Good Afternoon fellow Directors and Members of the BVICCHA.
In October 2018, when this Board of Directors was elected we knew we had a monumental task on the heels of the 2017 hurricanes; and 12 months later when I became the interim Chairman, I had no idea of how much of an adventure awaited us. It is quite a balancing act as the BVICCHA is actually two organisations in one and sometimes has competing priorities for the same scarce resources, but the vision of being the proactive voice of business applies across the board and has guided the mission to empower, educate and equip every business in the Virgin Islands.
I would like to take this time and extend gratitude to past and present Directors for their contribution, for without each person playing their role, our successes would not have been possible. On behalf of the Board, I would also like to acknowledge our amazing team at the Chamber Office. Our new Executive Director, Mrs. Keiyia George, who joined us in January 2020, has taken on her role with vim and vigor beyond our expectations in an incredibly challenging time. She crammed my inbox with emails but I appreciated that we now had someone watching over the “business” of the Chamber full-time to move it to the next level and be the champion for business that we know the Chamber needed to be. She is ably assisted by Miss Shelly Richardson, our Executive Assistant who came on board in June 2020, when we could barely pay salaries. Thank you for putting your hand to the plough and not looking back. I also want to express thanks to Miss Tywanna Andrew who assisted us from 2019/2020.
In the 4Q 2019 on the advocacy front, the Chamber was asked to consult on draft legislation by various government departments and was involved in discussions about a strategic plan for the tourism sector. Because being proactive is our way of life at the Chamber, an advocacy agenda was developed to focus on the various aspects of the ease of doing business. It lobbied for concerns such as costs of doing business, access to financing, outdated legislation, and efficient and effective public services. We resumed membership meetings and co-hosted a Business Solutions Forum with the Premier’s Office at which the business and public sectors dialogued about solutions needed to create an environment every business would be able to thrive in. We revamped the National Culinary Team program after their success at the CHTA’s Taste of the Caribbean competition so that it would be sustainable long term.
With renewed energy, we had grand plans for 2020 to build on the foundational work laid in 2019. In February, we hosted a Guadeloupean Business Mission and had been approached by Puerto Rico’s investment authority to coordinate one for them. We connected with the Caribbean Chamber of Commerce Network and established regional alliances. Advocacy efforts would increase. Signature events such as the Buy BVI Trade Expo and the Business Awards Gala were back on the roster. This year’s 49th BVI Spring Regatta was to set the stage for the 50th Anniversary in 2021. A business training and development program was to be created and various activities to promote business networking were planned. AND THEN, we were confronted with a dual disaster of a global health emergency that had a dramatic economic fallout. Quickly, we changed gears and scaled back to essential services to support the business community-at-large through advocacy and training.
The past six months have been a tumultuous time for all of us and we, the Board, salute all businesses for the tenacity they have shown in saving lives AND livelihoods; as we were still being called upon to provide goods, services, employment, tax revenue and community service as the backbone of the economy. The metal of the Chamber has been tested right alongside those we represent, and we express gratitude to our membership who renewed or joined in one of the worse economic climates in our lifetime.
So, what is next?? As I urged us at the beginning of the outbreak, let us stand firm to safeguard our economic posterity in partnership with our Government for the long haul ahead of us. It is vital we become a driving force for socio-economic development in the Virgin Islands and advance our recovery by developing solutions for local economic diversification, enhanced regulatory framework for ease of doing business, and build disaster resilience systems.
As I close, I would like to remind us of the words of Dr. Steve Maraboli, “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” As entrepreneurs, we have durability in our DNA, and we need to do as the sailors of old and tack as the winds change and we will eventually arrive at our new normal.
It has been my honour to serve as your Chairman and I look forward to continuing our efforts to make the BVICCHA stronger so that it thrives for another 50 years in service to the Virgin Islands’ business community.
I thank you.
Shaina M. Smith
Chairman (interim) 2019/20