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“It’s all about who you know”. That was the advice given to Howard Bulkan as he contemplated starting up a new lumber mill in his native Guyana. Howard agreed, but surprised his well-meaning advisors by looking outward to potential customers rather than internally to well-connected bureaucrats and bankers. Even before he produced a single product, Howard spent a year traveling the Caribbean and meeting with potential customers, finding out what products were most in demand and building his business relationships. This way when he returned and started Bulkan Timber Works with a small loan of $30,000 USD from a local bank, he had an excellent idea of what he should and should not do. Today Bulkan Timber Works employs 37 highly skilled workers. Howard’s clear customer-focus has enabled him to build a thriving company that continues to adapt its product offering of wood mouldings to meet the evolving needs of his clients. In short, Howard chose to get to know his customers.
Howard’s focus on his customers sets him apart from the “run-of-the-mill” lumber company in Guyana, which too often has little knowledge of customer needs resulting in low-value added exports like raw logs or basic lumber. For example, of the dozens of companies within the wood-industry in Guyana, Howard’s is one of only three that have a kiln for drying wood, which is the first basic step in adding significant value to the wood. The lack of value-added processing means that Guyana is failing to capture much of the value of its natural resources, and will continue to struggle to increase its skills-base and develop economically. Business as usual in Guyana will make tomorrow look remarkably like today; that is, unless outwardly focused entrepreneurs like Howard have something to say about it.
Pioneers of Prosperity
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The Pioneers of Prosperity program has selected its country level winners and honorable mentions. These firms were selected from a pool of 580 applicants across seven countries: The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Winners were selected based on the uniqueness of their business model, their role model potential, and that their firms are creating prosperity in their community by:
- Creating unique value for their customers through innovative products and/or services;
- Generating a sustainable profit for owners/shareholders commensurate with risks;
- Investing in training employees, safe work conditions, and high and rising salaries; and
- Protecting the future by strengthening local/global environments/communities.
Pioneers of Prosperity believes that COW-F model companies, through their actions, investments, and capacity to create prosperity, are the ultimate agents of economic change in emerging economies.
The winners and honorable mentions are as follows (by country):
The Bahamas Winner(s)
Caribbean Civil Group
CEO: Ray McKenzie
A civil engineering firm which offers public and private sector clients world-class expertise, local knowledge, and a superior client focus on transportation and infrastructure projects.
Management Team: Elizabeth and Christopher Cupples
Trinity Homes Ltd. offers the middle-class in Barbados quality tailored housing that is within their budget. Trinity Homes offers customers a “one-stop-shop” by walking them through the entire process of building a home: from design, initial government approval, contracting, construction, to final government approval.
CEO: Devin Griffith
G&A is as a full-service marketing/advertising and public relations agency that offers strategy, advertising, branding & design, media, direct marketing, e-marketing, public relations to the Caribbean. G&A offers services to domestic, regional and international clients through a web of skilled partners in different markets.
Hummingbird Group Ltd.
CEO: Robert Lopez
Hummingbird Furniture Ltd. produces high-end bamboo, wicker, rattan, and poly-resin furniture. Nearly all of its furniture is sold within Belize to resorts, and to tourists who are furnishing second homes. The company has showrooms in the tourist centers of Palencia and San Pedro, and a factory & showroom in the capital, Belmopan.
The Lodge at Chaa Creek
CEO: Mick and Lucy Fleming
The Lodge at Chaa Creek provides adventure travel experiences for eco-tourists, offering numerous opportunities to “get back to nature” on its 365 acre nature reserve.
Bulkan Timber Works Inc.
CEO: Howard Bulkan
Bulkan Timber Works (BTW) was founded in 1997 by Howard Bulkan to provide house building materials including wall cladding, tongue & groove flooring, wall studs and rafters, to clients across the Caribbean.
CEO: Tony Thorne
Wilderness Explorers was founded in 1994 to bring “long haul, long stay” travelers to Guyana for the express purpose of tourism. The company is an in-bound tour operator in Guyana that arranges all of the domestic, on-the-ground logistics for tour groups traveling to the country from abroad.
Alternative Insurance Company
CEO: Olivier Barrau
Alternative Insurance Company (AIC) was established in 2001 by Olivier Barrau in response to his frustration as an insurance agent at the lack of insurance products adapted to the local market. The company’s portfolio includes automobile, health, commercial, homeowners and life insurance products, as well as microinsurance and funeral insurance aimed at Haitians earning less than $4 a day.
