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Report on the regional meeting of the Working Group "Entrepreneurship Development and Training"

Eckard Schleberger

The conference held in Windhoek from 2 - 3 October was hosted by the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), Namibia Office. Funds for the conference and workshop were generously made available by the FES through the SEPAC project in cooperation with the SADC Secretariat.

The Working Group Entrepreneurship Development and Training met for the first time. A workshop for the Working Group was organised and held on 2-3 October 1998 at the Safari Conference Centre in Windhoek, Namibia. The workshop was attended by members from the following member countries: Tanzania (Chairperson of the Working Group), Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Mauritius, Swaziland and South Africa.

Following the official opening with contributions by representatives of the Namibian Ministry of Industry (Investment Centre), the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI), the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) and the Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) for the promotion of small business in Namibia, the members of the Working Groups presented country reports on initiatives in SME promotion in their respective countries. The reports generally emphasised the role, function and activities of Chambers of Commerce and Industry and their experience, strength and constraints in this field. The reports

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were of great interest and set the scene for further deliberations during the workshop.

After the country reports a Meta plan-brainstorming session was undertaken which resulted in the formulation of priority areas in the promotion of entrepreneurship development. These priority areas provided the backdrop for smaller working groups to formulate and propose strategies. After reporting back to the workshop the strategy recommendations were prioritised and it was decided to draft a strategic plan outline on the basis of the recommendations of the workshop, translating the recommendations into objectives and strategies. The strategic plan outline is attached to this report.

The following is a reflection of the deliberations and recommendations of the Working Group Entrepreneurship Development and Training.

Country Experiences - Overall Observations

The following is a summary of discussions on the country reports which dealt with entrepreneurship and SME development as practised, experienced and perceived by mainly chambers of commerce and industry and other business representative organisations:

  • 1.1 Chambers are limited in their ability to get involved in SME development programmes. Chambers are membership organisations, which represent the interest of their members from whom they receive their mandates. In order to have strong mandates from the SME sector such enterprises have to be members of the chambers, which often is not the case. SMEs are often organised as associations with a clear mandate from SME and cooperate with chambers in a varied degree.

  • 1.2 Chambers embarking on SME development programmes and/or offering SME support services may be misunderstood by SME entrepreneurs to be 'development NGOs' or SME support

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    agencies. In such cases they may participate in and benefit from the programmes but often fail to be active members of the chambers with regard to making their voices heard, participate on standing committees, etc.

  • 1.3 Chambers are faced with serious capacity constraints due to small membership numbers and low subscriptions. Many chambers are dependent on foreign donors and operate programmes as special projects. Various proposals were made to overcome this situation. Most notably, the experience of Mauritius (income from stamp duties) was recommended for emulation.

  • 1.4 Chambers are well positioned to promote entrepreneurship in cooperation with other stakeholders. One of the main tasks of chambers is to perform its advocacy role. SME development and the creation of a vibrant small business sector are essential elements of this advocacy. The sector is the most important employer and contributes to growth, broad local wealth creation and fairer income distribution. Partnerships with local, regional/provincial authorities were hailed as best practices examples to promote and support SME development through local economic development (LED) initiatives.

  • 1.5 The main elements in SME promotion and support by chambers and business representative organisations were listed as follows:
    • advocacy for the creation of an enabling legal and regulatory environment
    • partnership in local economic development
    • information and referral
    • business opportunity exchange
    • networking and coalition building
    • providing and facilitating access to business opportunities and markets
    • facilitation of access to finance, linkages, and training

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  • 1.6 Due to the fact that chambers operate under severe capacity constraints with expectations from outside (from SMEs, authorities and other stakeholders) riding high is of utmost importance to keep a tight focus. It was said that "the chamber cannot afford to be everything to everyone". Chambers should do what they are best positioned in within roles and functions of business representative membership organisations. Their involvement will have to be better communicated to avoid misconceptions. This however, requires chambers to adopt clear vision and mission statements with involvement programmes, which find the tacit approval of their membership and constituencies. Chamber should constantly review their strategic position and plans.

