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FEATURE STORYSeptember 15, 2023

Taking Big Dreams to the Next Level

 Jo-Ann Schet.

Jo-Ann Schet, owner of Leighloe Designs, a small business supported by the Enterprise Support Project

World Bank


  • The Enterprise Support Project has injected US$12 million into the Sint Maarten economy to date, supporting the recovery of 165 micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), of which 62 are owned or operated by women.
  • The training program targets existing and new MSMEs to build capacity, with topics ranging from business planning and entrepreneurship to marketing and taxes.
  • Direct financing packages support asset and repairs expenses, operational expenses, and loan refinancing.
Taking Advantage of the Opportunity

Jo-Ann Schet, an accomplished seamstress, started her fashion company, Leighloe Designs, in 2016 out of a workshop in her home, and things were progressing well: she bought sewing machines, worktables, and everything necessary to make her small business dreams come true. But one year later, in September 2017, Hurricane Irma hit Sint Maarten as a massive Category 5 storm and shattered Jo-Ann’s dreams—her workshop was destroyed. “Irma decided she needed my equipment,” Jo-Ann says. “I had to start all over again.” 

She started slowly rebuilding by taking a corporate job and continuing to sew on the side. Then, fate intervened: “[My friends] were talking about this program, the Enterprise Support Project, that was a great opportunity but almost nobody was taking advantage of,” Jo-Ann recalls. Her mind started turning, and all the plans for her business that she had put on hold could now move forward. She traded full-time work for part-time work to concentrate on her business. Her pitch focused on establishing a sewing school where she could train people in the community in a potentially lucrative trade. 

“In the last two years or so, I’ve really seen an increase in the number of people interested in learning to sew… I went from four or five students when I first started to about fifteen now,” she says. 

If I didn’t apply to the project, I probably wouldn’t be teaching right now, or I would still be teaching on the same domestic sewing machine with just one student. It is a really good opportunity for Sint Maarteners.
Fatimetou Mint Mohamed
Jo-Ann Schet
Owner of Leighloe Designs, a small business supported by the Enterprise Support Project

Keeping the Economy Alive 

Estimated damages and losses from Hurricane Irma totaled US$2.73 billion—255 percent of GDP. The upcoming tourist season had to be cancelled, which was a big blow because the country depends on the sector for 73 percent of its foreign exchange and up to one-third of its jobs. The Enterprise Support Project was launched in April 2019 and implemented by the National Recovery Program Bureau, working closely with select local financial institutions, the Ministries of Finance and of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication. 

In 2022, the project injected US$12 million into the economy, supporting the recovery of 165 MSMEs, of which 62 are owned or operated by women. The project provides three types of assistance packages: (1) a hybrid 65% grant/35% loan facility to help with asset acquisition and repairs; (2) a 100% loan for existing expenditures, and (3) a refinancing option to help free up capital. 

To help beneficiaries get the most of their experience, the National Recovery Program Bureau launched its Business Fundamentals training program to target existing and new MSMEs, with classes in business planning, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. Topics were then expanded to include marketing strategies, financial management, administration, compliance, and taxes. Out of the 49 participants, 36 completed the training. 

Small Business, Big Dreams 

With the project’s support, Jo-Ann now focuses on sewing full-time. She invested most of her funding into industrial sewing machines and other equipment necessary to outfit a workspace that could facilitate teaching. She teaches every day except Wednesdays and Fridays, which she dedicates to custom orders and designs for her ready-to-wear collection.  

Jo-Ann’s goal is to keep the traditional clothing and culture of Sint Maarten alive. She also wants to work toward creating a distinctive Caribbean product that can appeal to a wider market, attracting local consumers as well as tourists. Her five-year vision is to create a one-stop shop for sewing supplies and clothing on the island: “Companies here prefer to order off-island. But what if they ordered from local seamstresses? It’s right here; if there’s something wrong it’s easily fitted and altered. From an economic perspective, we need support from our own people.”


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