CEO: Kurt Jean-Charles
Kurt Jean-Charles started Solutions S.A. in 2001 to provide customized software and database solutions as well as conceive and implement information systems.
CEO: Mathias Pierre
GaMa Consulting S.A. was founded in 1998 to provide consulting on information services and subsequently became well known for its GaMa PC Service. Building on its success, in 2006, GaMa opened a retail outlet selling desktop and laptop computers from HP, Toshiba, Gateway & Dell, as well as servers, routers, printers, digital cameras and cell phones.
Totally Male Limited
CEO: Sandra Samuels
Totally Male Limited (TML), a niche market company founded in 1994, offers Jamaican professional men with a full aesthetic upgrading experience, ranging from nailcare and barbering to etiquette lessons and clothing makeovers.
CEO: Silburn Clarke
Spatial Innovision (“Spatial”), founded in 1998, positions itself in the Caribbean as 1) a reseller of land mapping technology 2) a systems implementation company for land mapping and surveying infrastructure and 3) a consulting company that can interpret and analyze complex spatial data trends for clients (e.g. to plan product distribution strategy or disaster recovery relief needs).
Mocking Bird Hill HotelCEO: Barbara Walker and Shireen Aga
Mocking Bird Hill Hotel is an “eco-chic” boutique bed & breakfast that seeks to set an international example of profitable eco- and community tourism.
Trinidad & Tobago Winner(s)
Analytical Technologies (ATL)
ATL is a private industrial lab and environmental remediation consulting firm which primarily serves the petrochemicals industry of Trinidad. ATL also offers its clients additional support, such as outsourced lab technicians that can work on their premises and advisory services that will help clients with quality assurance procedures.
CEO: Kama Maharaj
Sacha Cosmetics, a premium make-up brand that caters to “exotic” or ethnic skins, was founded in Trinidad in 1979.
Pioneers of Prosperity is now preparing for the final awards ceremony, to be held in Montego Bay Jamaica on Friday, September 11th, 2009; the event will be presided over by Prime Minister Bruce Golding of Jamaica. At this time, the Grand Prize Winner of the Caribbean competition will be selected, sostay tuned!
At the same time, we are also preparing to launch the Pioneers of Prosperity Central America competition in Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama; we will provide more information on this region as it becomes available.
As always, you can reach us through the comments section or send us your questions at email@example.com.
- Julie Kennedy
Program Director, Pioneers of Prosperity,
Central America & the Caribbean
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Today marked the close of the second round of the Pioneers of Prosperity Caribbean competition. Around 175 applicants (out of the 580 applicants in the first round) across the seven countries of the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have continued on through the second round of the competition. The second round of the competition, which included eight short essay questions and twenty five multiple choice questions, challenged the applicants to think critically about the strength and the uniqueness of their business model, as well as how they, as entrepreneurs, are creating prosperity in their community, be it locally or internationally.
The Pioneers of Prosperity team will be reviewing these applications in the next two weeks. Applicants will be notified by early May about invitations to participate in a phone interview; approximately 40 to 50 firms will move on to this third round. In the meantime, we invite you to join our Facebook page and to check back here as we further explore “what makes a Pioneer of Prosperity”.
As always, you can reach us through the comments section or send us your questions firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Julie Kennedy
Program Director Pioneers of Prosperity,
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Last month, the Economist magazine featured a special report on entrepreneurship. The mere fact that the Economist, a weekly news magazine known for bringing insight to the most pressing and most salient international current events , chose to focus on entrepreneurship is a testament to the important changes happening in the business environment right now.
Yet, it is no surprise that entrepreneurship is once again attracting attention. With each day that another company announces lay-offs, many competent and recently unemployed individuals retreat to coffee shops to plug in their laptops and start tinkering away at that business they have been pondering for months (or perhaps years). According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unemployed people in the United States grew by 5.3 million over the past twelve months, with nearly 700,000 new people declaring themselves unemployed in just the last month. In Belize , where the unemployment rate hovers around 12%, nearly one quarter of employable youth (24%) do not have formal jobs. In Trinidad and Tobago , the economists have sounded the alarms that unemployment in some sectors could climb to as high as 40-60%.
