Ganesh Ramalingum, President of the Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), continued his interview to AfricaMoney with insights into the growth of the information and communications technology space in Mauritius. Our financial expert stressed that ICT, Financial Services and the Fisheries sectors are expected to power the growth of the island economy in 2014.

Your views on the growth of entrepreneurship in Mauritius and the potential of the SME sector.

The SME sector is growing and with this we have seen a larger number of entrepreneurs enter the business world. At MCCI, one of our key responsibilities as a trade facilitation body is to support the SME sector. But, Mauritius is limited in terms of population, and with a market of only 1.2 million people, there is naturally a relatively low consumption-led demand and hence limits to the growth of businesses catering solely to domestic consumption. This is where the need for SMEs to look outwards to Africa arises. Having said this, SMEs in Mauritius are surrounded by a wealth of supportive infrastructure in terms of both the SMEDA and the Ministry for Small and Medium Enterprises. These organizations work in partnership with SMEs for improving their welfare, providing incentives, guidance and highlighting the work undertaken by these enterprises by recognizing and rewarding their efforts. Besides, Budget 2014 has gone a step further to support the SME sector by proving free basic websites to transform the way SMEs work and bring them on the internet super highway.

Given that you have been closely associated with the computer industry in Mauritius and are heading a well-known organisation engaged in many country-wide projects, what are your views on the state of cyber development in Mauritius?

The ICT industry in Mauritius has grown very fast. When we started out a few years ago, there were only a few hardware firms, leave alone software developers. From being only 200-300 employees strong in 1995, the ICT sector in Mauritius today employs 16,000 to 17,000 individuals. And, the BPO sector is still growing strong, especially on the back of the economic downturn which has hit European countries the hardest, causing them to outsource non-core functions to low cost destinations like Mauritius. Of course, the cost of telecommunications in Mauritius is not necessarily an advantage. However, Mauritians are multi-lingual and fast learners, which is a great asset for developing the BPO sector. Taking into account the broader economic picture, mainstays of industry such as tourism are stagnating, and it is here that the ICT sector can step in and support the growth of the economy.

Do you feel that youngsters are not willing to take up a career in the BPO sector, given the odd hours and the work shift timings, as borne out by the experience under the Youth Employment Program (YEP)?

It is difficult to generalise as youngsters have aspirations at different levels. Some wish to pursue a career right out of school while others wish to go in for higher education. But the BPO/ call center space needs serious marketing efforts to create the right image to attract youngsters. The usual image of a call agent does not hold true across jobs in the BPO space. There is a possibility of career advancement from agent to supervisor to manager, and even director. Also, within the call center domain, there are different levels of specialization, such as medical and legal transcription, which involve a higher skill set.

Coming to the YEP, it is a very good program to help youngsters go out, get a job and gain experience in the process. For starters, it helps to resolve the classical chicken and egg problem – youngsters find it difficult to get jobs without experience and, without getting a job, they are in no position to gain experience! Incidentally, the dual apprenticeship program implemented under the YEP was suggested by the MCCI and based on the German model. However, it has been somewhat diluted from its original form. Under the original program, the company has the chance to employ someone, and, at the same time, to give them the opportunity to study. But, under this program, some contracts are open ended, the stipend is paid by the YEP and the study is only partly funded by the company. The government must go a step ahead and make it a must for the person to be employed by the company under a proper contract and there must be a rationale given by the company to do so. The MCCI had suggested giving an income tax rebate to the company employing the youngster and sponsoring his education, but this suggestion was not taken up. If it were to be implemented, the impact on the unemployment level would be significant.

Finally, your views on the Mauritian economy and the way forward in 2014?

The beginning of 2014 has been difficult, just like the start of 2013 was. But, I believe that towards the end of 2014, things will get better. In fact, things must get better, because we cannot continue with the negative trend of growth that our economy is currently witnessing. Regarding the way forward, ICT, fisheries and financial services are the sectors that will power the growth of the economy. The blue economy will have to be developed and the collaboration between Mauritius and Seychelles is on the right track for the Ocean Economy to be a pillar for the island nation.

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