“Give your servant therefore an understanding mind” – 1 Kings 3:9

It has been recognised for over at least a decade that the changing international environment and its impact on traditional trading and business patterns in the Caribbean region are forcing policy makers to examine those traditional patterns. It should also be driving regional economies towards the diversification of their export base and development of new activities.

In the period 1999 -2000, as consultant to the Caribbean Development Bank, I coordinated workshops in 12 CDB borrowing member countries to identify the constraints to successful economic development as perceived by a wide range of stakeholders in those countries and to propose specific drivers for business success, which could alleviate these constraints and improve the competitiveness of a new economic dispensation. 

The seven critical drivers, which were identified, at that time, as being essential for business success in the region are summarised as follows: (1) Generate new business ideas or re-engineer existing ideas to diversify global niche market trading ; (2) Mobilise seed capital to convert ideas into full business plans: (3) Match plans with stakeholders to augment deal-flow; (4) Syndicate grant and equity funding to appropriately capitalise the business ; (5) Mentor the management team to strengthen the understanding of business systems; (6) Promote the business health care concept to enhance chances of business success; and (7) Advocate public sector support to complement the enabling environment.

In 2007, these drivers were encapsulated into three components (ideas with the DNA of an Elephant, the shepherding process to mitigate the risk of failure, and quick response seed and venture capital funds to provide timely access to appropriate finance for each enterprise) and the mix is now promoted as the CBET Shepherding Model™.

Last week I had an interesting chat with the study team leader of a World Bank and InfoDev funded study to assess the demand for, and to determine the feasibility of, business incubators in the Caribbean. He had requested a meeting to meet with me in order to discuss our experience with, and views of, business incubation and other forms of support to start-ups and emerging enterprises. His project, The Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC) is a joint CIDA,  World Bank and InfoDev initiative designed to create and grow competitive micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) across the Caribbean region by, inter alia, using business incubation to provide a sustainable suite of services for start-up entrepreneurs compromising advisory services, mentorship, and access to infrastructure.

His mandate is to prepare a Caribbean Incubation Needs Assessment & Feasibility Study with three components:  (1) assess the needs of the entrepreneurial community in the Caribbean with special attention to sectors that are likely to have a high impact on employment and competitiveness; (2) examine the models through which those entrepreneurial constraints might be overcome to maximize start-up success; (3) conduct preliminary feasibility analysis of those models.

He was made aware that over 12 years ago I had tackled the same basic problem that is now the remit of his project “The Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean” and that I had designed a solution for small island states and emerging nations which is called the CBET Shepherding Model™.  He was advised that the major constraint was to secure a source of Venture Capital funds.

We had a very interesting discussion in which he referred to experience in designing incubation solutions in much larger, albeit emerging, countries and admitted that there could be the temptation to apply the solutions proposed in these countries directly to the Caribbean environment without paying careful attention to the local nuances that might plague the chances of sustainable success.

These classical incubation solutions consist of programmes designed to support the successful development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services, developed and orchestrated by incubator management and offered both in the incubator and through its network of contacts.

I pointed out that major peculiarities in the Caribbean are that there is no regional government, rather several disparate and protective national Governments, and that the countries are separated by bodies of water and hence travel logistics is very time consuming and expensive.

The Shepherding Model has its genesis in dialogue with the stakeholders; it is focused on hand holding, dynamic interactive dialogue, experiential training and anecdotal exchanges; it is enterprise specific; it promises to mitigate the risk of business failure on an enterprise by enterprise basis by adopting the 25 cell Management of Business Matrix™ approach.

After hearing of the process and experience which has led to the CBET Shepherding Model™ he concluded the meeting by admitting that he is most likely to be in touch soon again to discuss presumably classical “Incubation” versus “Shepherding” which is solution specific to small states and emerging nations like the Caribbean.

When Solomon met God face to face in a dream shortly after becoming king, he had the opportunity to ask for anything God might give him. His only request was for “an understanding mind” – the ability to discern right choices in governing his people.

If development aid is going to have a lasting impact on the developing world, then all we ask is that the donors have an understanding mind which implies the capacity for wise insight and spiritual perspective. This allows us to choose which thoughts we hold in mind, which words we speak, which actions we take. I am reminded of a quote from Albert Einstein: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”