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Workshop on SME Development in the Mekong Region Held in Japan

19 Mar 2008

Contributed by Managing Director Siri Sayavong, LTM Group, Lao Trademark Agency, Lao PDR

The workshop on SME Development in the Mekong Region held in Japan, 19–22 February, left me with many unforgettable memories. The workshop title may sound simple, although in function and methods this was not like any workshop previously imagined. It assembled experienced keynote speakers from the host nation to augment resource speakers from the region at large. The workshop provided participants with practical tools, case studies, and experiences to take back to their home countries. In addition, the combination of lectures and study tours to such reputable firms as Honda Motors as well as supermarkets and exhibitions contributed to the excellence of this workshop. I can confidently assert that all participants gave a thumbs-up to the workshop.

My main objective in attending was to learn the key factors that could promote the development of SMEs from both Japan and other participating countries. Since SMEs account for 97% of economic activity in Lao PDR, they are considered to be both the heart of the economy and the engine for future growth. Thus I hoped that the workshop would teach methods to accelerate SME development, offering a brighter future for all Laotians. I had confidence that the methods would fit our needs since they have been tested in many countries including Japan and neighboring Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. Additionally, I wanted to learn measures and assessment methods connected with increasing productivity and socioeconomic development to ensure that the tools derived from this workshop would produce tangible results and higher productivity for my country.

Participants and resource speakers visiting Honda headquarters

Four consecutive days in a workshop environment may sound like a long time, but it was not for the participants. Each moment resulted in enlightenment in the form of a new concept or idea that could be adopted, adapted, and applied to SME development in Lao PDR. I found the presentation on SWOT tools given by JPC-SED Consultant Teruhiko Mitsufuji especially informative and useful. A thorough analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of Laotian SMEs within the SWOT framework will allow the tailoring of such strategic tools as 5S and kaizen to improve their productivity and competitiveness. Other presentations dealt with more advanced topics such as “Criteria for Management Assessment for SMEs in the Mekong Region,” and “Executive Guidelines for Self-improvement” and were also useful. The presentations helped me assess the tangible results and empirical measures showing the effectiveness of the tools that we learned about and used during the course of the workshop.

All of my colleagues from Lao PDR agreed that upon our return we would formulate a plan to develop a manual for SWOT analysis, 5S, and kaizen and one on the criteria for management assessment. Subsequently, in cooperation with the public sector, we will hold a training workshop to disseminate the contents of the manuals and provide training to trainers. Our longer-term goal is to offer training throughout the country, passing on the lessons that we ourselves learned from the workshop.

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