In Sri Lanka, much of the population work for Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to reduce poverty &improve the national economy. Therefore, it is important to create a conducive and dynamic business environment inthe country. In this context, the local economy has an important function simply since most interaction between government & public occurs at the local level. Based on this, Regional Economic Development (RED) is an attractive alternative to traditional development strategies, the advantage of RED being its ability to tailor-made strategies according to the local setting.

RED is a participatory approach to development. A wide range of local stakeholders are working alongside regional and national governments and international organizations to realize a locality’s economic potential. Through its focus on participation, RED creates incentives and opportunities and partnership between local private and public sector stakeholders as well as social and political groups.

To create public-private dialogue for Regional Economic Development, District Enterprise Forums, which bring together representatives of National and Provincial government authorities, private sector, NGOs and Government service providers are established in each districts . These are dialogue forums for MSME development, addressing issues especially with regard to the policy and regulatory environment at District/Province level.

Establish a District Enterprise Forum

Before setting up the District Enterprise Forum, stakeholders relevant to MSME development in the district should come together and discuss the realization of the forum, its role and the selection of forum members. For this, a series of workshops should be organized in the districts to which stakeholders from public and private sector and NGOs are invited. The very first step is therefore to identify all the stakeholders relevant to MSME development from public and private sector and NGOs in the district. This can best be done by starting in suitable place, like the District Chambers, the Industrial Development Board or the District Secretariat and ask for the names and contact details of other organizations and businesses involved in business development. When visiting these stakeholders, basic information on their programs should be collected which will help the forum later to coordinate and keep involved wide range of actors. At the workshops, the role of the District Enterprise Forum should be the focus of discussion and for these terms of reference for the District Enterprise Forum could be developed and presented to the stakeholders. Stakeholders should be asked to nominate representatives and then the members are elected at the end of the workshops.

The Members

The members of the District Enterprise Forum will be the key to how successful the Forum. The composition of the Forum will depend on local circumstances but there are some general guidelines to consider. It is of great importance that the composition of the members is balanced, i.e. an even mix of public and private organizations and NGOs, to avoid domination from any of these. In this respect, one may have to compromise on other criteria, to keep this balance. The Forum will be more efficient and successful if the members have decision-making authority in their respective organization. The District Secretary as Chairman of the Forum is paramount to the Forums’ mandate and success. In the event of changing the District Secretary, there must be a briefing on the activities of the District Enterprise Forum so that the ongoing process will not be disturbed. The District Enterprise Forum needs a Secretariat, which could be for example the District Chamber of Commerce.

Forum Members - A General Guideline

  • District Secretary
  • District/Provincial Chamber of Commerce and Industry
  • District Chamber of Commerce
  • MSME Associations
  • The Director Planning
  • Provincial Director of small industries
  • Government providers of business development services
  • NGOs (one providing business development services)
  • Commercial bank
  • Micro-finance institutes
  • Provincial Commissioner of Local Government
  • One media representative/regional journalist

The members of the District Enterprise Forum should not receive any financial contribution from Participating. The Forum needs committed members, who participate because they want to, not because of a fee. Instead, the Forum offers other incentives and benefits such as the unique opportunity to be part of the public-private dialogue regarding MSME development in the District, which should be relevant to the participating organizations. It provides a place for networking and sharing experiences with other organizations and most importantly for creating a more conducive environment for MSMEs. It also helps the stakeholders to fulfill their own organizational mandate, achieve their objectives and implement activities.

The objective and role of the Forum

The objective of the District Enterprise Forum is broadly to contribute to regional economic development through MSME development. Accordingly, the role of the District Enterprise Forum is to be a facilitator and function as a forum for dialogue to achieve this objective. More specifically, the role of the District Enterprise Forum is to:

The roles of the District Enterprise Forum

  • Have regular consultations and dialogue among the members to promote the MSMEs in the District.
  • Facilitate networking among all District stakeholders relevant to MSME development.
  • Address issues in the MSME sector and contribute to devising solutions.
  • Facilitate advocacy and lobbying in order to bring MSME related issues to the national level.
  • Suggest, promote and in some cases coordinate activities relevant to MSME development in the District, for example assessments of the business environment, trade fairs, exhibitions, business links, mobile services, conferences, workshops and seminars.
  • Contribute to District Development Plans of the national and local government institutions.
  • Promote optimal utilization of regional resources, for example natural resources, land and labor.
  • Facilitate investment and export promotion through the Chamber of Commerce.
  • Be a link between the District’s needs and development programs sponsored by government and donors.

