Happy International Women’s Day- Breaking the Bias

Today the Caribbean Export team joins the rest of the world in celebrating International Women’s Day.

Each year people recognise IWD on March the 8th to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and call to action the acceleration of equality.

This year’s theme #BreakTheBias asks us to stop and imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. Imagine a world that is not only diverse and equitable, but is also inclusive, where differences are valued and celebrated.

Can you image what that looks like? And what can you do to squash the stereotypes and #breakthebias ?

Caribbean Export team members- Dominican Republic office

Bias can happen deliberately or unconsciously and can make it difficult for women to move ahead. Knowing it exits isn’t enough, and as individuals we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions. But how can we take action to create a level playing field?

In 2018 we launched the Women Empowered through Export (WE-Xport) programme to support women led businesses to start exporting or increase their exports and since then the Agency has adopted a gender streamlining methodology to ensure there is a fair representation of women-owned businesses participating in our programmes and initiatives. In fact, women are ensuring they leverage the opportunities made available by Caribbean Export and the European Union, and last year approximately 60% of those participating in our online workshops were women.

This together with 26% of our Technical Assistance Programme (TAP) grant awardee businesses being headed by women is very encouraging. Caribbean women-owned businesses are getting the access to support they need.

Women continue to play a vital role in all aspects of our Caribbean society, and we are committed to supporting the development of women businesses today and every day.

Introducing St Vincent Fashion Designer Christal Oliver, Founder of Olive Art Designs

Young Caribbean fashion designer and entrepreneur Christal Oliver describes herself as “creative, industrious, and witty”.

She could also add “resilient” to that list after managing to keep her small accessories business operational for the past 12 years despite severe disruptions caused by tropical storms, a global pandemic, and the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano on her home island of St Vincent.

Christal and her small enterprise have been understandably shaken by these recent events and she admits that it is currently “a struggle” to keep going while everything remains so uncertain.

She is also dealing with a major change in her personal life after becoming a first-time mother in October 2020 to a baby boy called Zephan.

“I am 16 months into motherhood (post-delivery),” Christal says. “So, that has been a major readjustment for me personally.

“There were times I heavily questioned the way forward. What do I do with the business? Do I work alone or continue as is? Do I change the products? Do I consider design and trade, instead of designing, producing, and selling?

“So, I’m just trying to restructure, and basically start over, or even rebrand, but even that has been difficult. The future is just so much more uncertain these days”.

As a fledgling business owner, Christal has obviously faced many uncertainties before. In fact, even though she started on the road to entrepreneurship from early on in life, she was actually considering becoming a pediatrician or a chef.

“Entrepreneurship was never in my mind,” Christal explains. “But, since I was young, I’ve always been making or selling something, or hand sewing some random craft project.

“Then in late 2009, I was working as a lab technician at my alma mater (the St. Vincent Girls’ High School). During the downtime, because I couldn’t find any bags in Kingstown that matched my needs and taste, I decided to buy all the material and make a bag myself. The finished product got many compliments and it got me thinking. I made a small investment in a domestic Singer sewing machine, and that’s what led to me finding a way to turn my passion into income and opportunities.”

Christal had found her calling and says she never saw designing or sewing as “work” but initially she only sold her creations to friends and family.

“The start of the business wasn’t grand at all,” she recalls. “I just experimented with fabrics and designs and practiced. I would tear apart existing bags to figure things out. I also did a lot of reading and researching and sold most of the final products to people close to me.

“I even had a challenging time coming up with a name!”.

Olive Art Designs (OAD) was the one she eventually chose; utilising her own surname as inspiration. At the start, OAD was a slow-burning passion project but after 2017, when Christal decided to commit to the business full-time, it steadily grew it into a distinctly Vincentian brand with a reputation for superior design, attention to detail, and exceptional quality.

Christal’s influence on her island as an aspirational entrepreneur also advanced over the years, and was further underpinned in 2019 when she won the inaugural Invest SVG ‘Pitch it Vincy’ initiative, with the help of the Caribbean Export Development Agency, which assisted her through workshops.

Christal describes that experience as “one of the proudest achievements” in her life so far. She adds: “This journey has not been easy but it has been a lot of fun. I’ve learned a lot of lessons and there’s some I’m still learning.”

Right now, Christal is continuing to settle into her role as a new mum, and keeps her finger on the pulse with her other occupation as a morning radio co-host on the ‘Wake Up Call’ on Xtreme 104.3FM.

Christal says she loves being a radio personality because it’s a “really fun but challenging job”.

She states: “Although the shift is only four hours long, there is a lot of talk. Being on the radio gives me the opportunity to air my views, to understand our people better, and to make a positive impact. It’s a really exciting job that adds to my personal and professional growth.”

In terms of Olive Art Designs, Christal is hopeful that by repositioning the business, and utilising new avenues for marketing and exposure, as well as revenue, she will be able to keep the brand fresh and exciting for her and her customers.

Currently, Christal employs one person on a “needs-only basis” but has plans to expand and improve productivity and increase regional exports. She pivoted into producing facemasks because of the COVID-19 pandemic and says that transition taught her the importance of keeping an open mind.

