unctad.org | Why we should care more about small and medium-sized enterprises
Why we should care more about small and medium-sized enterprises
07 October 2016
United Nations
Entrepreneurship as a means to stimulate economic growth and combat poverty was put at the forefront of a dynamic conversation that took place on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York on 20 September 2016.


Holding a High-level conversation on Empowering SMEs through e-Trade and Investment Facilitation, Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, was joined by an eminent group of speakers who discussed the linkages between empowering small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the digital economy and the spill-over effects these can have in an interactive panel.

We have entered an era where many changes are going to take place in trade related sectors due to the fourth industrial revolution whose impact in society is going to be of unprecedented importance. As Jack Ma, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Alibaba Group and Special Adviser of UNCTAD for young entrepreneurs and small business mentioned, numerous jobs that are considered of relevance today will disappear and all panelists agreed that business as usual to overcome economic challenges does not apply anymore and that action needs to be taken at a worldwide level.

 
 

Jim Kim, President, World Bank Group set the tone by saying that the potentially best way forward to address these challenges is to empower SMEs and small business. Jack Ma continued by pointing out that these businesses represent a large portion of the private sector, estimated by him at about 90% of all companies. This is even higher in a region like Latin America where, according to Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC), SMEs represent 99% of all companies and where they offer 61% of the total employment.

The speakers all agreed that SMEs and small business by their very nature bring along innovation and an ability to more easily absorb new technologies, create jobs, including for women and the young. They are also more flexible and adapt more easily to changing economic and social circumstances that a digital economy will bring with it. Considering the large number of SMEs, the spill-over effect if they are empowered, receive training and get inspired, would be huge.

But, as highlighted by Dr. Kituyi and Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General, World Trade Organization (WTO), the current rule setting that governments impose on SMEs and small business creates many challenges that larger companies more easily overcome, but small ones cannot.

All speakers agreed that both governments and the private sector should engage into a continued dialogue on how to strengthen SMEs and enable them to create jobs and reduce poverty. The digital economy requires new rule setting that not only favors large companies, but that addresses the many challenges young entrepreneurs and small businesses face.

Dr. Kituyi ended the conversation by saying that this is the very reason why UNCTAD and Jack Ma entered into a new, smart partnership to work together on sensitizing the world on these issues.

A number of other initiatives are being brought forward, including Jack Ma's concept of a eWorld Trade Platform that received good support at the latest G20 meeting in Hangzhou, China early September and the recently launched eTradeforAll initiative of UNCTAD, which is supported by 16 international organizations and 22 private companies.

The eminent group of panelists consisted of Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Jack Ma, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Alibaba Group and Special Adviser of UNCTAD for young entrepreneurs and small business, Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General, World Trade Organization (WTO) and Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC), moderated by Sarah Murray, Financial Times and Economist contributor. Introductory remarks were made by Jim Kim, President, World Bank Group and David Nabarro, UN Special Adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, speaking on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made introductory remarks at the beginning of the event.

The high-level conversation was a first of a series of events and activities UNCTAD will carry out together with Mr. Ma in his capacity as the Special Adviser of UNCTAD for young entrepreneurs and small business.


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