Many new businesses will spring out of venture capital hubs such as Silicon Valley and Boston, or from the metropolitan areas hit hardest by the banking crises and the automobile manufacturing collapse, such as New York City and Detroit. In fact, many of the global businesses we consider today to be great successes started out during recessionary times, such as Burger King, CNN, GE, Lexis Nexis, Microsoft, MTV networks, and Sports Illustrated.
While many of the past and current globally successful businesses were started in the US, Europe and East Asia, increasingly, entrepreneurial ventures will emerge from other regions of the world, such as Latin America, Africa and South Asia. Accessible and affordable technology, such as mobile phones and the internet, has democratized economic opportunities to an unprecedented level. It is for this reason that we here at Pioneers of Prosperity feel that there is no better time than now to be an entrepreneur, whether you are in Port au Prince or Port of Spain.
According to the Economist , “The globalization of entrepreneurship is raising the competitive stakes for everyone, particularly in the rich world. Entrepreneurs can now come from almost anywhere…And many of them can reach global markets from the day they open their doors, thanks to the falling costs of communications.” The competition for ideas, for customers and for profits has intensified, and those with the most innovative models and lowest cost structures will be those nimble enough to capture the market. The current global economy is opening up opportunities for innovative businesses already in existence in emerging markets to have a greater foothold in the global economy.
While the Pioneers of Prosperity Caribbean program is focused on seven countries (The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago), the program’s impact will be far wider and deeper than these seven countries. The entrepreneurs that win the Pioneers of Prosperity awards will not only change the way people think about business in the Caribbean, they will change the way business is done across the world.
- Abby Noble
Pioneers of Prosperity
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Key business publications have been discussing innovation, emerging market SMEs, and enterprise solutions to poverty. These articles will be of interest to POP participants, offering ideas of how to think differently about your business from an innovation standpoint, and also the impact your work can have on the local and national economy.
A recent article from Businessweek.com highlights thoughts from C.K. Prahalad, author of The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits on “trickle-up innovation.” Trickle-up Innovation is another way of saying that emerging market SMEs are often leading the way with cutting-edge products that could have a place in markets such as the U.S. or Europe. A great example of this is the significant leaps made in cell phone technology in emerging markets to use for activities such as banking, sharing market information, and even using cell phone credits as the basis for other economic transactions. Some of Prahalad’s other differentiating points of innovation include reduced price points through efficient and creative manufacturing, and ‘service ecosystems’ formed from networks of entrepreneurs who band together in unlikely partnerships (such as using a video game café to test a new identity verification software) in order to meet costs or scale offerings.
Another recent Businessweek piece by reporter Steve Hamm) discusses the launch of ANDE: the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, a coalition of organizations interested in working with SMES through investment and other forms of support (the SEVEN Fund is a founding member of ANDE). A study commissioned by ANDE makes some interesting observations about the potential impact of SMEs on developing economies: “The study results also show that investments in small businesses can have ripple effects that positively impact the local economy, including wage increases, improved quality and prices of goods, increased tax revenues for governments, and development of the social infrastructure. The average economic rate of return (including all of those factors) for 10 case studies was 83%, while the average financial return to the company that received the investment was 26%. That’s a pretty impressive pay off for companies and their communities.”
Fast Company’s Jeff Chu wrote the article “Rwanda Rising: A New Model of Developmenthttp://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/134/special-report-rwanda-rising.html)” discusses how that nation has eschewed traditional foreign aid, and is instead building a network of influential friends and advocates (including the CEOs of Costco and Starbucks; Former British prime minister Tony Blair; Pastor Rick Warren; and many others) to help advance Rwanda’s economic agenda. This innovative model leverages a clear vision, a sense of mutual benefit, and a “heretical mix” of business strategy and culture to drive economic growth, rather than charity, silver bullets, or donor whims. SMEs and entrepreneurs in all sectors have played a key role in that nation’s transformation. Chu writes: ” Just as the Asian Tigers arose as export-led, middle-income economies in the 20th century, Rwanda wants to become the African Gorilla in the 21st.”
Have you read any good articles on these topics recently?
Please share them with us in the comments!