Christal adds: “It wasn’t all bad because as there was a reduced demand for one product, demand for other products increased, so it was just a matter of shifting focus really.

“The trouble with the pandemic was all the uncertainty it came with, of what was to come, and the constant repositioning. But I’m happy for the hands-on experience it gave me, especially in terms of figuring out what things are really important in life and business, and which businesses, or even models, are more vulnerable and how to best position yourself for any eventuality.”

And Christal has this advice for would-be Caribbean entrepreneurs.

“Your mindset can be the difference between success and failure, so be patient and persistent.”

She adds: “Sign up with your local business support organisation and take short courses if necessary, or take advantage of workshops, even if they look like they don’t apply to you. Never stop learning. There’s always something to learn.

“Be passionate about what you’re doing because that will give you an extra push when you feel like giving up. Plan and write down your goals so that you can measure your progress and success. Be creative and keep moving forward.”

Finding the Right Solution: Gidden Augustin, Managing Director of IT Consulting Company ‘islandTEK’

St Lucian entrepreneur Gidden Augustin always dreamed of starting his own company after growing up on his parents’ farm and seeing his father manage the family business.

Gidden initially considered a career as an architect but was “bitten by the IT bug” after completing his ‘A’ Levels in 1992 and landing his first job at Caribbean conglomerate J.Q. Charles Ltd.

“J.Q. Charles was the second largest enterprise in St Lucia at the time after the government,” Gidden recalls.

“I worked in the fledgling IT department and helped to create and deploy the first Point-of-Sale system while we were computerising our processes and moving over from the old-fashioned cash registers. I had a good boss who inspired me, working with him really got me interested in IT.”

Four years later, Gidden left his job to study Computer Science at the University of West Indies. He graduated with first class honours in 1999 and returned to J.Q. Charles as a Systems Administrator while building up his IT consultancy portfolio.

“I actually drew the logo for my business when I was still employed at J.Q. Charles because I knew that I did not want to spend my whole life being an employee,” Gidden says.

“I was doing consultancy as a side business until 2005 when I went off on my own. I have to say that the first six months were rough, because I did not have an established client base, and I regularly asked myself “what was I thinking?”. But eventually I got more clients through word-of-mouth.”

Fast Facts

• The ICT market is forecast to be worth over $5 trillion dollars (US) in 2021, and almost $6 trillion (US) by 2023 (Statista.com).

• The value of ICT services’ exports worldwide reached $676 billion (US) in 2020 (UNCTAD.org).

• The ICT market is typically defined to encompass technologies related to both computer and telephone networks, along with relevant software, hardware and services (Statista.com).

• ICT services grew to almost 14% of total services’ exports worldwide in 2020 (UNCTAD.org).

• The 2017 ICT Development Index compiled by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), ranked St. Kitts and Nevis as the most technologically advanced country in the Caribbean region.

Gidden slowly built up a reputation for excellence through personal recommendations and officially registered his company, called ‘islandTEK’, in 2011.

Some of islandTEK’s main services include wired and wireless network design; PBX system design; CCTV installation and maintenance; onsite and remote IT support; PC maintenance and repairs; and IT and project management consultancy.

Gidden, and his two part-time employees, aim to supply customers with “high quality, value-added technology solutions that enhance their productivity and competitiveness, and drive strategic business growth.”

He adds: “We provide a service package that is custom-made and tailored to the clients’ specific needs. Part of our ethos is that we do not compete on price but we compete on quality. So, we are not the cheapest but when we offer a solution it’s for life. It’s a permanent solution; not a stop gap.”

Over the years, Gidden has worked with large and small residential and commercial clients, government departments, and international agencies.

One of his proudest achievements to date was serving as a consultant IT manager for the International Cricket Council (ICC) at the 2007 Cricket World Cup and the 2010 World T20 Cup in St Lucia. The St Lucia Ministry of Agriculture, St Lucia Distillers Ltd, and the Saint Lucia Air & Sea Ports Authority are also listed among some of islandTEK’s customers.

Gidden’s long-term goal is to position islandTEK as “the go-to, high-end IT services company in the region”. He also aims to enhance his export capabilities after attending various workshops hosted by the Caribbean Export Development Agency, including the ‘Services Go Global (SGG) programme,’ which empowered him to “rethink my vision for the company and create a draft export plan”.

In 2018, Gidden was selected by Caribbean Export to be part of a three-member delegation from St Lucia to attend the 8th Annual ALES Convention in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This event created networking opportunities with Latin American countries and opened his eyes to what it would take to become a global player in the ICT and services sector.

Gidden has also been involved in the INTERREG Trade Enhancement for the Eastern Caribbean (TEECA) programme which is facilitated by the Chamber of Commerce in Martinique, the OECS Commission, and Caribbean Export.

He states: “TEECA encourages businesses in the OECS to do more business with companies in the French Caribbean territories and we’re making some good connections with French companies through that programme.”

