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Economists used to say that micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) were the backbone of Pacific Island countries. But as the impact of COVID-related border closures deepens almost 18 months into the crisis,  for some families, MSMEs are the entire skeleton, the scaffolding holding them upright and intact in the wake of job losses in tourism and other sectors.

Pacific governments and their partners are increasingly acknowledging this, and the need to support the sector.  

Since the start of the pandemic, Pacific Trade Invest has been surveying SMEs about the impacts of COVID-19. Last month, PTI Trade and Investment Commissioner (Australia). Caleb Jarvis said: “the extent and the severity of the pandemic on Pacific businesses has remained pretty stable with 84% reporting a negative impact.”

Business Link Pacific, which has also been offering grants and training for SMEs, carried out a similar survey  in June which reflected these findings. “It’s clear that COVID-19 had a devastating impact on the majority of SMEs surveyed and that further support is needed to ensure businesses adapt and recover in this region,” the report states. “A large majority, 86.3%, of respondents said they have seen a decrease in their business revenue, with over half indicating that their revenue had dropped by 40% or more.”

Meanwhile in Vanuatu, V-Lab’s Bisnis Nakamal recently launched. In association with Breadfruit Consulting and with support from Wanfuteng Bank, Bisnis Nakamal starts with the “Seed Haos” where entrepreneurs are assisted through workshops, networking and coaching to explore and identify potential business ideas.  They then move on to the “Green Haos” where ideas are assessed for their viability by testing them in the market. Finally, in the ‘Market Haos’ entrepreneurs are actively supported to develop their business.

Breadfruit Consulting’s Chris Elphick says the idea behind Bisnis Nakamal was to create something that wasn’t donor reliant, and provided a place to meet and talk. Mentoring will be delivered by local businesspeople, who have proven experience in the commercial world, and are continuing to develop their coaching and training skills.

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