‘Don’t limit yourself to ethnic support’

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…Tips shared for the profitability of black-owned businesses

By Lisa Hamilton 

Several business owners with years of experience doing business in Guyana have presented valuable advice to afro-Guyanese business owners on how to remain economically viable in the face of Guyana’s unique obstacles to doing business. The advice ranged from how to manoeuvre mixing business with politics to how to avoid debt, or at least prepare for worst-case scenarios.

CEO of Camex Limited, Terrence Campbell, Executive Director of WT George and Company Limited, Selwin Asafa George and founder of Liana Cane Furniture Factory, Jocelyn Dow.

It was made possible through a programme hosted by the International Decade for People of African Descent – Guyana (IDPADA-G) themed ‘Navigating the Business World, Tips for Black-Owned Businesses’.

The speakers included Executive Director of WT George and Company Limited, Selwin Asafa George, CEO of Camex Limited, Terrence Campbell and founder of Liana Cane Furniture Factory, Jocelyn Dow.

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With questions and feedback allowed from the audience, George presented on mixing business with politics, dealing with sabotage, dealing with people and profitability.

Addressing the matter of politics and business, he cautioned that one bad political interaction can be enough to lose a customer forever. George noted that there have been several negative outcomes, especially to black-owned businesses, from mixing business with politics or even from the public’s perception that such is being done. He said that businesses must therefore be very careful and strategic with their messages and who they chose to associate or do business with.

“You have to think carefully about the consequences when you delve into anything political when you’re in business. Even commenting on social media and things of that nature can have consequences for business owners,” he said, adding:

“If it is something that you decide that you will do you should try to ensure that your interventions or your comments are consistent with your values because it is something that will affect your organisation.”

George also encouraged businesses to always have an exit strategy in the case that there is a need to liquidate. This, he said, could involve the sale of the business, becoming a publicly-traded company or transitioning to an employee-owned business or an intergenerational business.

Also commenting on the matter of mixing business with politics and sharing additional tips, was Campbell. He said that when it comes to business and politics, he believes that there are two approaches — avoiding politics altogether or being candid about your business’ political position on a specific matter.

“I’ve offended people on the left and the right and I really don’t care. That may not be an efficient route to business because I think that I’ve suffered a lot business-wise in terms of opportunities that were blocked, but it’s the only route that I can take,” he explained. Campbell added that it is up to each business to chose its path knowing the possible consequences.

The CEO also addressed the matters of ethics, financing, competition and debt. Regarding the latter, he advised that businesses map out a worst-case scenario in the case that their investments don’t go as planned, and how they will survive such a situation.

He also encouraged black-owned businesses to refrain from the perception that they can rely solely on an Afro-Guyanese target market as it will not allow for increased growth.

“You need to be able to provide value, value for all Guyanese. If you really want to scale don’t limit yourself to ethnic support,” he advised.

Some of the other challenges to afro-Guyanese businesses he spoke on were access to financing and inadequate avenues for mentorship.

Meanwhile, taking on a different angle to the discussions was Dow who dealt with the matter of black women in business. She said that women have always been occupied in working in every way possible to make ends meet in their homes, which is a skill useful in business.

She agreed that black businesses in Guyana face challenges of not having a strong history of business due to historical hindrances and facing limited access to resources for business. She said that while businesses have their responsibility, the Government also has a responsibility to find the mechanisms to set up credit schemes and to facilitate additional business skills training for citizens, especially women.

“Regardless of race, I would argue, that women are always on the margins of the economy in terms of what are the institutional resources available to them — whether it’s banking, whether it’s ownership of land or mining or forestry or any of those things,” Dow said.

“You have this paradox where women are highly trained at one level and yet are not properly represented when it comes to the power relations in the society — whether it’s in the economy or sometimes in the home.”

The programme forms part of IDPADA-G’s efforts to empower persons of African descent in Guyana as part of its mandate for the decade and beyond.



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