How to Run the Forum

To be successful and to maintain the public-private dialogue on the MSME Sector, the District Enterprise Forum should meet regularly, approximately once a month or bi-monthly. It is paramount that the Forum is chaired by the District Secretary or co-chaired with the Chief Secretary. This is important for the credibility and legitimacy of the Forum. It also ensures that the Forum’s decisions have the highest possible level of support in the District or Province. In the absence of the District Secretary/Chief Secretary, next highest ranking government officer shall conduct the meeting in accordance with the agenda. A Secretariat should be appointed to assist the Chair with all the practical arrangements of the District Enterprise Forum. An ideal Forum Secretariat is the District/Provincial Chamber of Commerce but if this is not possible, the Forum could appoint another appropriate organization. The most important criteria are that it has the capacity and human resources to take on the task. The Secretariat should send invitations to Forum members under the Chairman’s signature with the agenda prior to the meetings. The meeting minutes should be sent to all relevant stakeholders in the District after the meetings. This will keep them informed and involved. Further, it is crucial that different Forum members are appointed for implementing or coordinating the implementation of the decisions taken in the meetings. The Forum can also choose to set up sub-committees or working groups that provide support to specific activities that require such support.

The role of the Forum Secretariat

As mentioned above, a Secretariat of the Forum has to be appointed, for example the Chamber of Commerce. The main role of the Forum Secretariat is to coordinate the Forum, manage the Forum meetings and assist the Chair of the Forum.

Secretariat Function

  • Prepare and organize the Forum meetings:
  • Invite Forum members under the signature of the District Secretary prepare and send agenda, minute of previous meetings and follow-up documents
  • Take notes during the meeting and circulate to relevant stakeholders.
  • Prepare the meeting agenda well in advance:
  • Discuss it with Forum members, especially the District Secretary for comments and input
  • Let the members suggest agenda items
  • Inform the District Secretary well in advance on the final meeting agenda Support the District Secretary before and during the meetings and meet regularly outside the meetings to prepare and coordinate.
  • Follow-up on the decisions taken in the Forum and assist the stakeholder’s in taking action.

Factors for Successful Meetings

In order for the meetings to be fruitful and the District Enterprise Forum productive, there are Certain key factors to success:

Success Factors

Both the Secretariat (Chamber of Commerce) and the Chair (District Secretary ) are very important for the success of the Forum. The Secretariat should fruitful relationship with the Chair.

The Forum should agree on a meeting time that is good for the majority of the members. To have a regular meeting day, time and place, could help the members to allocate time for the meetings. The Secretariat should suggest that the meetings take place on “neutral” ground.

In case a member is absent from a meeting, his/her organization should have nominated a replacement who attends the meeting. This is important both for the function and the continuity of the District Enterprise Forum. In this regard, it is important that the Forum members allow for a two-way communication, i.e. informing their organization about the District Enterprise Forum and what happens in the meetings as well as informing the District Enterprise Forum about important events taking place in the organization regarding MSME development.

The meeting agenda should have a mix of both progress report and interactive items. In order to ensure interactivity and dialogue at the meetings, the Secretariat should assist the Chair to:

  • Invite business associations to present specific problems they are facing, which are discussed and addressed in the District Enterprise Forum.
  • Invite relevant authorities for the specific problems to address.
  • Prepare questions to discuss for all the agenda items.
  • Ask for the Forum members’ opinion and advice in the problems presented.
  • Invite the Forum members or other stakeholders to present news on what is happening in the
  • District regarding MSME development.
  • In each meeting, the Forum members should assign stakeholders that take necessary actions on issues identified. Progress on these actions should be followed up by the Secretariat between the meetings and by the Forum at the meeting.
  • Some of the Forum meetings could be a local study tour – for instance, the meeting could take place at an important local enterprise and include a visit to its facilities.

Institutional Architecture of the Enterprise Forums


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