“Most people in Belize recognize the need for more entrepreneurship in the country…..especially since unemployment and poverty have reached such high levels.
Many have chastised the education system….claiming that it focuses more on preparing student to find jobs….instead of becoming self-employed….and creating jobs for others.
In my mind….entrepreneurship has two components (1) the ability to identify a potential benefit from taking a potential risk, and to calculate whether the gain is bigger than the risk (2) the ability to convert thoughts into actions….to do things with a degree of self-confidence and self-esteem, to the satisfaction of self and others.
The education system, to a certain extent, can and should prepare individuals for these things. However, its primary function should be to provide basic knowledge, information and methods in reading, arithmetic, observation, comprehension, analysis, deduction, conclusion, decision making….and some basic know-how. Its objective should be to deliver each individual to a starting line in adult life (16 yrs of age), which corresponds to their highest capacity and capability….we are created equal in humanity, but not in our skill and talent sets.
Not everyone need, nor want to be an entrepreneur….and the education system should not be pushing apples to become oranges. It should be pushing both apples and oranges to become the best possible apple and orange, respectively…..according to their own capacity and capability.
Up-bringing can play a much bigger role in the preparation of entrepreneurs.
Playing risk-taking games in the home is one way of developing entrepreneurial acumen. Monopoly, black jack, pitty pat, dice, checkers, backgammon, darts and chess were a big part of our home up-bringing.
Sports is also good training ground of entrepreneurs. It allows team building, developing of one’s own strengths and eliminating weaknesses, in a competitive way….playing by rules of fair-play. Parents should take a keen interest in encouraging their children to actively engage in as wide a range of sports and sporting activity, and organization.
Games and sports are good forms of preparation in identifying gains and risks…and learning how to maneuver among, between, towards and away from them, as necessary.
However, the second requirement is the most important….to convert talent and thoughts into creative action….to move things from idea to reality.
We had to do chores….many different types of chores…we were first thought how to do them….by example….and we were then supervised to make sure that we did them well….in a quality and quantity that pushed us to over-achieve….to take pride in our work….to do it with a lot of zeal, self-confidence and self-esteem….to the satisfaction of ourselves and our coaches…Mrs Melba Concepcion Harrison Lisbey Habet and Mr Carlos Alfonso Harrison Galvez Medina. To these two we owe our entrepreneurial acumen and ambitions.
We were made to participate actively in planting corn, beans, vegetables, fruits….raising chickens, rabbits, pigs..to fall logs, cut lumber…..to add value to them where possible and profitable…and to sell them in the neighborhood….no matter the small scale. We could not be ashamed to get our hands dirty. We could not be ashamed to take a fine product of our hands to our neighbors and ask them to buy it at a fair price. Once a child is made to do something a couple times…to break the barrier of shame, arrogance, fear of rejection and intimidation, laziness, etc….its home run from there.
My dad used to call me Speedy King….because I would do errands very fast and accurately. He used to allow me to tag along on business trips, to visit bank managers, to Spanish Lookout, Blue Creek, up north, down south, you name it. I would sell out whatever my mom made in no time, return for more faster than they could make them….and report the right amount of cash to account for the sales. I smiled a lot and treated the people very courteously and respectfully…of course I was a good lookin fella (still am)…..and the people bought anything I sold….even those that I had to go back to several times before they bought….some of these became my best customers eventually. To me, I saw it more as fun than business….it was the building of an entrepreneur.
Belize has no shortage of entrepreneurial spirit. What Belize has…is a shortage of opportunities where potential gains outweigh potential risks. Belizeans are smart, hard working and creative….the vast majority are not fools….or lazy….as some sarcastic and cynical critics might want to have us believe. Many among us know well how to calculate potential gains and compare them to potential risks….and we don’t see many areas where gains trump risks….they just are not there.
Our rate of unemployment and poverty would be so much higher….if so many of the entrepreneurial type among us did not take the risk of illegal activity…such as contraband, land deals, antiques excavation and trading, illegal logging, immigration deals, justice corruption, insider deals and bloated contracts, drugs and crime, etc etc.
Our outdated laws that favor importation over production….is the primary culprit that reduces potential gains as compared to potential risks. The first thing that small investors will likely invest in….are those products and services that are in existing demand on the domestic market. However, if the government policies make it easier to import these things…than to produce them…you have eliminated the majority of potential entrepreneurial risk taking and investments. Our Customs Tariff Law needs urgent overhaul….to favor production over importation. Every developed country in the world today….did exactly this, when they were at our stage of development. Who are we to try to re-invent the wheel? or to think that we can compete with them on their level? using their methods?
Our governments policies that create fear and/or favor…against the spirit of our constitution….is another deterrent. Taxes and import duties are an important part of cost….and cost is a primary determinant of competitive advantage. There are so many tax and import duty “accommodation” agreements with entrenched special interests in Belize…one would be considered crazy if they invested in these areas of the economy without access to these political and discretionary “accommodations”. Belize needs to overhaul its tax regime to create a more balanced playing field among local investors, with a low-rate, broad-based tax regime being my recommendation.
The government has a long history of changing rules of the game over night, to favor or deter investors. This ability of the government to change rules over night….without taking into account investments on the ground….is a significant deterrent to risk taking and investments. If an import duty for an imported item is 20% currently….and I can find a way to make that product in Belize profitably….I might decide to invest in a factory and to employ workers to manufacture it. However, I am aware that the government has had a record of changing import duties overnight….to favor special interest importers. If they then choose to reduce the import duty on that item to ZERO….I would be out of business overnight….stuck with my debts that I made to finance the investment….and no recourse to claim damages from the government. I will have wasted many years of my life….and will likely be so hurt, that I will be fearful of investing in Belize ever again. Belize laws need to restrict governments ability to change rules of the game over night….and to hold government responsible for compensating individual investors who can prove damages from governments unilateral decision and action. The government can also be required to work along with individual investors claiming damage, to allow them to transition their businesses over a reasonable period of time.
Entrepreneurship is not something that you will develop in a workshop….as seems to be the notion of many….although workshops can help to open eyes to opportunities. It is something that develops out of the education systems preparation for knowledge, information and methods in reading, observation, comprehension, arithmetic, analysis, deduction, conclusion, decision making and some know-how….combined with family and community up-bringing in training persons to do things….to move ideas to action…and to become accustomed, over time, to getting somewhat predictable, desired results from our actions.
These are my thoughts as I listen to the noise in the marketplace for ideas regarding entrepreneurship in Belize.”
By: Mr Richard Harrison