JAMAICA BUSINESS Development Corporation, JBDC, is trying to equip 2,000 small and micro businesses with digital skills so they can earn more income through e-commerce.
The agency is trying to get more businesses to sell online on their own websites or via e-commerce platforms, under the wider Digital Jamaica Programme that’s backed by the European Union.
“We are targeting 2,000 over three years,” said JBDC Deputy CEO Harold Davis. “It is a need that we have to develop. Whether it’s for increasing trade or managing supply chains, it is a must. And our micro, small and medium enterprises are not sufficiently adept along the learning curve. They are not where they ought to be.”
JBDC will first create an updated digital manual by mid-2024, from which it will devise practical lectures. Participating enterprises will be taught how to leverage business through sites such as Amazon, Etsy, eBay, Walmart and more.
A consultant is being sought to develop the manual.
“After the manuals are completed, there will be an eligibility criterion to participate. But the first step is to sharpen our tools and competence and capabilities to drive [the outcome]. The manuals aim to do that,” said Davis.
The overall objective of the programme is to “empower” small businesses with digital knowledge and skills to assists in tapping new revenue streams, reduce costs, gain greater access to diverse global markets, mitigate risks in supply chains and eliminate pain points, according to the tender document seeking the consultant.
The Digital Jamaica Programme is a €9.5-million ($1.6 billion) project involving three government ministries – the Ministry of Science, Energy Technology and Transport, Ministry of Education and Youth, and the Ministry of Industry Investment and Commerce. JBDC is an agency of the industry ministry.
JBDC already offers a host of training to micro businesses and entrepreneurs through a series of workshops geared at various goods-producing sectors. However, the digital workshops will not target any specific grouping.
“We are not being industry specific; we and going across the board, because there is a need for this levelling up,” said Davis, adding that participants would be drawn from both the goods and services sectors.
So expect to see craft vendors, manufacturers, lawyers and doctors that operate firms being among the participants, he said.
“We want all types of business, and there is also a focus on the special needs and disabled sector,” he said. Sessions will be held at JBDC’s 14 locations nationwide.
The JBDC estimates that the estimated onethird of small businesses that have a presence online is likely to have grown somewhat since the onset of the pandemic.
In terms of access to the internet, more than 2.3 million users or about four-fifths of the Jamaican population had active internet accounts up to December 2022, according to data from the telecoms regulator. Of that number however, only 424,000 have home or office internet connectivity, with the bulk or 1.9 million users accessing the internet are on mobile phones.
The digital upskilling of entrepreneurs will take place in stages: the first level involves digitising items such as converting paper and other analogue items into digital format via scanning; the second involves processes, which includes moving from book and pencil recordkeeping to computer worksheets such as Excel or Quickbooks, and moving sales from face-to-face interaction to online selling or e-commerce; the third level involves digital transformation where the business incorporates both digitising and digitalising processes into its systems.
He added that the transformation must be complemented by a solid business plan.
“If you have the nicest pricing, but the product is wrong, for example, then you will not have a business. Digital transformation is a critical tool but it is not the business,” he said.
Jamaica has an estimated 425,000 small businesses, which account for 60 per cent of employment, according to the JBDC document.