No to YEP
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
THERE ARE indications that the response to an ambitious government-initiated entrepreneurship programme targeting graduates of secondary and tertiary institutions from 2009 has been listless.
It was revealed during a Gleaner Editors' Forum that with three months to go before the culmination of the 2010 academic year, the bulk of the $200 million placed in the Young Entrepreneurs Programme (YEP) last year continues to languish in the fund.
Credit and risk-assessment manager at JN Small Business Loans Limited, Thelma Yong, who was a guest at the forum, revealed that only five persons had taken up offers at her organisation.
Yesterday, state minister in the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Michael Stern, confirmed that the bulk of the funds had not been taken up, but stressed that more money would be pumped into the programme from the 2010-2011 Budget.
Stern said the Golding administration was determined to change the culture to an entrepreneurial-driven one.
Yong said a total of 10 persons had initially applied to JN but five backtracked at the last minute.
She was unable to say how other financial institutions, including JN Small Business Limited, select credit unions, NationGrowth, Access Finance Services Limited and Micro Credit Limited, which had partnered in YEP, had fared.
However, she said she suspected that the take-up was low.
Basic information on the YEP was not forthcoming from Micro Credit Limited, which suggests that students may have had difficulty accessing information on the programme.
A woman, who identified herself as a manager of Micro Credit Limited, declined to speak on record, but in a vague response to Gleaner queries, characterised the programme as "okay".
Out of office
The managing director of NationGrowth was out of office when The Gleaner made contact.
The YEP participant must be a June 2009 graduate from a high school, tertiary institution or a graduate of a school for students with disabilities.
Except for students with disabilities, graduates would be required to be a maximum of 25 years of age to qualify.
The Government had stipulated that three per cent of the $200 million be reserved for entrepreneurs with disability.
Graduates of secondary schools are able to draw down $100,000, while tertiary students can secure loans of $250,000 each.
Yong said four persons going into partnership could pool to secure a loan of $1 million.
She attributed the low response to the programme to a mixture of poor marketing strategy and the fact that YEP was confined to one group of persons.
Stern agrees that marketing of the programme needs to be improved.
"It needs a lot more marketing, something has to be done in conjunction with the partners," he said.
"Our culture is not attuned to training children in the art of entrepreneurship," he asserted. "We must change the culture and as such, we have to be constantly at it."
Yong described the programme as a "very good initiative" that requires some tweaking to get the best out of it.
"We are recommending that it be opened to a wider group. The drawback is that it was confined to 2009 graduates," Yong asserted. "In addition, the promotion wasn't all that effective."
Accordingly, Yong suggested that the programme be adjusted to embrace other young people, beyond the restrictive 25 years of age.
For young people
"Marketing (of YEP) should be geared at young people in terms of the medium that is used to convey the message to them," she stressed.
Yong suggested that the YEP marketing strategy should have been executed by the financial institutions, which are equipped with expertise.
"I also thought that the awareness programme should have got under way much earlier than it did," she said.
"We were told about it at the end of the year, after students completed their exams, with some already on summer holidays, so it would be difficult to mobilise them," she argued.
Yong expressed hope that an adjusted programme would come on stream this year, with much of the money still in the fund.
YEP was announced by Prime Minister Bruce Golding during his 2009-2010 Budget presentation.
At the time, Golding urged young persons to consider self-employment as a practical option for economic empowerment.