Despite a recent slowdown in large-scale projects because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gidden is hopeful that several initiatives in the pipeline will get under way in 2022. He says his short-term goal for the new year is to “get back into the black” and hire two more highly-trained employees.

Gidden’s advice to Caribbean business owners, especially during this uncertain time, is “keep the faith” and “don’t give up”.

He adds: “Always go for small wins because that keeps your morale up and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer because eventually someone will say ‘yes’!”

Caribbean needs new markets for new times

Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised its forecast for global growth in 2022, projecting a revised figure of 4.4% which is a 0.5% reduction from the estimate it made in October 2021. It is expected that the developing world will be most affected by this contraction.

This news from the IMF comes whilst the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on the global economy and wreak havoc in our region as it enters its third year. Simultaneously, the clock is ticking on action to tackle the climate crisis. The steps we take now will determine how our region will evolve in response to these urgent challenges shaping the global trade landscape.

In short, the world is changing fast and so must we. Given the clear emergence of new powerhouse economies in places like Asia, we need to create new opportunities in these new times, whilst consolidating existing markets.

Since independence, the Caribbean has relied on traditional markets for goods and services, focused largely on the United States (US), European Union (EU) and Canada. According to the International Trade Centre (ITC), the CARIFORUM Caribbean’s (CARICOM and the Dominican Republic) largest export market in 2020 was the US, with an export value of approximately US$10.583 billion, followed by the EU, valued at US$2.8 billion in the same year. We buy more than we sell in these markets, according to ITC data. Consequently, we remain acutely vulnerable to changes in the economies of these major trading partners.

It is evident that Asia is a new global growth pole, with some claiming that this is the Asian century. We have a well-established commercial relationship with China, but there are other big opportunities on the continent. For example, India, like China, belongs to the world’s largest 20 economies or the G20 group. However, our exports to India and a market of over 1.4 billion people amounted to an estimated US$413.4 million in 2020.

Similarly, Indonesia, another G20 country and the world’s fourth largest country in terms of population, with an estimated 270 million people receives a paltry US$23.8 million in exports from CARIFORUM countries, according to the ITC. Both India and Indonesia offer opportunity, as well as the lucrative Japanese market.

Rising Africa offers huge trade potential. Yet, despite historical and cultural ties, in 2020 CARIFORUM countries exported just US$595.4 million to Africa.

However, we cannot only look to non-traditional markets in Asia and Africa. We need to look right next door as well and intensify trade with neighbouring countries in Latin America. In 2020, we exported US$4.6 billion, but imported US$8.9 billion the same year. Latin America represents a good possibility for CARIFORUM exporters, particularly in the services sector, including tourism, given that Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico are also G20 countries.

There are some clear steps required to enter or grow in these new markets. For distant and large markets, we need to accept that branding as individual jurisdictions will produce sub-optimal results. Therefore, our countries need to pool resources and promote “Brand Caribbean” or goods and services that are “Absolutely Caribbean”. Having worked in both Asia and Africa, my experience is that with some exceptions, we are simply not well known as individual jurisdictions in much of Asia and Africa. A “Brand Caribbean” positions us much better.

Governments have a vital role to play in advancing the trade and investment agenda of our region. This includes a stronger focus on economic diplomacy, ensuring missions prioritise trade and investment. To make inroads in these new markets, it is essential for us to pool resources and organise joint diplomatic missions with a focus on trade and investment in these countries. The cost of having separate and individual overseas representation is just too high for most of our countries. The CARICOM decision to establish a CARICOM mission in Kenya is a good example and a step in the right direction.

At the end of the day these steps will not yield the maximum results unless we support the establishment of business-to-business linkages with these new markets. Our business support organisations such as chambers of commerce and exporters association have a valuable role to play connecting with their counterparts in Asia and Latin America. It is about businesspeople connecting with their peers. Finally, we need to ramp up our collection of data to give a more in-depth understanding of the trading opportunities in key and niche sectors.

In summary, 2022 must be the year of action. Doing nothing or more of the same cannot be an option. Our people deserve better, and our emphasis must be to create jobs and opportunities for them.

Admin Demo

2021 Annual Results Report European Launch

Following the successful regional launch of its 2021 Annual Results Report on May 5, 2022, Executive Director, Deodat Maharaj and Damie Sinanan, Manager of Competitiveness and Export Promotion travelled to Brussels to present the report. The team shared the results report with the CARIFORUM ambassadors, European Union counterparts and regional stakeholders in Brussels on May 12, 2022.

The report which presents the outcomes, results and the impact the Agency achieved during 2021 was well received by the audience in attendance.

Mr Maharaj extended thanks to Ambassador Joy-Ann Skinner and her team at the Embassy of Barbados for organizing the event which attracted a global audience. He stated, “We have received results, where they matter, on the ground improving the lives of Caribbean people thanks to the support and strong partnership of the European Union.”

Interview with Deodat Maharaj

During the mission, the team also had the opportunity to meet with HE Symone Betton-Nayo, the Jamaican ambassador to Belgium, to further discussions on support activities for the export of Blue Mountain Coffee.