- Elizabeth Hooper
The Seven Fund
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In a forthcoming essay in In the River They Swim: Essays from Around the World on Enterprise Solutions to Poverty, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda writes:
Recently, I spoke to a young person on the streets of Kigali. I asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He said he wanted to start his own business and move into the private sector. This is wonderful news. I felt as if I knew this young man by the height of his ambitions. It is very exciting and interesting that people are beginning to think like that young man; indeed, it shows the shifting in mindset away from when people thought the only jobs they could do were with the government.”
The shift that President Kagame discusses is in part about changing the images associated with entrepreneurs, the private sector, and businesspeople. This shift is taking place in the media, in classrooms, and in the hearts and minds of people determining the direction of their lives. What inspires a child to aspire to a place in the local business community, or lights the fire that drives an entrepreneur to risk everything, in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, to follow a dream and bring a product or service to market? It often begins with a role-model. Finding and telling the stories of people who tried, failed, tried again, and ultimately found success, is a core piece of our mission.
Pioneers of Prosperity was founded on the idea that innovation and dynamic business models can exist in even the most challenging environments, and these firms can serve as role-models of success University of Toronto psychologist Penelope Lockwood, and research partner Ziva Kunda, frequently write and research on the topic of role models. In a paper called “Superstars and Me: Predicting the Impact of Role Models on Self “, the researchers conclude that that role-models are most likely to “provoke self-enhancement and inspiration when their success seems attainable.” Stated plainly, we are most inspired by role-models like ourselves. The most powerful role-models reflect something that resonates with us on a direct and personal level. They come from the same places, have struggled against the same odds, and speak the same language. We look at their stories, and imagine ourselves years into the future, as having walked a similar path and reached our own goals.
- Elizabeth Hooper
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Today we want to explore networking and the entrepreneur, which is an important topic for many of the firms that participate in Pioneers of Prosperity (POP). Networking is a critical activity for those in business, especially for entrepreneurs. However, there are a couple key problems with building networks. First, according to Mike Macedonio of the Referral Institute, a serious active networker spends eight hours a week on networking events, online networking, meeting with referrals, and other networking activity — and that works out to 400 hours per year or 20% of a professional’s annual working time. The second is that most networkers do not have a clear idea on the benefits of their specific efforts due to not having a clear plan, concrete goals and a full understanding of the benefits they seek. As a result, networking is often underutilized, particularly for important yet non-urgent issues. As the POP participants are typically young companies (less than 10 years), networking is a key activity for keeping their business models in a high growth mode. These firms use networks to address their most critical and urgent issues: developing and maintaining a customer base, accessing capital, and building a competent staff. Some are more successful at addressing these issues than others. But few use networks to address other, less urgent but still vitally important issues. Yet addressing these “important but not urgent” issues can often provide huge payoffs to firms that aggressively network. Potential benefits for those with a broader networking mandate include sharing market approaches where partnerships create innovations for cross-industry solutions; reducing outsourcing costs – such as for joint procurement or insurance; staff training and hosting thought leaders for senior management; and best practice sharing for non-core competencies. The Pioneers of Prosperity program helps finalist firms build the networks they need to address both urgent and strategically important issues. The organizers host meetings to introduce entrepreneurs to financiers, thought leaders, and each other. Some encounters have even generated sales. The finalist firms themselves are some of the more innovative firms in their region – and meet periodically to discuss their challenges and solutions, and often share best practices with unusual innovations. The group will continue to grow over time and may create odd scale opportunities for training, purchasing, and more. These POP stars from various regions will have the opportunity to leverage this global network to reap deeper awards – without wasting time and with a clear understanding of what the network can offer. Perhaps most significantly, it will allow the group an opportunity to use networking to address the important strategic issues that are often over-looked. As part of the POP program, we will continue to develop tools and events that help facilitate SMEs to plan for and benefit from the kind of strategic networking discussed in this blog.
- Mike Brennan, Seven Fund
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We’ve been asked on many occasions why Pioneers of Prosperity focuses specifically on for-profit companies, and within the private sector, on the SME segment. We’re using today’s blog to take a deeper dive into the importance of SMEs to a nation’s economic growth.
SMEs that are willing to accept third party capital investments in order to grow can have dramatic economic impact in their communities. This is the main thrust of a 2007 report published by SEAF ” From Poverty to Prosperity: Understanding the Impact of Investing in Small and Medium Enterprises “.
