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    Harnessing the power of MSMEs

    Daniel Lim

    Entrepreneurs and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have continued to play a considerable role in the country’s economy, and many efforts and initiatives are in place to meet the rise of entrepreneurs in the country taking the opportunity to start and grow their businesses.

    On a regional level, the importance of enhancing MSMEs’ growth and resilience was highlighted at the 53rd Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group Meeting (SMEWG) earlier in May of this year.

    Head of Business Development and Support of Darussalam Enterprise (DARe) cum APEC SMEWG chairperson Norlela binti Suhailee noted that the SMEWG has continued to deliver on this front, by bringing together policy makers to share best practices and creative policies.

    She said multiple projects have also been proposed and implemented at the SMEWG level in its drive to promote digitalisation, innovation and technology adoption to build MSME resilience.

    Against the backdrop of COVID-19, Norlela emphasised the criticality of creating an inclusive and sustainable post-pandemic recovery for MSMEs to thrive and succeed.

    Director of Industry and Business Ecosystem Division at the Ministry of Finance and Economy (MoFE) Allen On led the Brunei delegation comprising ministerial and DARe officials.

    Representatives from MSME-related agencies in APEC economies also participated in the virtually convened two-day event.

    Hosted by Chile, the meeting allowed APEC member economies to exchange information, and share best practices and policies that support the growth and development of MSMEs in the Asia Pacific region.

    It continued to focus on the various projects and initiatives implemented under the five priorities of the SMEWG Strategic Plan 2021-2024, namely, entrepreneurship, innovation, and start-ups; access to international markets and global value chains; inclusive capability development towards digitalisation; access to finance and alternative financial solutions; and government to business interactions.

    The SMEWG Strategic Plan acts as a guide to address critical issues about the growth of MSMEs in the APEC region.

    Meanwhile, to help fuel the success of aspiring entrepreneurs in Brunei Darussalam, various initiatives have been carried out.

    A recent example is DARe’s Elevate programme, which helps businesses at different stages of their life cycle and is designed specifically to cater to businesses that are moving beyond the early-stage of heir journey and have recorded six figures in annual revenue.

    In March this year, the second cohort was launched, aiming to help 10 participants grow their businesses by developing a five-year strategic roadmap with dedicated monitoring and support. The second cohort encompasses businesses from a wider range of sectors that have the potential for overseas expansion and the capability to reduce the country’s reliance on imports including businesses in manufacturing, fashion, professional services, and F&B.

    Another example is an initiative for MSMEs called ‘Tech Clinic’, which was unveiled by the Authority for Info-communications Technology Industry of Brunei Darussalam (AITI) in February.

    The Tech Clinic is a platform for MSMEs to seek technical advisory services for adoption of digital technologies in their businesses. It was introduced to boost digital adoption among MSMEs by assessing their readiness to adopt digital solutions in their businesses to improve productivity and innovate further in line with supporting the strategic objectives of Digital Economy Masterplan 2025 and AITI Strategic Plan 2020-2025.

    It also aimed to enable business operations with digital capabilities to achieve internal efficiencies, cost reductions and better service offerings to stay competitive in the digital economy. An additional example could be seen when 22 local female entrepreneurs under the first Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), a worldwide initiative of the United States (US) State Department, were feted in a graduation ceremony in June after completing 13 business modules through the online training platform DreamBuilder.

    The ceremony saw the awarding of USD3,000 funding to each of the top three women-owned businesses: Lane Microbakery and Coffee, a food and beverage company specialising in French pastries and bread; My Darling Baby, a children-focussed company specialising in selling educational Montessori play tools; and Thea Seera Enterprise, which develops sustainable ready-to-wear fashion.

    US Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam Caryn McClelland in her welcoming remarks said, “AWE was established by the US State Department and currently operates in 80 countries worldwide.

    “AWE is designed to empower women to fulfil their economic potential and in doing so, create conditions for increased stability, security and prosperity for all.

    “The programme gives enterprising women the knowledge; networks and access they need to launch and grow successful businesses.”

    She added, “AWE is truly unique in that it is specifically designed for women and is a facilitated experience centred around the DreamBuilder online programme developed by Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and the global mining company Freeport-McMoran.

    “The programme equips women to create a business plan, manage expenses, raise capital and effectively network with other successful business owners.”

    Launched in Brunei in October 2021 in partnership with DARe on the weekend before Brunei Darussalam chaired the ASEAN Summit, McClelland said “AWE supports several ASEAN’s socio-economic goals, including promoting investment, financial literacy, gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

    The fully sponsored programme kicked off with 30 participants selected from a pool of 186 applicants.

    Meanwhile, Acting CEO of DARe Daniel Leong in his speech said, “The AWE has served to be a great opportunity for our women entrepreneurs in taking the first steps of their entrepreneurial journey.”

    He added, “Upon completion of the AWE programme, our women entrepreneurs can continue to tap into DARe’s range of MSMEs development support that offers access to information training, financing, space, markets and promotion to take the business to the next level.

    “We at DARe will continuously work with stakeholders such as the US Embassy to customise the delivery of our MSME development programme to aspiring entrepreneurs including those from the respective target groups such as women and youth and others in our efforts to diversify Brunei Darussalam’s economy.”

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