The head of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce is pointing to nearly $40 million in IDB funds being made available to entrepreneurs in The Bahamas and the Caribbean – it's money he asserts will go a long way in helping to diversify the economy.
"It's very important right now," Bahamas Chamber of Commerce President Khaalis Rolle told Guardian Business.
"We've not been able to diversify our economy in the Caribbean for many years [and] this financial crisis showed us if we don't look at sustainable ways to generate revenue and income, our entire system is compromised."
His comments follow an announcement made by the Inter-American Development Bank last week in Barbados that around $40 million in funds will be made available to the region to encourage private sector innovation.
Rolle, who was in attendance at the meeting, said it was a piece of news that was well received. Indeed, the announcement comes as many nations in the Caribbean grapple with significant declines in their gross domestic product (GDP) and increases in government debt. In The Bahamas the debt/GDP ratio is expected to exceed well over 50 percent – a level of concern for many countries.
The recent decline in stopover visitors – nearing 13 percent – and its effect on an unemployment level soaring into the teens has prompted many cries for The Bahamas to look outside of tourism for economic stability.
It's been especially detrimental, said Rolle, to the creation of new businesses in this market.
"In addition to that, young businesses find it extremely difficult to realize funds from traditional mechanisms like the venture capital fund and so on," he added. "The opportunities that these types of initiatives will bring will make it easier for entrepreneurs to get in business and will make the business model more sustainable."
Outside of the announcement that the funds will be made available for the promotion of economic diversity, little other information is available about the initiative at this point. It's also unclear as to whether that $40m will be in grants or loans.
Still, Rolle argues the fund stands to reassure many discouraged Bahamian businesses that the money is out there for them to access and use to improve their business models.
His statements comes as the Chamber looks to shore up more grant funding for Bahamian businesses — hosting a grant workshop yesterday with the aim of securing around $1 million in funding for 10 companies.
Chamber officials say The Bahamas has in the past been lacking in accessing available grants and the workshop will seek to turn that trend around.
"It will teach Bahamian businesses how to access donor funds," Rolle said.
"Thus it improves businesses and the competitiveness of the Bahamian private sector and I think that's what the grant writing seminar will do."