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Let corporates be innovative, steer small businesses out of pandemic

Wednesday July 01 2020
Entrepreneur pics

Carol Nzioki at her tailoring studio in Nairobi. Development experts want governments to offer credit to women running micro, small and medium enterprises whose businesses have borne the brunt of Covid-19 crisis. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MARTIN MUGAMBI

June 27 is the annual Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSME) Day, set aside by the UN General Assembly to recognise the need to improve small business development.

However, with the Covid-19 pandemic showing no signs of relenting, the day, like many other important events so far this year, was low-key and almost went by unnoticed.

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the fact that, in times of crisis, it is those who invent new ways of doing things who set the pace and create solutions. And nowhere is this more evident than in the African MSME sector.

A recent TechnoServe study, “Impact of Covid-19 on micro-retail businesses”, revealed that 27 per cent of MSME businesses across the continent have closed temporarily and 1.8 per cent permanently due to the pandemic.

It also revealed that duka — a critical segment of the MSMEs sector and which account for 80 per cent of basic consumer goods sold in Kenya — had experienced a 41 per cent decrease in daily revenues by end of May. In addition, 23 per cent of the businesses have suspended their employees while 28 per cent said they were at risk of closing down.

But however gloomy it sounds, the situation presents a great opportunity for corporations that work with MSMEs to invent ways of supporting these critical businesses, which form the backbone of emerging economies. And, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), they make 90 per cent of employment in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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With government aid trickling in or, in some instances, not there at all, MSMEs are looking up to their corporate partners as the ‘big brother’ to give them a helping hand and it is time for the latter to rise to the occasion.

Since you cannot treat a new ailment with old remedies; this is where necessity becomes the mother of invention and corporate bodies put their best innovative foot forward. At Citibank Kenya, Covid-19 has made us rethink our annual Global Community Day.

The government recently developed the National Covid-19 Nutrition and Healthy Diets Guidelines, including toolkits with affordable technologies for the creation of “Kitchen Garden Starter Kits”. This initiative by the Ministry of Agriculture is being embedded as a component of permanent lifestyle change for both rural and urban dwellers. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) believes kitchen gardens can survive on wastewater and organic household and farm wastes, which, ideally, are composted to provide nutrients for the garden and often field crops.

As we heed the government’s call to stay at home, we can utilise spaces in our homes or balconies for vertical gardening as a source of reliable food supply. The produce from these kitchen gardens can also be sold to substitute dwindling incomes due to the pandemic and it is an opportunity for lifestyle change and adoption of healthy diets.

Regardless of the pandemic, there is untapped potential for this kind of garden to impact on environmental outcomes and public awareness.

Amid the coronavirus crisis and in the face of adversity and uncertainty, it is becoming apparent that the world is moving to a new normal. And for corporate bodies that closely work with MSMEs, the pandemic is a call to rapidly shift their business models to deliver help and support which will ensure that retailers whose business the corporate world is anchored on make it out alive.

Unlike previous years, when occasions like the Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day was marked with celebrations and gatherings, the Covid-19 pandemic is a stark reminder that we should not always take things for granted. Above all, it is an opportunity for corporate bodies to take the lead in developing innovative ways through which our business models can withstand and outlive the pandemic.

Mr Mugambi is the chief executive officer of Citibank N.A. Kenya and head of its East Africa Cluster. [email protected] @MartinAMugambi

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