Ms Coke-Hamilton stressed that MSMEs were the hardest hit by the pandemic. The ITC’s 2020 SME Competitiveness Outlook showed that 60% of micro-businesses and 57% of small businesses were very negatively affected by COVID-19 compared to only 43% of large firms.
She said: “We cannot afford to leave small businesses behind. How do we empower smaller firms, the very foundation of our global economy, to become more resilient in a global recovery? The vulnerabilities faced by MSMEs are multi-dimensional and so we should approach resilience building in the same manner.”
In her view, a long-lasting resilience for MSMEs is built when small businesses have a voice in the international trade space and when they are helped to implement greener business practices through innovative financing mechanisms, affordable green technology and training. She noted that enhancing a firm’s resilience is closely linked to digital connectivity as firms need this to take advantage of the international e-commerce marketplace.
Mechi Amaah, the founder of Black and Natural Cosmetics, a natural hair product manufacturing start-up based in Cameroon, shared how COVID-19 has impacted her business’s access to raw materials and packaging products. The start-up has adapted by sourcing alternative raw materials locally, she said. The company has also started looking into other ways of packaging products to move away from imported plastic bottles. In addition, the company has shifted into making more environmentally friendly products, which has also cut production costs.
Mr Olusegun Awolowo, CEO of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, shared how Nigerian small businesses were impacted by the pandemic and how the Council has helped them mitigate the negative effects. He said that in the agri-sector perishable goods were negatively impacted by a decrease in demand but there was a corresponding increase in demand for other products in this sector. The Council helped MSMEs freight these goods during the lockdown. The Council also signed partnership agreements with courier companies to help women-led small businesses get reduced fees for shipping their goods abroad.
Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, President and Founding Partner of the fashion and design house Rags2Riches based in the Philippines, shared the strategies she employed to weather the effects of the pandemic on her business. Prior to the pandemic, Rags2Riches created bags woven from fabric infused with indigenous textiles. Due to the difficulty in sourcing raw materials during the lockdown, the company had to find other ways to earn revenue, turning to the production of face masks and personal protective equipment. The company also started looking into enhancing its online presence and entering into partnerships with logistics providers.
Maria Isabel Montoya Duarte, founder of Nicahat in Nicaragua, shared how the company is using e-commerce to sell hand-made products and educate local consumers about their historic, cultural values. She noted that e-commerce has empowered women and helped their companies to grow.
Rosa Whitaker, CEO of the Whitaker Group, which helps businesses invest and expand market share in Africa, highlighted the need to incorporate small and marginalised businesses into global value chains. She also noted that a lack of trade finance is preventing MSMEs from participating in global trade, particularly businesses in Africa.