Competencies for Central American SMEs in the Knowledge-Based Economy

Knowledge-based economy not only affects well developed countries but also the performance and possibilities of small economic actors positioned on less developed countries. Micro, small and medium enterprises - characterized by low financial and human capital - are also exposed to the opportunities and risks associated to the introduction of technology enhanced knowledge on their poductive and commercial processes. Within the context of a globalized economy, possibilities arise for extended production and supply chains, diversification of economic actors, cost reduction and process simplification. Or, on the contrary, there could be increased possibilities for the marginalization of those unable to cope with those changes. Success or failure of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in this context depends on a big extent on the set of competencies they can develop: a wise mix of relevant knowledge, appropriate skills and functional behaviours.

In the case of the Central American region, where SMEs represent around 95% of the economic activity and over 60% of employment, the challenge of developing the right competencies among these groups appears as a fundamental step towards developing a knowledge-based economy. Nevertheless, the question of how these competencies are locally identified, configured and operationalized in particular developing regions and, more importantly, on how they can be adapted, packaged and communicated in a specific training environment is, as of yet, insufficiently explored.

Through a 30-month project, two respected research and training institutions in the region (Fundación Omar Dengo from Costa Rica and the regionally oriented Inter-American Centre for Knowledge Development in Vocational Training (CINTERFOR) - an International Labour Organisation-supported research and training institute - will collaborate under the common goal of investigating the role new competencies can play in facilitating an integration of certain clusters of SMEs to a more complex knowledge-based economy, and how they can be adopted and integrated to enhance their productivity.

For that purpose, the project combines a) field research oriented to identify and systematize the specific set of competencies required, b) research to understand social patterns associated with the adoption and use of such competencies, and c) an effort to translate those specifically adapted competencies into training material and assessment resources for SMEs in the Central American region.

The project pays particular attention to the information and communication technologies (ICT) related competencies, as technologies plays a key and growing role in managing knowledge and exchange. There is a well-documented linkage between competencies to participate in a knowledge economy and the appropriation of specific skills related to the use of technology for specific purposes. Although these competencies are not necessarily ICT-centred, it is hard to imagine that without an ICT component the competencies can be acquired. The project also looks at ways to generate ICT-enabled environments to train and develop SMEs in these new capacities.

Based on a combination of field research and relevant investigation available, this project will produce concrete guidelines and training material to be used by SMEs in their training and capacity building processes.

In order to focus the field research in some highly sensitive potential economic industries, three economic clusters were identified: small agroindustry sectors in Nicaragua, small scale tourism in Costa Rica and natural medical and cosmetic products in El Salvador. Among the criteria considered are a) a good perspective of development and improvement for existing SMEs, b) a possibility to extrapolate results to other emerging economic areas, c) involvement of productivity chains, d) high possibilities to improve productivity through the use of ICTs and d) interesting possibilities to resonate among policy making spheres.

Project ID


Project status


Start Date

Friday, April 1, 2011

End Date

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


30 months

IDRC Officer

Ceballos, Florencio

Total funding

CA$ 746,800


North and Central America, South America, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua


Employment and Growth

Project Leader

Fernando Barros Martinet


International Labour Organisation

Institution Country


Institution Website

Project Leader

María Eugenia Bujanda


Omar Dengo Foundation

Institution Country

Costa Rica

Institution Website