Stakeholder Engagement in Trinidad & Tobago

During the week, May 9-13, 2022, a Caribbean Export team travelled to Trinidad to host a 3-day ProNET workshop focused on Export Marketing. This was the first in a series of capacity-building projects which will be held in partnership with Republic Bank Ltd. Due to its interactive nature, the workshop was limited to 16 participants and received excellent feedback from attendees.

The team also met and had fruitful discussions with Mr Harrypersad, exportTT General Manager Client Services and his team about potential joint capacity-building and trade promotion initiatives

Other highlights of the visit included meetings and site visits with several 2021 DSGP beneficiaries which were essential to fast track the review of documentation and expedite the disbursement process and meetings with the exportTT communications team.

The Caribbean Export team to Trinidad included: Natasha Edwin- Walcott- Senior Advisor- Competitiveness & Export Promotion, Tonya Cummins– Programme advisor- Grants and Deidre Brathwaite– Digital and Social Media Officer.

Chocolala, three generations of women producing cocoa products

In the community of Las Lajas, in the municipality of Altamira, Puerto Plata, five women, at the time belonging to the now defunct Ana Idalia Navarro Mothers’ Club, agreed to seek ways of generating income without having to be employed. Silvia García, Benita Canela, Milagros Marte, France Altagracia Capellán and Ana Cecilia García, decided in 1990 to sell handcrafted chocolate.

They would go from house to house to offer their cocoa balls. The profits were about 500 pesos per month (equivalent to about 38 dollars at the time), on average 100 pesos for each, an income that helped sustain their homes, and, most importantly for the women, they were able to devote time to raising their children.

After their efforts they managed to form an association, which they called Ana Idalia (Lala) Navarro, in honor of the leader and member of the former Club, through which they could generate employment and contribute to the development of the community. Prior to the first year, it received aid of 500 thousand pesos (about 3,750 dollars at the time) from the Spanish organization for development cooperation, Intermon, an affiliated of the Oxfam confederation. With this contribution they bought the land where their facilities are currently operating, and machinery: a mill to grind cocoa, a crusher and a stainless steel table. The product formerly called Ana Idalia Chocolate became Chocolala.

This economic boost strengthened production capacities and expanded the range of distribution of the cocoa balls. In addition, two other products, derived from maize (corn), were incorporated: The classic gofio (a snack made from toasted corn and ground with sugar) and gofio with cinnamon, which would later reach the gondola displays of the supermarkets of the Centro Cuesta Nacional, CCN, one of the most important commercial chains in the country.

By 2013, the number of women in the company had increased from five to 12, and its natural product portfolio totaled seven, thanks to the consultancy of the Institute of Innovation in Biotechnology and Industry, IIBI, and the economic and technical support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). In that year, Chocolala had access to a “soft” loan through a business support programme, which allowed it to expand its machinery inventory as well as its productive capacity.

“Before Chocolala, the only option we had was to work in family homes, doing domestic work in Santiago and Puerto Plata, away from our children. Now we work here, we take money home without being away,” says Nelfi García, the general manager.

Quality standards for export

One of the characteristics of Chocolala products is the care with which the raw material is chosen and the high levels of food safety. The cocoa variety used is the Hispaniola variety. It is less acidic than the Sanchez variety, and it produces a seed with a fruity flavor.

Chocolala is part of a group of five Dominican companies, selected by Caribbean Export in the Haiti-Dominican Republic binational cocoa/chocolate value chain project, funded by the European Union, EU, through the 11th European Development Fund.

Cooperation with the EU has enabled Chocolala to obtain a vertical powder packing machine, improving the efficiency of the packing process and measurements, and it has also enabled access to technical assistance for the process of obtaining export records, ultimately improving competitiveness.

Invaluable contribution

With the vertical powder packing machine, the products have been able to reach the retail sector (grocery stores or rum shops), as it has a dosing screw conveyor, with programmable pre-cutting and a packing capacity of 40 bags per minute. In spite of that, the General Manager emphasizes training in administrative procedures and levels of efficiency in the production value chain. This donation has also enabled the company to respond to its growing demand, and thus to hire more permanent employees, which to date total 20 (16 women and 4 men).

Women with leadership skills

In Chocolala, producing chocolate and other items derived from cocoa and maize is not only an opportunity for work, but an expression of inclusion and pay equity exercise. “Sometimes, when we have large orders, the spouses come and help us. They become a part of our work, in order to be able to complete it”, assures Nelfi, who notes that this attitude demonstrates the important role within the family of the work that women do.

They also created the Ecological Trail, a space to promote tourism, where visitors come into contact with the cocoa plantations and the natural attractions of the area. This undertaking has also created new sources of work.

Benefits that impact everyone

A fund has been created with part of the resources produced by the routes of the Ecological Trail, from which loans with very low interest rates are provided to the collaborators, if they have special needs.

On the other hand, a part of the company’s profits is earmarked for the Association to buy essential goods, so that the members may obtain them at wholesale price.

