The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the Global Alliance PME (GAPME), Concordia, Columbia University-Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences, and Business Africa convened several consultative meetings in May and June 2020. The institutions expressed their shared and profound concern over the precarious state of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in so far as navigating the historic economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; in particular, SMEs in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) where such businesses are an essential force for generating jobs, reducing poverty, ensuring social cohesion and creating the conditions for the post-pandemic economic recovery.
The consortium discussed the specific challenges that SMEs in last-mile geographies experience given COVID-19, including disruption of value chains due to public transportation moratoriums, and problems relating to physical and digital infrastructure. This is on top of the significant decrease in demand and availability of commercial capital that threatens the sustainability of such businesses. The organisations also acknowledged that these existential challenges to SMEs directly undermine the purpose of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure that sustainable development touches every part of the world so that no one is left behind. The consortium also acknowledged that there are SMEs enacting innovative steps to transform their business processes, their products, and their workforces in response to COVID-19. CEOs of businesses such as these are rarely if ever given a platform to share their ideas, challenges, and vision.
As a result, the consortium has expressed its commitment to carrying out a COVID-19 SME survey that is designed to provide an accurate and actionable portrait of the challenges SMEs are facing in LDC markets due to the COVID-19 pandemic—a survey that has been deployed in the field today.
The institutions will leverage their extensive networks of SMEs in LDC markets to deploy the survey in order to acquire the quantity of data that will support robust insights; to develop content in the form of thought-leadership and knowledge sharing, commercial and policy intelligence, and development data; to provide avenues of programming to share the results with a wide network of relevant stakeholders; and to apply the appropriate academic rigor to ensure the quantitative value of the data.
The end goal is to create a database as well as commercial and policy intelligence products that will provide awareness to key stakeholders on how they can address SME needs, as well as identify investable opportunities; specifically targeting development finance institutions, institutional investors, impact investors, non-government organisations and public sector entities. The survey will seek to embody the appropriate rigor in both its design and deployment. This includes the application of the appropriate weighting to correct underrepresentation where it may arise. The institutions will also apply their data and insights capabilities towards this purpose.
Separate from the creation of the SME survey database and the associated commercial and policy intelligence products, the institutions agreed that the survey must serve as the basis for programming that will bring attention to the challenges of SMEs in LDC markets. Additionally, all six institutions agreed that programming related to the survey will include opportunities to feature CEOs and business leaders of SMEs that have participated in the survey. Providing a platform for these CEOs will be an essential aspect of the survey rollout, notably to cultivate the rare opportunity to connect these leaders with critical stakeholders from the areas of development finance and capital investment. The six institutions agreed that they will convene regularly for the remainder of the year along with all aspects of the survey, from design and deployment to data assessment to programming and publication.