Six years of experience-A push for private entrepreneurship in Cuba

Por Yarelis Rico


Six years have passed since the CubaEmprende project emerged. From 2012 to date, this initiative of the Archbishopric of Havana that fosters entrepreneurship and supports those who wish to start or improve their own business, continues to add interest. On the one hand, there are those who once graduates of their training workshops continue to be linked to the project, interested in the advice it provides; on the other hand, the new ones who arrive with the dream, in full bloom, of becoming prosperous entrepreneurs.
To all, CubaEmprende welcomes them and inspires them under the maxim that “it is worth facilitating the development of a person, but also of those who work with them, their relatives and the environment around them”, as expressed by its executive director Jorge Mandilego, whom Palabra Nueva again interviewed about the Expoemprendimiento 6to Fair. Anniversary, which took place at the Padre Félix Varela Cultural Center from 31 May to 1st. June 2018.

As usual, May is the month chosen for the realization of this Fair. While turning six is reason to celebrate, what other reasons did CubaEmprende add to this celebration?
“One of the fundamental reasons for the expoferia was to generate a space for the promotion of private ventures in Havana, because, at present, there are practically no scenarios designed for this. We want to contribute to fostering business thinking and culture, so necessary if we are to develop entrepreneurship in the country. The small entrepreneur also has to learn to make his products known in an attractive and intelligent way; to be competitive, but always respecting and fairly valued the competition; you have to be able not only to take advantage of the business opportunities presented to you, but to generate your own. In other words, you must develop the smell and craft of entrepreneur. Fairs are an ideal space for this and we have noticed, from one edition to another, how entrepreneurs are being tanned in this regard.”


How did you organize this Fair?
“This year, like other times, the Fair is organized in several stages: the launch of the call and receipt of requests for participation; the organization of the event with exhibitors – accreditation, allocation of spaces, receipt of information about the different companies, in order to contribute to its promotion; then the Organizing Committee was given the task of designing the program and all visual communication products to support the event; Finally, there was the phase of assembly and disassembly of the stands, which was at the request of each exhibiting company, but with the supervision and collaboration of CubaEmprende, if necessary.
“In addition, a strong communication campaign was designed and implemented that used all the means available to us, so that more and more people know the project and can visit this Fair. This is the main service we can offer our exhibiting customers, because the more people visit us these days, the more potential customers and suppliers they know of their potential partners.”

Do only companies and entrepreneurs linked to CubaEmprende participate?
“The Fair is open to all entrepreneurs in the country, although for obvious logistical reasons, mainly exhibitors from Havana participate. This year there was a person who came from Matanzas and, on other occasions, we have had the participation of Cienfuegos and Camaguey. Promoting it through multiple channels, some massively accessible such as Facebook or our website, means that many people who have not received another service from us before are interested. Also, some who heard from CubaEmprende have been interested because they participated in the previous fair as spectators. Whenever we’ve had capacity, everyone has been opened the door equally.
“Of course, most exhibitors come from the Taller Emprende or advisory services, because they are the ones who have the most access to the information we disseminate.”

In previous editions they gave awards, for example the Oasis Award for Corporate Social Responsibility, which at the previous fair was added to the long-awaited CubaEmprende Awards for the best Stand Design and Popularity. What again in terms of awards did this edition bring?
“On this occasion the same awards from the previous edition were maintained, but that question puts us to think that perhaps we should diversify in this regard. However, we included a novelty in the Oasis Award, and it was the highlight of the start-up venture that has incorporated corporate social responsibility strategies from the conception of his company. Thinking about a company, under those principles and from birth, has to be recognized.”

Feria CubaEmprende

The relevance of the Church in Cuba promoting a project such as CubaEmprende has been questioned, what does Jorge Mandilego think about it? What can such a project bring when it is driven by the Catholic Church?
“A program that trains and leverages business those who want to start or develop a company is undoubtedly of great social need. No matter what institution you come from, you will always find a large group of demanders of this service who will benefit from participating.
“The Cuban episcopate has said on several occasions that the Catholic Church in general cannot be alien to any human circumstance, and companies, where the fundamental element is the person, are part of its social objectives. There are many examples, but I can cite the business schools of Jesuit parents and other institutions of high business studies that the Catholic Church has throughout America.
“What does the Church bring besides business knowledge? For the positive values that have defined our Western culture. It cannot be forgotten that this part of the world is based on Christian values. When in certain circumstances the entrepreneur, in search of profit, is told riches, he begins to savagely exploit his fellow man, the Church already made a difference by forming people with values. And when it wasn’t enough, he introduced his teaching directly through these programs, which today already constitute prestigious faculties in important universities around the world.
“The CubaEmprende project is not only the result of an initiative of the local Church, it is also part of a centuries-old tradition in the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.”