In addition to helping the members, the Association provides assistance to vulnerable communities. Many have had their houses repaired or have been given assistance to alleviate deficiencies typical of their condition.

The next frontier: The international market

The initiative of those five women who dreamed of a livelihood within their community 30 years ago is now a consolidated company that has drawn more than an exclamation of surprise from the unbelievers who only saw illusions during the years of hard work. These aspirations today are the building blocks in which an average of 24 quintals (2.4 tons) of cocoa are processed weekly for the production of products, the raw material being brought from community producers. Previously, they did not exceed more than two quintals per week.

The women of Chocolala have responded with creativity and with the right attitude to the lack of opportunities in a rural community in which traditionally the woman has only had two options: being a housewife or going to work in Santiago or Puerto Plata. Now, with the support and technical consultancy of Caribbean Export and allies such as the European Union, Chocolala has a firm eye on the export trade.

Keeping it in the family: Willemsberg, the Makers of Wippy Peanut Butter

Transforming a brand into a household name is not easy.

You need a product that is almost universally liked; a track record of innovation and reliability; a reputation for excellence; and a deep connection with your customers which earns their loyalty and trust.

In Suriname, there is one brand that has ticked all of these boxes and more – Wippy peanut butter.

Produced by the Willemsberg family since 1980, Wippy was the brainchild of Clifton Willemsberg, whose father Leonel originally started a business in 1961 to trade in various food items including white sugar and shelled peanuts.

When some items became less profitable the company needed to diversify. Clifton suggested manufacturing peanut butter because they had been working with local peanut butter producers for years, and also already had easy access to a high quality raw material.

The name Wippy was chosen and an eye-catching green parrot named ‘Willy’ (derived from Willemsberg) was conceived as a mascot to boost marketing and promotion.

Wippy peanut butter soon won the hearts of the Surinamese people and is currently sold in over 1,500 shops and supermarkets across the country.

Now, more than four decades since the first jar rolled off the production line, the company is managed by Leonel’s daughter Susan Tjong A Hung-Willemsberg and her niece Genevieve Radjiman-Willemsberg (Clifton’s daughter) who is getting ready to run the business.

Susan believes Wippy has remained popular over the years mainly because it has stayed true to its main objective which is to produce top quality peanut butter with natural ingredients.

We don’t have just one but many unique selling points, Genevieve adds.

We have a minimum of 95% and a maximum of 97% of roasted peanuts in our products. We have no cholesterol or trans fats. The product is packaged in glass jars which keeps it fresh and tasty and guarantees a longer shelf life. We also have a spicy version and our diet line is vegan friendly.

Product innovation has undoubtedly helped to keep Wippy ahead of its competitors. There are now six types of Wippy peanut butter on the market including classic, crunchy, and hot. The sugar-free version, which is sweetened with all-natural stevia rather than sugar, was introduced mainly because Susan is diabetic.

Wippy has also been successfully exported to French Guinea, Barbados, and the Netherlands. Susan says the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) was particularly instrumental in helping Willemsberg get into the European market (although exports to the Netherlands are currently on hold).

She states: When we wanted to get into the Netherlands, Caribbean Export’s consultants helped us with marketing, training with labelling, research for potential distributors, and trademark registration.

Susan and Genevieve also recently met with a distributor based in Guyana and they have some advice for Caribbean businesses who are trying to export.

Susan suggests: If the company is ready for export, they should take the time to look for a reliable and capable distributor.

Do your homework with regards to the new market. Know your consumers, focus points, their preferences, and which marketing strategies you should use. When you have all this information than you are more than 50% on your way to success.

Genevieve adds: We all want to make more sales for our company. But it is equally important to make these sales with the correct match. Producer/distributor relationships aren’t any different from other relationships. It’s all about teamwork. The producer delivers quality goods and the distributor promotes and sells these goods accordingly.

Maintaining production capacity to fulfil local and export demands is one of Willemsberg’s major challenges, and this was recently made worse during the COVID-19 pandemic when 13 out of 30 staff testing positive for the virus, causing a shutdown of the production facility for five weeks.

The closure led to a total loss of almost $93,000 (USD) in 2021 and $52,000 (USD) of that was from a decrease in sales. The rest of the loss consists of operating costs, employee costs, and rent, Genevieve explains.

She adds: At the moment, 71% of our employees have been vaccinated, but 29% are still not cooperating. It is a big challenge to get the remaining group on board. Conspiracy theories and religion play a huge role in their decision making. It is also a challenge to recruit new employees who are vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the Willemsbergs remain focused on sustaining Wippy peanut butter’s position as one of the leaders in its market. Their short term goals include improving factory productivity; increasing exports; continuing market research to better know their consumers and competitors; and developing a new product.

In the next three to five years, they are also aiming to build a new production facility, and are already scouting for a new location. They also want to buy new machinery after previous Caribbean Export grants went towards two new machines – a shrink tunnel that wraps bottles into trays and a double head filling machine.

Susan is also preparing to handover complete control of the business to Genevieve by the start of 2022. When asked how she feels about stepping aside, Susan states: I am sure that Genevieve will do her utmost. I’m going to train her on as much as I can and then she will do the rest.

