My introduction to Smilenet was through Gerard, who visited the Highlands and Islands a couple of years ago and spoke at a conference about its work. However good the rest of the conference was, there was a phrase of his that stayed in my mind. He was describing the issues relating to small businesses and training, and focusing on the difficulties that small businesses face in seeing training as a solution.
"Smes do not consider that they have training needs," said Gerard in his faultless English with a charming French accent. "Smes talk of problems that they need to overcome. It is our task to help them see the links between their problems, training and the solutions they crave." A bold task, albeit well defined. A while later, I heard about a new Smilenet initiative with real implications for us here in the Highlands and Islands. It's called AGORA, and is one of the largest sme initiatives funded under the Fourth Framework programme. At first I learnt of the network side, setting up linked FirstClass servers throughout Europe, and using them in conjunction with the Internet for the best functionality currently available.
Once Calum of the Business Information Source, and of EurAlert fame, had invited me to get involved with the project locally, I understood a bit more about AGORA. It is tackling the issues confronting small and medium-sized enterprises and organisations (smos); those issues that Gerard had spoken of at the conference. The problems are the same throughout the different regions of Europe, and I thought I had got the name sussed. AGORA is surely an abbreviation of A Genuine Opportunity for Rural Areas.
Local and regional meetings have been held and you will be pleased to hear that the project is progressing well. But at every stage of involving more people, the same question comes up. What does AGORA stand for? Only the Internet seems to rival European projects for having absurd acronymic titles, and I am constantly amazed by the people who ask what VERONICA or YAHOO stands for, as if there are words behind them, or as if knowing those words leads to a full grasp of the concept. When the words are such idiocies as Very Easy Rodent Oriented Network Integrated Computer Archives or Yet Another Hierarchical Online Oracle you know there is a joke being played on someone somewhere.
Many participants have wondered if it was so with AGORA. Could it be the Alliance of Governmental Organisations for Regional Affiliation? It certainly involves numerous public sector organisations, committed to assisting businesses throughout Europe. Or perhaps the focus is on helping small business getting linked to the Internet, because it is common knowledge that Anyone Going Online Requires Assistance. One suggestion that came from a peripheral area, eager to share their quality of life, was that it might stand for Aligned Groups Offering Remote Advantage.
But we stray from the purpose of business itself. AGORA is setting up its networks, both human and technical, with one purpose in mind, and that is to help small businesses and organisations in overcoming their problems by accessing the solutions they require, whether these be training, publishing, expert or export help. Only when businesses are confident can they take advantage of the networks to sell their wares and expertise across Europe and around the world.
For them, AGORA represents Access for Global Ordering, Retailing and Advertising. Once we had plucked up the courage to ask the founder project members to set our minds at rest, we were greatly relieved. AGORA means what it says. It is the Greek word for assembly; kindly rest assured that all the puns about agoraphobia have already been made.