Supporting the lifeblood of our nation
By Lynda Saint-Nwafor, Chief Enterprise Business Officer MTN
When considering the outlook for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), companies like BUA, Dangote, Eleganza, and Seplat don’t often come to mind. Yet, each of them started as a small business. These companies serve as lighthouses for what we can achieve with the right skills, product and operating environment. Not every SME will make that leap, but their economic contributions are no less impactful. Throughout the world, SMEs provide platforms that make economic growth possible and play a crucial role in addressing poverty, inequality and unemployment. The sector is the backbone of major developed economies and a critical catalyst for industrial and technological advancement. In Nigeria, approximately 96 percent of businesses are SMEs, and according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), they contributed about 48 percent of the national GDP between 2013 and 2017 accounting for 84 percent of employment. They improve per capita income and export earnings, enhance capacity utilisation in key industries and unlock economic expansion and GDP growth.
Despite this potential, the majority of SMEs struggle to outgrow their operating environment or internal capacity deficits. Most SMEs die within their first five years of existence, and only about five to ten percent are able to survive, thrive and achieve maturity. Most SME failures are attributed to lack of access to information, knowledge, financial support and credit investment. In addition, limited access to markets and lack of requisite skills needed to grow and scale the business, make it difficult to navigate and overcome challenges when they arise. This, in turn, affects the likelihood SMEs surviving in the long term.
Despite these challenges, this segment of the economy continues to grow and innovate. In the most recent past, that growth has been aided by the foresight of The Honourable Minister of Communications and the Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami, who has prioritised the designing of processes to drive the Nigerian Digital Revolution as a critical component of the government’s agenda, since the start of his tenure. There is no denying the role telecoms plays in transforming industries such as healthcare, banking, education, manufacturing and beyond, the Minister and the EVC of NCC’s collective commitment to improving participation in industry, through the advancement of our digital economy is a key success factor in the growth of this segment of the population.
In recognition of the potential in this segment, public and private sector players have developed and rolled out interventions designed to support growth. The federal government has introduced different initiatives, including the Marketmoni scheme and Anchor Borrowers Programme, in a bid to ensure the sustainability of small businesses in Nigeria by improving credit access. The initiatives also include the establishment of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council, tasked with reforming the business environment. As at July 2019, the federal government has been able to create 250,000 direct jobs and 1.25 million indirect jobs through the implementation of the Anchor Borrowers’ scheme and has provided 350,000 businesses in the 36 states with access to credit facilities through its Marketmoni schemes. Many private sector organisations are also committed to playing a part – some of whom have launched different initiatives to support the provision of an enabling environment in Nigeria. These initiatives cut across the provision of loan facilities as well as the launch of SME clinics majorly driven by financial institutions aimed at empowering SMEs to make informed choices about their business.
Even as SMEs grapple with the traditional challenges that come with running a small business, they and businesses across the world are faced with the need to transition to digital models at a pace far greater than ever before. How quickly they can scale, build resilience and even survive is now contingent on how digitally included they are. Entrepreneurs who had previously been able to access markets or information without digital tools are finding it increasingly difficult to do so. The current global pandemic which has affected consumer spend, livelihood, health and more, has also placed additional pressure and constraints on most SMEs and the broader Nigerian economy. The pandemic has emphasised the importance of digital inclusion and being part of the digital economy as a critical factor in the battle for SME survival. This makes SMEs, an already vulnerable segment, in need of critical interventions to support and fortify their businesses.
At MTN, we believe that homegrown SMEs are the lifeblood of Nigeria and this is reflected in how we consistently develop and deliver solutions designed to transform the operations of businesses, improve productivity and increase their ability to leverage digital technology. Over the years, we have empowered many businesses across Nigeria, providing them with a wide range of solutions and access to needed resources. We recognise the importance of creating additional supporting structures for SMEs, especially as we navigate a COVID reality. It is this guiding principle that spearheaded the Revv Program, a give-back initiative by MTN, aimed at addressing the critical needs of SMEs during and beyond COVID, leveraging our technology and productivity tools, social media platforms and wealth of experience and knowledge. This initiative will consist of a series of business-related masterclasses targeted at over 10,000 SMEs, delivery of empowerment tools for a select 200 small businesses, as well as marketing support and advisory services for many more. The platform, which was launched with a roundtable, themed, “SME Roundtable – What are your burning issues?”, will address the challenges SMEs face, while offering ways and means to surmount these challenges. Our problems may be vast, but together we can overcome them, and doing so will create the foundation for an even more vibrant and sustainable society.
To quote Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s speech at the recent launch of an SME Clinic at the Ecumenical centre in Ebonyi state, “SMEs are the engine room of the economy and are often significant employers of skilled and unskilled labour, and key service providers to government and large corporations.” They are vital parts of the building blocks of the Nigerian economy and play a catalytic role in the economic transformation of Nigeria. It behoves us to view the creation of an enabling environment for the sustenance of SMEs as a collective responsibility and MTN is committed to playing our part in building the businesses of tomorrow, today.