What criteria in the Church Social Doctrine incorporate into your training processes?
“I remember when I wanted to start working non-stately, I had the concern about whether working privately made me a less good person. My previous upbringing forced me to raise red flags when I considered these issues. It was in the Social Doctrine of the Church that I found reassuring answers that still let me sleep in peace today.
“We have as an individual and social mission the transformation of the world in the time we have to live. I remember St John Paul II, when in Plaza José Martí he invited us to ‘be the protagonists of our own history’. Many of us feel like children of that moment. But the transformation of our nearest world, that is, our country, was a claim even from Cuba’s top government and partisan leadership. At that time CubaEmprende was created.
“We work directly in the generation of business content, but at the same time transversally, because throughout the process we accompany entrepreneurs, we enrich them with fundamental values inspired by the Social Doctrine of the Church, such as the creation of riches according to and benefit of all – not by amassing a personal wealth that generates poverty for others – by fostering a stream of real and efficient solidarity and not a selfish individualism that compromises the dignity and stability of others. We also educate in an attitude of service that goes beyond aid to one-off emergencies, and teach us to accept the consequences of the employer’s responsibility to people, society and the environment.”


Following the dynamics of opinion of a previous question, the feasibility of a country like Cuba to undertake is also questioned. From what perspective does Cubaemprende the opportunity for private initiative on the island?
“Based on the principle that all existing societies on this planet have much to work on in the area of justice and socioeconomic equity, it is very important to deal with the early incorporation of business tools with human values in the fledgling Cuban private sector. There is nothing better than educating from the cradle, so it is so pertinent that the Church has sensed the appropriateness of participating in the formation of these future entrepreneurs from the beginning of the new public policies that renewed the fields of action of the accountors.
“In this sense, we implemented a four-week intensive training program, called taller Emprende, we have also generated specialized modules that deepen and expand the knowledge of this workshop and, in addition, every month we dedicate them to a specific topic through two-hour conferences. The latter modality is open to all interested parties.
“We add more value to our graduates through another program, but in this case specialized advice, where we help existing or training companies accelerate the development of their entrepreneurship. We have found that the growth of companies participating in this modality is palpable and maintained over time. However, for those companies that have not passed the Taller Emprende, the variant of timely advice has been implemented, where we help to unlock the ‘bottlenecks’ that represent problems of urgent need for resolution”.

How does Jorge Mandilego rate Cuba’s current setting for private entrepreneurship?
“Cuba’s current scenario for entrepreneurship has many variables to qualify it. In 2015 and early 2016 everything seemed to be going in a good wind, but a number of events can make me think that we are in a moment of uncertainty regarding private entrepreneurship.
“It is my opinion that the visit of former North American President Barack Obama to Cuba, where he put private entrepreneurs on an altar and apparently obvirated the main business network, which is the state, raised suspicions and from that moment on began to hear messages in different media that referred to the ills that actually appeared in some private companies ‘successful’. Unfortunately, these messages were not clear in becoming specific cases and rather appeared to refer to industry-wide vices, which provided the way for a ‘not-so-positive’ view of accountpropriism. Then the policy of current U.S. President Donald Trump, where he broke with the climate previously achieved in Cuba-U.S. relations, and mentioned the private sector as the weapon of destruction of the Cuban socialist system, made things more complicated. It was to be expected that the Cuban government would react and, among other things, freeze major accountable licenses.
“The Ministry of Labour and Social Security has advanced some measures that legalize existing practices and others of an organizational order that will be very appropriate, but also announce that a single license will be allowed per person, which, taking into account how limited their social purpose have, goes against the logic of development and good service that is expected of a company. The themes of accumulation of wealth and property also come out very strongly. Actually, I don’t remember reading what limits exist on wealth issues, and it’s precisely that lack of communication that generates a lot of speculation and uncertainty. For the more than half a million people, who put their economic well-being in this option, it is important to be clear about their options.”

Reviewing these years of work, what are, in your consideration, cubaEmprende’s most palpable advances?
“We can provide data that measure the impact of the project, including nearly four thousand entrepreneurs who have passed the Entrepreneurship Workshop and we have accompanied a little more than six hundred companies in the incubation or business development processes.
“Six months after the end of the Workshop Undertakes we conduct interviews to measure the impact, to the graduates. That is why we have obtained that 78% of the companies that have gone through our program have increased their sales and generate higher profits; job creation has also increased by 35%. Overall, we have contributed to entrepreneurship in 51% of our graduates.
“In addition, entrepreneurs admit that in the CubaEmprende project they have found new knowledge (90%), basic tools (86%), and relationships with other entrepreneurs who have added value to their businesses (81%).
“But what strikes me the most is witnessing the growth of a network of trust between people with small private companies and a commitment to be responsible business and socially. I see many graduates of ours incorporated into the different events that are managed from official institutions, which tells me that they are committed to our nation’s public development policies and want to be a part of them.” Ω

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