    A number of other common shortcomings were listed:
    • weakness in result communication
    • provision of inappropriate services
    • neglect of the survivalist
    • institution and service gaps (cooperation, duplication, overlap)
    • lack of technical advice and information
    • leadership inefficiencies

Priority Areas for Entrepreneurship Development

The preliminary discussion around entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship development were largely influenced by experiences made within business representative organisations and chambers of commerce and industry. This was due to the fact that the majority of participants either represented chambers or had a direct or indirect chamber background, having worked and cooperated with chambers.

Three main areas were identified as being crucial for entrepreneurship development (in order of priority):

  1. Information (incl. training, business opportunity identification, access to linkages and finance) - 60% opinion

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  2. Support Services and Enterprise
    Facilitation - 25% opinion

  3. Advocacy, Networking and Coalition Building- 15% opinion

These areas were discussed in more detail as follows:

Provision of information services

Although a very few concrete proposals were generated by the workshop due to time constraints, discussions and priority rankings clearly put information provision on top of the list of services to be provided to small businesses/entrepreneurs. SME development is hampered by an 'information-poor' environment. Market signal on business opportunities, customer trends, methods of organisation, etc. are not communicating themselves effectively to small businesses. SMEs perform better in information-rich environments; information services seek to help create such an environment.

There are a number of constraints towards the creation of an information-rich environment, which have been experienced by both entrepreneurs and information providers alike:

- The right information

Information has to be focused and precise and it has to be needs based. The information has to be constantly up-dated and concentrate on the challenges which SMEs face. This will require information providers to apply the right systems and tools in identifying the needs of small entrepreneurs.

- The right packaging of information

The information will have to be easily understood, thus it will have to take into consideration the educational, social and economic background of those who seek information. Therefore the information has to be presented in both written and spoken form taking into account that vernacular languages may play an important role.

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- Accessibility of information

It is of equal importance where and how the information is provided. Information providers may be too far away from the businesses. The form of presentation needs to take into account the learning style of potential users. SMEs get information from a variety of sources, such as their peers, competitors, suppliers and customers. Entrepreneurs are more likely to value and use information, which comes from someone close to them, who has a track record of practical credibility.

It can clearly be stated that 'Information Provision' was identified as the most important service to SMEs in the context of services provision by business representative organisations, such as chambers.

- Scope of Information

Services provision was further identified as a very broad field, which overlaps with many other activities of services provision areas, and will therefore include:

  • information on business trends and markets
  • information on business organisation
  • advisory services (provided one on one) on inter alia: legal and regulatory aspects, business management, customer service, business expansion and diversification, technology, etc.
  • identification and communication of business opportunities
  • providing access to linkages, finance, markets (e.g. trade fairs)
  • facilitation of business partnerships
  • referrals

Provision of support services

Other services, which were identified, were:

  • Business and Entrepreneurial Training
  • Access to Business Linkages
  • Access to Finance

The area of 'Training' generated the largest amount of ideas, but when it came to prioritising 'Training' received the lowest priority. The

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highest priority was accorded to 'Access to Linkages' followed by 'Access to Finance'. In discussion it was not surprising to find out that 'Training' appeared to be one of the most important intervention but that most organisations, and especially chambers lack the required capacity to run training programmes. Therefore, the need to network and cooperate with other organisations was emphasised. Chambers need to impact on the course content, curriculum and delivery mechanism of training interventions in the interest of their members.

The services 'business linkages' and 'access to finance' were not dealt with in more detail because these are issues for which other SEPAC Working Groups had been set up. It was agreed that in Entrepreneurship Development 'Training' plays a key role. Therefore, a group was assigned to make further recommendations on 'Training'.

Advocacy and networking

Although this service area did not rate high on the list of priorities, it was recognised as an important key function and role especially of chambers and other business representative organisations.

Two main areas were identified:

  1. advocacy and interest representation of SMEs in the creation of a legal and regulatory environment;

  2. networking and co-operating with other support organisations, with Government (in particular the Ministries of Trade and Industry) and with local and/or regional/provincial authorities.

The aspect of networking and cooperation was incorporated into the group on 'Training' to work out recommendations on how common purpose partnerships and joint ventures would assist the training aspects of entrepreneurship development.

Developmental aspects in entrepreneurship development

The discussion centred around the question on how far Chambers of Commerce and Industry should be involved in developmental

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programmes in the area of entrepreneurship development beyond the provision of services as outlined above.