Genevieve reveals that Susan has already set her a lot of homework before the final date arrives and says she knows that there is a lot of work ahead.

She adds: Susan has about 45 years of experience and you cannot buy that in any store. You have to have patience and stay open to all the guidance and training that she can give.

I am optimistic because it’s a family business and we need to continue the family legacy.

Belizean-based turmeric producer Naledo signs European distribution deal

Fresh turmeric paste from Belize will soon be available on shop shelves in Europe after Caribbean company Naledo signed a deal with Swiss-based distributor Sparkling Revolutions SA.

Naledo’s award-winning wildcrafted, whole root turmeric paste called ‘Truly Turmeric’ will now be seen in natural health food stores and other outlets throughout Switzerland, Germany, and France.

The partnership between Naledo and Sparkling Revolutions took three years to develop. The companies connected in October 2018 at SIAL – the world’s largest food innovation exhibition – which Naledo was able to attend because of support from the Caribbean Export Development Agency and the European Union.

At SIAL, Naledo was shortlisted for the coveted product innovation award and Chief Operating Officer, Nareena Switlo, says the event led to several new business contacts including Sebastian Möbius at Sparkling Revolutions.
Nareena recalls: “SIAL is the largest event we’ve been to so far. Our booth was beautifully set up and Caribbean Export made it easy to participate. It peaked peoples’ interest and confirmed that consumers in the European market would enjoy our product.

“Sebastian reached out to me in November 2018. We started chatting on email about our products and business relationships and he was really interested in us. But then COVID hit and everything was put on pause.

“In 2020, when we won the ‘New Product of the Year’ award at Food Matters Live in the UK, we sent out a newsletter to our subscribers and customers. Sebastian reached out again to say that he was still interested, and he had some clients who wanted the product, and last week we got our first official purchase order.”

The first pallet heading to Europe will contain 1,500 bottles of Naledo’s flagship ‘Truly Turmeric’ paste in two flavours – original and black pepper. The producer has also developed a smaller 125g bottle specifically for the European market.

The company is hoping to capitalise on the current worldwide interest in healthy eating. Research shows that the global natural food and drinks market was valued at $79.1 million (US) in 2016 and is estimated to reach $191.9 million (US) by 2023 – a compound annual growth rate of 17.6%.

Turmeric itself has also become increasingly popular because of its numerous proven health benefits. It positively impacts heart disease and high blood pressure and is also a strong anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antioxidant.

‘Truly Turmeric’ uses the fresh whole root of the spice to ensure its natural compounds remain potent and intact. The ingredients list for the original flavour are whole root turmeric, cold pressed coconut oil, fresh lime juice, and sea salt. Black pepper cultivated in Belizean forests is added to the black pepper variety.

Nareena says: “I do think that with recent events in the world, people are becoming more aware of what they put into their body, especially in terms of healthy food.

“I also think that people in Europe are expanding their taste buds and a lot of people from different countries have moved there so the diverse food market is growing. It’s a prime time for us to jump in and be the leader in turmeric in the EU.”

Nareena also believes the company’s unique origin story, its promise to treat suppliers fairly, and its commitment to sustainable environmental practices, will be important to consumers in Europe.

Naledo was founded in 2016 by Nareena’s mother Umeeda as a social enterprise. The company focuses on youth entrepreneurship and regenerative agriculture and is a certified B Corporation which means it “balances purpose and profit”.

The small business employs eight young people to manage its factory and works directly with 300 small-scale growers in Toledo, Belize. It also pays its farmers 6 times the fair trade price for tumeric.

“I think there are certain things that we lead on which nobody else can replicate,” Nareena states.

“We do have some ‘contacts turned competitors’ but the quality of their product is not the same as ours and they don’t have our story. What differentiates our product is that we are still the best on flavour and they cannot replicate the way that we monitor and evaluate our environmental impact.”

Nareena also believes that their new distribution partner, Sparkling Revolutions, appreciates the history of Naledo and the company’s mission to invest in education, health care, and improved nutrition for the families and communities that it works with in Belize.

“Sebastian really understands the beauty of the product from the branding side and the story,” Nareena says.

Curry Shrimp recipe with Naledo Truly Turmeric

“If you have a unique product, it’s not going to be for everyone, and that’s OK. You have to know who believes in it as much as you do. He really believes in us and that he can sell the product which is a good start to a business relationship.”

She adds: “We all know that the EU is one of the largest markets in the world and we’re hoping that this one pallet will lead to full container loads. In the next year we want our paste to be sold all across Europe.

“The price seems right so we just have to see what the consumer thinks of it.”

Caribbean Export’s audits available for public consumption

The Caribbean Export Development Agency is committed to ensuring that its processes and practices are consistent with international standards and has taken the step today to make its audit reports available online.

