services being offered and how evenly distributed they were… to help us to assess the geographic reach of our existing locations, and where to establish new business strategies. • MGI also provided the mapping that our micro-enterprise finance company, JN Small Business Loans Limited, use with GPS devices to capture data to evaluate the company’s infrastructure and clients’ risk profiles. We have also supported the research programme at the University of Technology through the provision of two GPS devices to the Faculty of Engineering and Computing.
And our Papine Branch has been instrumental in providing financial empowerment to students and staff of UTech; we have also fostered scholarship programmes and assisted in the creation of jobs in the surrounding rural communities. Another area in which we have offered support is promotion of the arts and culture through the UTech’s Centre for the Arts, including the creation of the region’s first sculpture park. This is a very important way to begin to understand the dynamics of our people and to organize our businesses in such a way that we maximize on their creativity and energy. In today’s reality, the government recently slashed the tertiary education allocation by over $1 billion in the 2010/2011 budget. But, if we are going to achieve the developed status that we have set for ourselves, it cannot be done without institutions which will help… not just to create the people to work as some are … but to educate the people who are going to think through the solutions for the future. Some of the solutions we need include: • How do we deal with the modern medium for communication, such as the cell phone; and the fact that it now represents an intelligent device used for business, for example mobile payments using the cell phone system; • How do communities behave in a world of substantially large social networks with memberships that reflect the size of nation states – how do you market to these communities. These are some of the challenges that require solutions. Therefore, if university budgets are slashed, as we have seen, it requires that the private sector begin a process of investing in universities – in endowments, in sponsored research. And, this does not only mean large institutions; but, also small and medium sized enterprises need to be embraced by the universities; and they, too, need to promote the university as an important part of the solution to the challenges that business experience. The universities also need to showcase to organisations and persons how they can directly impact the outcome of these entities, while building a body of knowledge and research that will be useful for years to come. 2. The second suggestion to confront the challenges is to create a more hospitable environment to facilitate growth and change. Professor Paul Romer, Senior Fellow, Stanford Centre for International Development at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, in his presentation at the Planning Institute of Jamaica 2009 Dialogue for Development Lecture Series, said that we need to create a more hospitable environment for people and for capital … and in the context of Jamaica, we must ensure that with the challenges being experienced, we are truly hospitable to people.
And, the universities and the business community must also realise that being truly hospitable means addressing those legislative issues that have resulted in us receiving scores of 75 out of 183 on the Ease of Doing Business in Jamaica index. We also have to address the issue of human rights and the value which is embodied in each individual as a determinant of economic growth. So we need to not only declare a Bill of Rights, but also to practice the Bill of Rights. And so, Jamaica must find space – true space – to encourage great talent from around the world into the island. For its part, this university should: • Embrace international academics on sabbatical training … • Encourage foreign investment of persons into Jamaica … • Encourage peoples of all types to come to Jamaica to live and work, so that the imbalance which we may have for a time – in terms of competent, qualified persons to address all the challenges – can be dealt with. In this post-commodity era, it is no longer about what’s on the ground or at the plant, but it is about attracting great knowledge workers, so that together, with their ideas and the appropriate capital, we can create an environment where businesses can confront challenges and successfully solve them. 3. My third suggestion is Advocacy. As business leaders and participants in the economy, we must all begin to understand the importance and the power of advocacy in shaping and framing public policy. It is unfortunate that there are only a few voices that speak up on issues impacting on our businesses and communities. For instance: • Sharing information through a clearing house, and this can help to shape public policy in important areas such as international foreign policy and trade; • Availability and access to financing at appropriate rates for young graduates and people with startup businesses; • Change in laws such as the Bankruptcy Act which, as currently framed, does not encourage persons to try new things at which they may fail and start again; and • The right kind of public policy and management to ensure that the country has the appropriate level of national security, and thereby reduce crime. I believe if we focus on these three areas:
• Fostering greater levels of investment in research and support for universities… • Creating an enabling environment to facilitate growth and change • Understanding the importance and power of advocacy… Then, we can truly confront some of the challenges that face us; and be very successful…despite the environment in which we now find ourselves. I’d like to close with another case study about being successful in the face of challenges. This time it is our micro finance company, JN Small Business Loans Limited. The Case for JN Small Business Loan I recall that when we made the decision to venture into lending in the small business sector ten years ago… it was, in part, in response to the needs of a member. We acquired the micro credit loan portfolio of a commercial bank from the Financial Services Adjustment Company (FINSAC) – and my organization saw this move into small business lending as a natural step in our bid to widen the range of services to our members. Of course there was some concern from our directors, as well as in the financial sector, about the Society moving away from its core business of savings and mortgage…into this area of lending. This, of course, was in light of the experience of several financial institutions that had over extended themselves, and which brought about the establishment of FINSAC. However, we acquired the loan portfolio and sought the expertise of other entities in laying the foundation that was needed to establish JN Small Business Loans. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was instrumental in providing us with the necessary technical support for the start up and insight into similar operations in other countries. They also assisted us to expand the business and implement relevant technologies. They also provided us with credit guarantees for high risk lending to inner city communities. And the Government of Jamaica, through the Development Bank of Jamaica, also facilitated credit guarantees and financing. The results of this experiment with JN Small Business Loans Limited have been phenomenal; and today, it is regarded as among the best microfinance entities in this hemisphere. When the company began operations in October 2000, we acquired a loan portfolio of just over 2,000 loans valued at $37.9 million. To date, JNSBL has granted more than 187,000 loans with a value of some $7.35 billion. More importantly, it has created or maintained some 47,000 jobs in the manufacturing, distributive, transport, agriculture, and the service and communication sectors. And we are proud that some 74% of the loans are accessed by women – with the majority of our clients falling in the 31 to 60 age range.
The formation of JN Small Business Loans provided us at Jamaica National with the opportunity to confront some business challenges by investing in a new area; creating an enabling environment for business to thrive; and advocating for small business persons by providing them with affordable and accessible credit. Each one of us can confront the challenges to business development in the region by recognising and highlighting the challenges as you have done; and taking the necessary steps to deal with them in a positive way. Thank you.