Often heralded as the ‘Mother of MSMEs’, Valerie Veira will be among 215 persons, including members of uniformed groups, to be recognised for their contribution to national development at the National Honours and Awards ceremony, to be held at King’s House on Monday, October 21.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC) will be awarded the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Commander (CD) for Stellar Public Service and Visionary Leadership in the field of Industrial Development.
According to Ms. Veira, her more than 40 years in the public sector was not by chance, but a deliberate move based on her family’s core values.
“Growing up, my family was always about building Jamaica in some way and I saw my entire family being deeply involved in the development of the country, which is why I started my career in 1978 working in the Ministry of National Security,” she explains.
After a decade in that Ministry, she entered the Ministry of Industry (now Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries), where she has blazed a trail of innovation in industrial development.
Under the tutelage of her mentor, former Permanent Secretary, Warren Woodham, Miss Veira learnt about leadership, business development and commerce.
“In 1987, Mr. Woodham decided my career needs to be moving to another level and suggested that I interviewed to go to the Harvard Kennedy School. I believe he saw some leadership qualities that I didn’t see and I went there and I learnt a lot,” she tells JIS News.
On her return to Jamaica, Ms. Veira assumed the position as the Assistant Vice President in charge of the Technical Assistance Division at Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO).
“At that point, I realised there was a lot of work to do on the small business development side. At the time, in terms of programmes, it was very fractured,” she notes.
Ms. Veira set out to develop a strategy that would propel the Micro, Small and Medium-size Enterprise (MSME) sector forward.
Her determination and passion saw her leading projects funded by international agencies that resulted in the establishment of a limited liability company, the JBDC, which provides business development services to the MSME sector.
According to Ms. Veira, since the formation of the JBDC in 2001, one of its biggest achievements is how it has helped to change the narrative on MSMEs locally.
“When we started, the small businesses were seen as somebody doing a thing and people saw small business as a survival thing, as the alternative to not getting a big job. The MSME sector is now acknowledged in a fulsome way as a contributor to national development,” she emphasised.
The CEO said the organisation’s legacy so far is one that should be recognised.
“The sector has come of age and it’s not just the flavour of the month, it is a viable proposition in national growth, so I believe that is a big legacy that I want to celebrate, because we have been at the forefront of driving that process,” she says.
The work of the organisation has also been acknowledged by regional neighbours who have adopted local models for their industries.
“We have the Small Business Development Centres, which is a business advisory model that we adopted from the United States. In the Caribbean, there is now a network of such models. The JBDC has advanced the concept as it is now business advisory plus, so other countries come and spend time to see how we do and what we do,” she tells JIS News.
As she reflects on the achievements of the organisation, the CEO is focused on guiding others in the public sector.
“A part of my legacy was preparing not only the organisation but the people who can carry the work forward, as I have nurtured persons who can contribute because growth has to continue,” she says.
Ms. Veira argues that persons who join the public sector should view their work as a key part of Jamaica’s development.
“The public sector is an awesome opportunity if you enter with the right attitude. I encourage my colleagues in the service to look outside of the office door to the community that we are supposed to serve, so that when we provide a service, it is at the highest standard and that it is relevant,” she tells JIS News.
Ms. Veira is delighted that her work over the many years is being acknowledged.
“I feel honoured and I appreciate it. It is humbling because you never know people are watching what you are doing because you are enjoying the ride, so you don’t realise that people are paying attention,” she says.