“It’s Caribbean Export’s ambition to be one of the most transparent regional institutions and, today I’m very pleased to make our audit reports public” said Executive Director, Deodat Maharaj. He continued, “As we strive to become even more customer-focused and results-driven to advance private sector development in the Region ,we will continue to recognise that accountability, transparency and value for money represent our core values as an Agency.”

The Agency will continue to review and update other systems and operational procedures in order to stay compliant in the weeks and months ahead.

Please click here to download and view the reports.

New trade partnership with UK set to increase jobs and opportunity both sides of Atlantic

Arguably, we have never seen a stronger case made for global leaders to invest in our Region’s future survival than that put forward by the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley at COP26, the climate summit that took place in Glasgow, Scotland. If ever there was a time to press the reset button for our development agenda, it is now, with business playing a central and important leadership role.

It is with this spirit and momentum we need to approach the new trade partnership with the UK as a critical opportunity to advance a transformational agenda, creating jobs and opportunity for our people. We need to capitalise on the advantages of longstanding trade ties and friendship between the UK and the Caribbean to give life to this agreement by focusing on the private sector as we strive to deepen our trade and investment relationship. This is vital as we seek to transition to a green economy, which is essential given the fact we are one of the most climate vulnerable regions on the planet. Quite simply, time is not on our side.

Signed on the 1 January 2021, the CARIFORUM-UK Economic Partnership Agreement, has the potential to make a difference in economies across the CARIFORUM Caribbean, which is a grouping of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic. We need to give purpose to the document so it can generate real game-changing outcomes for our people. This is precisely why we at Caribbean Export are partnering with the United Kingdom to convene a virtual summit taking place on 24 November bringing together businesses, trade promotion experts and high-level officials from the UK and Caribbean to look at how we can work together to give life and meaning to this agreement. It is clear that we must deliver concrete and practical results where it matters the most, on the ground and at the firm level. It is good to see the strong interest shown with close to 500 participants already registered.

Trade between the UK and CARIFORUM Caribbean countries amounted to GBP £2.9 billion in 2020. Given the historical and strong people-to-people ties, this is a fraction of what can be realised. Therefore, to make this agreement achieve its full potential we need to be both bold and ambitious in forging a common agenda, including a focus on a green economy transition here in the Caribbean.

There are clear benefits for both sides. For us in the Caribbean, we can capitalise on the UK’s status as a world leader in the renewables sector as we seek to also revolve our economies around energy that is clean and green. Additionally, technology and innovation represent another area that are vital to us especially in areas such as agriculture which needs to be more climate-resilient, so we can have the ability to feed our people. For our businesses, the UK represents a major high-value market for our existing and potential exporters as we seek to leverage exports to create jobs and earn valuable foreign exchange. At the same time, we are clear that increased emphasis must be placed on micro, small and medium scale enterprises here in the Caribbean, which account for the majority of employment and at least 50 percent of GDP in so many of our countries.

The question arises, how can this be done? I am proposing just a few initial steps.

Firstly, we need to provide targeted capacity building support for Caribbean businesses in the form of financial and technical assistance so they can take advantage of the opportunities under this agreement. The clear emphasis has to be on where it matters, on the ground and with a forensic focus on enterprises across the Region. Secondly, information is truly power. Therefore, we have to make information or market intelligence available on a real time basis on the opportunities that exist under this agreement to businesses here in the Caribbean and in the UK. However, just focusing on these two along will only give sub-optimal results.

We also need to stress measures that will assist in long-term relationship building. We need to think creatively about how we facilitate connections and remote collaboration, a new normal in the pandemic. Caribbean Export’s matchmaking and networking efforts have reaped real rewards for businesses, bringing together traders, buyers and investors at trade promotion and exposition events. A virtual investment summit, supported by Caribbean Export, took place earlier this month in Trinidad and Tobago, which saw more than 700 participants representing businesses, investors and site selection experts from close to 70 countries explore investment opportunities in the twin island republic. This is just one example of how we can leverage technology to bring together a broad cross-section of businesses here in the Caribbean and in the United Kingdom to create the basis for enduring trade and investment relationships.

Looking at this week’s Virtual Investment Summit on the UK-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement, we at the Caribbean Export Development Agency recognise that it represents a major opportunity for Caribbean and UK business. However, the key is breathing life into this agreement by focusing on the private sector and working closely with business so they can take advantage of the possibilities provided by this partnership. To be successful, we are aware that it will require a major effort from all parties. We at the Caribbean Export Development Agency will stay the course and work with all partners to help deliver results for our people in these unprecedented times.

Time is Money: Khalil Bryan, Founder of Caribbean Transit Solutions

Time is the only currency we have,” says Barbadian innovator Khalil Bryan, “so spend it doing things that matter to you and with people who matter to you.”

Khalil’s musings on the value of time, and how precious it really is, are not just wise words from a young entrepreneur. In fact, Khalil’s commitment to saving time, and subsequently making the most of it, ignited the concept behind his tech start-up company Caribbean Transit Solutions (CTS).

Acutely aware of how much time Barbadian commuters can spend at bus stops and bus stations waiting for often unreliable public transport, Khalil was inspired to think of ways to improve the island’s transit network.

