Creating A Thriving Ecosystem for Resilient Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises

Anne Bitga and Hillary Proctor
Men and woman selling food from truck

Sherwan, a 26-year-old entrepreneur from Guyana with a successful food truck, wanted to expand his business. He applied for a loan that took almost six months to be approved. In order to have the loan disbursed, he was required to pay multiple fees, which limited his access to the loan and resources to invest in business growth. Though it all worked out in the end, Sherwan lost valuable time and investment resources because of an environment that does not promote the development of small businesses.

He is not alone. Micro, small, and medium enterprise (MSME) owners face obstacles like these every day, even more so now during the global COVID-19 pandemic. The restrictions put in place to help stop the spread of the virus have had an exceptionally damaging impact on many of these businesses, and the financial support provided by governments often favor large corporations over MSMEs.

Despite the creativity, zeal, and hard work of many business owners, achieving growth, resilience, and sustainability in many business environments is challenging at best. There is no “one-size-fits-all” model to enterprise development, but by following a few steps, we can work towards building a thriving and inclusive ecosystem where MSMEs can support each other and more business owners, like Sherwan, can succeed.

Creating More Inclusive Business Environments

Many MSME owners are at a systematic disadvantage because they are part of marginalized or vulnerable groups. While changing exclusionary practices seems an insurmountable obstacle, it can be done if we are intentional about bringing an inclusion lens into our enterprise development work. At Making Cents, we customize our toolkits to cater to the specific economic and social constraints encountered by the business owners we are supporting. We also work with local partners to help create more inclusive environments where all businesses can succeed. For example, in Kenya under the USAID-funded KCDMS activity, Making Cents trained the project’s social inclusion team to initiate discussions with market actors on the advantages of engaging women and youth as not only customers but also service providers.

Facilitating Access to Coaching

As their businesses expand, MSME owners frequently lack the experience and networks from which to garner advice or support that would help them develop responses to challenges or require them to look at areas in which they can improve instead of focusing only on external factors like finance or regulations. If we facilitate connections between these business owners and experienced trained business coaches, they can access the perspective of experience and build the skills necessary to succeed. Making Cents applied our MSME coaching approach in Haiti, where we invited business owners to participate in a series of individual workshops, facilitated by a trained business coach. During the workshops, participants had the opportunity to pause and reflect critically upon both the internal and external aspects of their businesses, ranging from financial management to company leadership to accessing new markets.

Five men in discussion around tableAs a first step, business owners completed a self-assessment process, ranking their business’ strengths and weaknesses. This self-assessment process then allowed business owners and coaches the ability to develop tailored support plans needed to address gaps within their business. The process also highlighted areas to engage with other experts who not only can offer coaching support but also expand the business owner’s network.

Increasing the Availability of Technical Support

An element often neglected when talking about a thriving MSME ecosystem is the need for technical assistance. MSMEs may not have the technical experts they need on staff, but, in many markets, the business consulting field is underdeveloped. There is a cadre of technical experts who do not know how to work with MSMEs. Making Cents addresses this through our Business Development Service Providers (BDSPs) approach which helps strengthen the business consulting skills of these providers. We applied this approach in Uganda, where our team trained 272 BDSPs. Our workshops introduced them to the fee-for-service business consulting model, orienting them to the critical tools and approaches needed to perform effective BDSP work. These workshops also increased their understanding of marketing, pricing, and customer service.

Recognizing their Contribution

MSMEs are the engines of economic growth, and we must recognize them as such. The value of MSMEs to the economy of a country is often underestimated. Globally, MSMEs account for about 90 percent of businesses. In low-income countries, they create 70 percent of employment, generating 60 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). In middle-income countries, MSMEs produce 70 percent of the GDP.

If we want MSMEs to be sustainable and resilient, they cannot be overlooked. They need access to the tools and resources that can help plan for growth, leading to job creation and increased wealth in their communities. At Making Cents, we are committed to doing just that.