It was felt that SMEs require special attention and support and that entrepreneurship promotion and development (incl. business start up programmes, awareness raising and education) should form part of the scope of activities of chambers, although these programmes may not directly benefit the members.

Again, partnerships and joint ventures with other organisations and agencies were recommended as being a useful and necessary strategy.

A third group was formed to deal with developmental issues in Entrepreneurship Development.

Recommendations from Group Work

Participants at the workshop formed three groups to deal with the three points, which were felt require further discussion and formulation of recommendations:

Group 1

Information Services
Type of information and delivery

Group 2

Support Services (not only provided by chambers)
Training and other services related to information (e.g. linkages and finance)
Networking and cooperating in services provision

Group 3

Developmental Activities
Promotion and creation of entrepreneurship awareness, culture and capacity

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Recommendations from Group 1 - Information

Wealth of information

Information provision is to be based on needs. Information should be appropriate and relevant. An information audit (including the wealth of unpublished information) should be undertaken and prioritised in terms of what is needed most and most frequently by SMEs.

The way to determine what is needed and ways to establish which are felt/perceived/actual needs requires training of staff working with entrepreneurs. Sub-sector analysis in a participatory approach was identified as an important strategy to establish needs.

Reaching the SMEs

Several strategies should be applied:

  • using the media (radio, television, newspapers)
  • making Internet accessible
  • conducting seminars, workshops, talks
  • networking with other service providers
  • piggy back on special events, trade fairs, exhibitions, etc.
  • directories on service providers

Ways of providing the information:

  • publicise in newsletters, information folders, etc.
  • specialised information pamphlets in understandable language (incl. vernacular languages) concentrating on topics such as SME trade, taxation, etc.
  • word of mouth (member to member system), forming service providers groups (solidarity groups)
  • professionalism, friendliness, speed
  • accessibility of information providers
  • capacity of service providers

Recommendations from Group 2 - Support Services


Training was identified as the most important intervention in Entrepreneurship Development. However, chambers should only

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become involved in the provision of training in a limited way and in particular as an extension of information services, such as one on one advisory services and referrals. Chambers are not training, nor finance institutions. Their role should be to create favourable access for their members to such services and programmes and enrich the content and influence the way in which such services are offered and delivered in the interest of their members.

In particular, the following recommendations were made:

  • Chambers should launch needs assessment surveys amongst existing and potential members;
  • Compilation of inventories of training providers - institutions and programmes;
  • Programmes to be evaluated with regard to members' needs;
  • Cooperative agreements should be entered into between chambers and training providers, adjusting the training programmes (curricula, content, offer) according to members' needs;
  • Chambers should get involved in raising funds for training providers through donors, government and corporate sponsors, and cooperate on cost sharing basis.

Financial capacity and access to finance

The capacity of chambers to finance their operations and create financial sustainability was identified as a serious shortcoming of most service providers. Whereas promotion and advocacy can be achieved with a very small secretariat and a strong involvement of voluntary leadership, the provision of services requires competent staff.

Regarding the financial sustainability the following was recommended to follow the example of the Mauritius Chamber to negotiate with respective governments for chambers to be authorised to perform certain delegated tasks and charge fees (e.g. Mauritius - fees for export documentation).

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Another point raised was the importance to differentiate between services....

  • i) which are provided free of charge and/or part of the subscription (fees) in case of membership organisations. These services have to be offered on a 'felt/perceived-needs' basis and will have to be updated constantly, and
  • ii) those, which are offered on demand and for which there is a good client commitment, meaning that the client (member and/or non-member) is prepared to pay (members at a discounted fee).

Access to Finance

The workshop participants agreed that chambers should not become financial institutions. Access to finance should also be delinked from training.

Chambers should effectively perform the function to impact on the development of an environment in which there is favourable access to finance, especially for SMEs. Main strategies could include:

  • Link members with financial institutions;
  • Propose specialised schemes for SME finance;
  • Chambers should lobby/advocate for the establishment of credit guarantee schemes;
  • Chambers should assist in the setting up of special short-term credit facilities (credit windows), e.g. in areas where many SMEs operate, such as industrial estates.

