One of the startling revelations from the 2020 International Sustainability Conference, organised by the Lagos Business School (LBS), is that despite the depressed economy, which has seen companies shed staff or even shut down altogether, amid a second wave of recession, the MSME sector remained resilient, and vibrant notwithstanding the many challenges.
This edition of the annual LBS Sustainability Conference was designed to discuss Micro, small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in the time of COVID-19, how they have fared, and how they can be made stronger in view of the high mortality rate that has affected the sector.
The seminar, themed, “Sustainable Recovery from COVID-19: Policy and Business Solutions for Job Creation in Emerging Markets,” focused on the role of the emerging green sector, where more entrepreneurs can play in, and with greater guarantees for their personal and national economies as well as the sustained health of the environment.
The Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Climate Innovation Centre, Bankole Oloruntoba, who expressed surprise at the growth of MSMEs during COVID-19, at a session moderated by Dr Jubril Adeojo, MD of SMEFUNDS Capital, revealed that the sector generated around 10 to 20% more businesses since the advent of the pandemic.
He attributed the development to many more people finding their calling as entrepreneurs, as “everybody is now selling something”.
The need to create and sell something superior to what others are offering, or for a niche market identified by the entrepreneur is usually the motivation for setting up of MSMEs.
The relevance of MSMEs to the global economy is identified by the World Bank, as representing 90% of businesses, and more than 50% of employment worldwide. In emerging economies, formal SMEs are said to contribute up to 40% of the national income (GDP).
The conference, a two-part affair conducted virtually, saw presentations from Nneka Okekearu of the LBS, and Bankole Oloruntoba, who argued that despite the many challenges, MSMEs are in a good position to become stronger.
This is because they evolve better business models, keep track of processes and elements like costs and talent and do the pivot to the green space, which currently does not have the same competition. They also have the potential for a good profit and environmental wellbeing for as long as the players are able to scale quickly using innovative means to draw in more customers and users for their products.
Speakers on, “Food Security: Eliminating the Bottlenecks in Achieving Zero Hunger,” the Global Vice President, The Hunger Project, Rowlands Kaotcha; CEO, AFEX Nigeria Commodities Exchange Ltd., Ayodeji Balogun; and Dr Deputy President, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Fadel Ndiame, agreed that hunger was very evident and represents danger arising from COVID-19 and its fallout.
They noted that rural communities which form the largest bloc of smallholder farmers could make a big impact if given a sense of ownership, and helping them take the initiative for their own food security.
They said the African Green Revolution would be powered by renewable energy through the use of solar for irrigation, waste for fertilizers, and more.
The session, chaired by the Manager, LBS Sustainability Centre, Oreva Atanya, saw good feedback from an eminent audience, which asked questions and made suggestions towards a more vibrant MSME sector and achieving zero hunger.
Most of them insisted that government has a big role to play with adequate policy and regulatory frameworks as well as funding, an area where the private investors could key into with private capital for better dividend if well-deployed.