Instead of wasting time wondering when the next bus would arrive, locals and visitors could download a smartphone app which showed them the bus schedule and routes, and how far away the next bus was from their stop.

There are similar transport solutions available in major cities around the world, most notably London, Paris, and New York; but there was nothing like it in the Caribbean when CTS was launched in 2014, which meant the company would be breaking new ground.

Khalil recalls: “My original partner and I started CTS with an idea to provide real-time bus information and allow people to use their time more effectively. Our product was called EasyTransit (now known as BeepBus).

“But we quickly realised that in order to provide real-time bus information we needed an affordable product that tracked vehicles. We searched the market and found a number of options but nothing that was reasonable. So, we started another company called EasyTrak and began offering the tracking system ourselves.

“Over the past four years, we haven’t seen the uptake with BeepBus that we would like, so the business has been driven by the EasyTrak product, and focusing on how we grow that has been what has kept us afloat in difficult times.”

Pivoting from providing real-time bus information to building a GPS tracking platform for vehicles has pushed CTS into full-scale fleet management and data analytics.

The shift was substantial but even more changes were to come in 2015 when Khalil’s original partner decided to leave. A third strand to the business, a taxi ordering app called BeepCab (similar to Uber) was then launched in 2015, but had to be suspended just three years later.

Despite a few speed bumps along the entrepreneurial road, Khalil has continued to focus on his goal of enhancing Caribbean transport, and is now working with a new partner, Veronica Millington, and South African-based Andre Louw.

Like the entrepreneurs who inspire him, such as Richard Branson and Elon Musk, Khalil wants to solve big problems and be a “world-changing entrepreneur”, not just a lifestyle entrepreneur. But he knows that being a pioneer is not easy, so he is thankful for the support he has received from the Caribbean Export Development Agency (CEDA) including a $25,000 (US) Investment Readiness Grant.

“I can say that I’ve made friends, not just colleagues, through Caribbean Export,” Khalil states.

“They were instrumental in bringing on the World Bank and the government of Canada. They introduced us to people in their network and took us to great events throughout the region. They also educated the market in a way that allowed us to thrive and opened the eyes of entrepreneurs and investors.

“Of course, it has not all been perfect. Some markets are better than others at taking up the training opportunities. The programmes have also dropped off, and because of COVID the ones available now are virtual and I don’t think you have the same connection when you do it virtually.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also forced Khalil and his team of four full-time and three part-time employees to re-examine CTS’s product portfolio yet again.

“We’ve had a number of trying but rewarding internal and external conversations recently,” Khalil states.

“We decided to focus on the things that really do work, and slim down what really doesn’t work, or what isn’t making us money. So, if nothing else, COVID has shown us that we need to diversify geographically and we may also need to diversify, or entrench, some of the industries that we’re working in as well.”

With that in mind, Khalil’s aim over the next 12 months is to continue building a unique repository of transportation data for the Caribbean along with extensive regional expansion.

He believes that there is untapped potential in the Caribbean and is excited that “there are so many opportunities and so many problems to solve.”
Khalil adds: “Where I am challenged is that we’re not moving quickly enough because you can’t rest on your laurels. You continually have to reinvest in your product and your people.

“Time is our most important resource because you don’t get it back. Opportunity does not stay around waiting for you to take it up, and if you don’t grasp it, the opportunity will be gone.”

Caribbean Export Certifies Service Providers Ready for Export

Over 130 service providers have been certified during the last two years and are better equipped to expand their businesses regionally and internationally. This week eighty-four certified service providers from Barbados, The Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Saint Maarten and Trinidad and Tobago were recognised on Tuesday during the inaugural Services Go Global (SGG) Certification Ceremony.

“The services sector forms a critical pillar as the next frontier in Caribbean business,” said Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) Executive Director Deodat Maharaj during his remarks.

“Caribbean Export is committed to helping our Region diversify our services sector and providing our regional businesses with a better chance to compete, creating jobs and opportunity for our people.”

Mr. Maharaj shared that trade in services was valued at US $13.3 trillion in 2019 (World Trade Organization report). He expanded further, saying that global demand provided an opportunity for non-traditional services such as music, fashion, animation and film, green technology, and professional services to generate jobs and foreign exchange for the region.

During her keynote address, The Hon. Sandra Husbands M.P., Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, shared that, “According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in 2019 tourism services accounted for approximately 13.9% of the Caribbean’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 15.2% of total employment…. ranking the Caribbean as having the highest dependency on tourism.”

The Minister reiterated the need to diversify the services sector and commended Caribbean Export’s work in this area to support services innovation and build a robust services sector.

The Services Go Global programme was developed, by Caribbean Export in collaboration with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the European Union, to optimise the export of services from CARIFORUM States. The programme focuses on building the capacity of service providers to capitalise on opportunities under the Economic Partnership (EPA), Caricom Single Market Economy (CSME) and other third-party trade agreements.

The SSG Certification Ceremony was a collaborative effort between Caribbean Export, the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI) and the Caribbean Network of Services Coalition (CNSC).