Access to Linkages

Chambers have an important role to play in the facilitation of vertical linkages between SMEs and large companies. The particular role of chambers should be:

  • to negotiate for SME subcontracting between SMEs and large enterprises;
  • to keep a data base for linkage purposes;
  • to initiate corporate/SME fora to match needs and opportunities.

Special programmes for the provision of entrepreneurial support services

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Two additional recommendations were made:

  1. chambers to represent/host local focal points such as CDI and other similar international agencies (as is the case with the chamber in Mauritius);

  2. identification of possibilities to set up schemes which provide financial, managerial, technological and expertise skills and abilities in SMEs, such as the 'Match Grant' Scheme in Zambia.

Recommendations from Group 3 - Development Activities

The group came up with the following broad recommendation:

'Entrepreneurial programmes have to be developed and implemented towards satisfying issues along socio-economic and political lines.'

These lines respond to the following three broad aspects:

  1. Social Aspects - Poverty Alleviation

  2. Economic Aspects - Economic Empowerment (Economic Freedom)

  3. Political Aspects - Political Stability and Self reliance

Poverty Alleviation

It was proposed that 'Literacy Programmes' could play an important role. Literacy would have to be understood in a broad perspective, from reading and writing to understanding and tackling the regulatory environment to economic understanding (business literacy). Together with such programmes the entrepreneurial spirit, especially of young people, should be fostered and a culture of entrepreneurial thinking and action introduced.

Such programmes should be developed and introduced basically anywhere - at the work place, in schools, in places of adult learning, in churches, by tertiary education centres, in rural communities through community based organisations, etc.

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Employers, concerned citizens, community and spiritual leaders, activists etc. could become involved in such programmes through their respective organisations, such as Chambers, NGOs, interest groups, churches etc.

The media, both print and electronic could play an important role in the promotion of an enterprising spirit and culture. The corporate world could champion campaigns and diversify from the 'passion for sports' to a 'passion for enterprise'.

The group proposed that chambers together with a specific Ministry should develop a concept and champion a campaign.

Economic Empowerment

Besides active empowerment programmes through indigenisation, affirmative action and/or other programmes and measures, the group felt strongly, that SME entrepreneurs have to be actively and meaningfully involved in advocacy and policy making processes. SME owners/managers should be provided with the knowledge, attitudes, skills and tools to enrich and impact on economic policy processes and in particular towards levelling the playing field. This will lead to the creation of appropriate advocacy skills amongst SMEs owners/managers, more active and meaningful participation as members of the chambers in leadership positions and standing committees, access to broader participation at local level in leadership and public office in the interest of the creation of an enabling, regulatory environment etc.

Such advocacy skills development programmes could be initiated with chambers and funded through international donors.

Political Stability and Self-Reliance

This recommendation deals with the development of local (African) strategies and solutions in entrepreneurship development instead of relying on, and replicating, European (North) models. Africans should take responsibility for their own destiny. SADC member states

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understand their needs and challenges better. Models should be studied within the region and promoted through SADC, COMESA and OAU.


The group also presented a concise SWOT analysis for their recommendation as follows:


Sustained poverty alleviation


Un-coordinated effort


Economic empowerment
Sustained growth
Social upliftment


Politics; limited resources

Resolutions and The Way Forward

The Working Group recommended the following:

  1. To communicate the outcome of the workshop (report) to all participants and hand a copy to the SEPAC secretariat;

  2. Recommendation from Group 2 (Support Services) on Finance and Linkages to be passed on to respective SEPAC Working Groups for consideration;

  3. To keep the process going: issues identified at the workshop and recommendations made will have to be 'packaged' into an action programme. The workshop facilitator should be commissioned to compile a draft strategic action plan;

  4. The Strategic Action Plan should be circulated to all members of the Working Group and comments from members solicited as early as possible;

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  5. Members of the Working Group should indicate which particular tactical objective they would like to lead within the Working Group;

  6. Possibly an 'emergency meeting' should be held before the next regular meeting of the Working Group to adopt the strategic action plan, assign responsibilities, allocate resources and agree on achievement indicators. This meeting is recommended to be held in Tanzania (country of the chair) as early as possible (Dec98/Jan99);

  7. The next regular meeting of the Working Group should coincide with the meeting of the Working Group 'Marketing' to be scheduled for March '99 in Zimbabwe.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | November 1999

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