The report also states that “Investing in SMEs can result in significant economic development and poverty alleviation.” This is good news for individual SMEs targeting high growth rates, and for organizations and individuals looking for high-impact mechanisms to stimulate prosperity in emerging markets. The report, which looked at a series of case studies, goes on to highlight a number of interesting points:
Multiplier effect: Every dollar invested in an SME generates an additional twelve dollars in the local community. An average of 41% of the twelve dollars benefited stakeholders outside the enterprise itself – consumers, competitors, suppliers, or local government.
Investment in workers: 85% of the companies surveyed provided formal training to their workers.
Building local business networks through supplier relationships: Each SME studied supported an average of 331 other local businesses through sourcing inputs and related services. Many of these were micro-producers, farmers, and others where the commercial activity directly benefited the poor.
Investing in the future: SMEs make valuable contributions to their communities—as a percentage of revenues, these contributions were comparable with Fortune 100 companies.
SEAF’s report confirms the foundational theory that PoP is built upon: identifying and investing in SMEs has the potential to transform local economies. High-growth SMEs, particularly when catalyzed through investments, create benefits for customers, owners, workers, and invest in the public good for future generations.
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Management guru Steven Covey says that “opportunity exists in the space between events and how we react to them.” It’s in this “space” that we make the choices that ultimately guide our actions and determine outcomes. It’s also in this space that mindsets, or mental models*, come into play.
In this next installment of “What Makes a Pioneer of Prosperity”, we’d like to explore a key differentiating feature of the PoP entrepreneur: mindset. The choices we make are guided by the beliefs, norms, and values we hold – in short, by “mental models.” Our mental models impact everything – including how we run businesses, and think about big concepts such as strategy, competitiveness, and prosperity. Mental models include both general notions about how the world works, and specific ideas of how to react in certain situations.
Two things in particular are interesting about mental models. First, research has shown that certain mindsets are either pro- or anti-innovation (see the body of work by Lawrence Harrison at Tufts University for a good primer ) In other words, some ways of thinking about the world and attaching meaning to your life (and thus, the actions you take) are either good or bad for business. Second, mental models are not fixed – they are ever-changing as we encounter new ideas and experiences. Changing mental models can be the fastest way to create prosperity – take for example Singapore, Ireland, and India. Each of these nations has become an economic success story, and made significant strides toward eradicating poverty for its citizens. This success was achieved in large part by changing mindsets think about competition, business, leadership, and free markets. By changing their mental models, these nations redefined the rules by which they engaged with global markets and took control of their own economic destinies.
Harrison’s work (and others) demonstrates that prosperity is correlated with positive human values – for example, trust, a tolerance for others unlike yourself, a belief in competition. Does prosperity create the conditions in which these values thrive, or do these values enable the conditions necessary for prosperity to be built? We would say both.
*”Mental Models” is a concept developed by Kenneth Craik in 1948, and was brought into management literature in the 1980s by Chris Argyris and then Peter Senge. It was originally brought into the development literature and developed by Michael Fairbanks, who conceived the idea of POP, and has since been developed and refined throughout OTF Group projects around the world.
- Elizabeth Hooper
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The deadline for applications for Pioneers of Prosperity Caribbean drew to a close today, March 23rd, in seven countries including Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Close to 600 small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) from across the region applied to become the next round of Pioneers of Prosperity winners. In recent weeks, a number of articles have continued to discuss the program, and the impact it hopes to have in the region. The Tribune in the Bahamas wrote an interesting article on the “missing middle” phenomenon.
The Pioneers of Prosperity team would like to take a moment to thank the individual firms and entrepreneurs that took the time to apply to the program, and to our partners who helped us reach out to the business communities in these countries. We’re delighted with the number of applications, and look forward to finding ways to engage these firms in our network moving forward.
In the coming weeks, the PoP team will be evaluating the applications received and inviting a number of firms to the next phase of the program. The next phase will allow us to learn more about the companies, business practices, and mindsets of a group of semi-finalists. Companies that are invited to participate in the next stage will be notified by April 1, 2009. In the meantime, we invite you to check back at the blog as we further explore What Makes a Pioneer of Prosperity?, and to reach out to us through the comments or send us your questions email@example.com.
- Julie Kennedy, Regional Director of Pioneers of Prosperity, Caribbean