Saluting young entrepreneurs and small business is not enough. They need support.
Small businesses are more than the engine of economies. They are a source of hope, income and scalability – but only with the right investment.
On 27 June, the day dedicated to celebrating micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (World MSME Day), UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi called on both big business and governments to invest more in these first responders to societal needs.
“We all need to invest in entrepreneurs and small businesses in the developing world to stimulate growth in these economies,” Dr. Kituyi said.
“Bolstering a country’s economy is not only about courting big global companies. It is also about supporting home-grown business owners by providing the education, infrastructure, policies and regulations they need.”
“So today we also call on governments and corporations to do their part and invest in critical areas that help small businesses become better, stronger and more productive and sustainable.”
Today, more than 64 million young people are unemployed worldwide and 145 million young workers live in poverty, according to the International Labour Organization.
The situation is even worse in developing and least developed countries (LDCs), where the number of young people is rapidly expanding.
Promoting entrepreneurship, empowering young entrepreneurs and creating a more favourable environment for MSMEs could be a powerful solution to unemployment and economic stagnation.
Already MSMEs account for more than 90% of all businesses and around 70% of jobs worldwide.
Buoying and investing in them is not only a way to keep economies stable and growing, but also supports vulnerable groups such as women, youth and the poor.
This is not always easy, especially in the developing world.
Many entrepreneurs and small businesses here operate in survivalist mode.
UNCTAD’s 2018 Least Developing Country report finds that while 70% of the total working force in LDCs are self-employed, most have low chances of survival and growth and little propensity to innovate.
“This situation needs to change, and governments need to formulate deliberate strategies to nurture entrepreneurship that has impact,” Dr. Kituyi added.
Two turnkey UNCTAD programmes, which focus on entrepreneurs and young people, aim to be part of the solution.
An entrepreneur network bar none
In 1988 UNCTAD established Empretec, a capacity-building programme to help MSMEs facilitate sustainable development and inclusive growth.
A unique mix of training and a powerful network of Empretec centres in 40 countries not only provide these entrepreneurs with skills to start and run their businesses, but also help them to explore international markets and establish cross-border business links.
In the 30 years since its launch, Empretec has helped entrepreneurs across the world win awards, set up profitable and sustainable businesses, increase their survival and growth rates and create new jobs.
One such business owner is Jennifer Shigoli, who after completing UNCTAD's entrepreneurship programme grew a start-up making reusable sanitary pads for girls who otherwise might miss out on an education.
She credits Empretec for her success.
“In June 2016, I took the Empretec course and the first big thing that I learned was entrepreneurship,” she said.
“There’s a big myth about entrepreneurs – but who is an entrepreneur? I got the real meaning from the training we had at Empretec. And the 10 Personal Entrepreneurial Competencies – I follow them like my 10 Commandments.”
The programme has assisted 420,000 entrepreneurs to date.
UNCTAD is also involved in initiatives to support young entrepreneurs and MSMEs.
One of these is the eFounders Fellowship Program, a smart partnership between UNCTAD and the Alibaba Business School, which aims to empower young e-founders in developing countries and bridge the digital divide in Africa and Asia.
“Young people have great solutions and given the right opportunities and support, they have huge potential to drive economic growth,” Dr. Kituyi said.
An example from the Africa class of the eFounder’s programme comes in the form of a young entrepreneur from Cameroon, Cedric Atangana.
“We were about to close our company in December 2017 because we were running out of cash. Some of our team members jumped the boat and it was almost chaotic,” he said.
Atangana is chief executive and co-founder of WeCashUp.com, a pan-African payment platform that enables e-commerce businesses to accept and disburse payments in cash, mobile money and cards in 36 African countries.
“Then, the eFounders programme completely changed our lives at WeCashUp.com,” Mr. Atangana said, describing his experience at Alibaba’s headquarters in HangZhou, China, as eye-opening.
The training he received allowed him to strategize and restructure WeCashUp. Many of the other eFounders have similar stories.
To date 212 young online entrepreneurs have been trained via this smart partnership. Over time this number will reach 1,000.
This is an example of the difference an organization can make, though more needs to be done, Dr. Kituyi emphasized.
“Today, we salute the many courageous entrepreneurs who, every day, take the leap and start a business,” Dr. Kituyi added.
The UN General Assembly declared 27 June World MSME Day in recognition of small business’s gigantic contribution to the global economy and to sustainable development away from the spotlight.