Etisalat deepens businesses through SME programme
The need to harness the potentials of small and medium scale enterprises as drivers of national economic growth gets more attention by the day. GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR, in this report, looks at how the newly launched Etisalat SME Arena will re-tool SMEs in Nigeria to deliver on this expectation.
No doubts, the integration of various state economies with their specific peculiarities into one global economy, overseen by the World Trade Organisation, has brought out new challenges for developing nations like Nigeria.
The protectionist mechanisms that traditionally supported small scale industries (SMEs) have had to fall away, as WTO rules become enforced in developing economies. However, in this period of globalisation of world trade, an increasing role is being assigned to the private sector in many developing countries. In parallel to, and as part of this shift, there has been the emergence of the micro and small-scale enterprise (MSE) sector as a significant component in economic development and employment.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in many countries, this sector – with both its informal and formal components – has increasingly been seen as a means of generating meaningful and sustainable employment opportunities, particularly, for those at the margins of the economy – women, the poor and people with disabilities.
In developed economies, SMEs are credited with sole responsibility of powering the socio-economic activities of states. The healthy western economies and the economic upsurge in East Asia are easy references to the power of small and medium businesses to drive economic growth.
It has already been acknowledged across the world that the SME sector is the backbone of any economy. Japan, India, China, and the Asian Tiger economies have all built their strong production bases on the SME sector. 88 per cent of Japan’s economy is based on the SME sector.
There are about 36.5 million growing businesses in Nigeria made up of Micro, Small and Medium scale Enterprises, according to available statistics from the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN).
The figure is more than the sum human population of certain countries. The SMEs sector, according to the agency, also accounts for about 75 per cent of Nigeria’s total employment base, as well as 80 per cent of the country’s total number of enterprises. These indices attest to the huge potentials of the SMEs sector to drive Nigeria to socio-economic self-sustenance.
This expectation is somewhat rightly placed in view of the many contributions the sector could potentially make to the overall growth of the economy. Among these include employment creation, improved per capita income, export earnings, facilitation of capacity utilisation in critical industries and wealth creation. It is estimated that businesses in this category could absorb up to 80 per cent of the unemployed population. Going by this, the multiplier effect of these millions of growing businesses providing jobs is amazing.
The Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, acknowledged in a 2015 report that SMEs accounted for 48 per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product in 2015, 55 per cent in 2014 and 47 per cent in 2013 respectively.
This impressive outlook underlines the critical roles they can play in the socio-economic well-being of the country. Experts note that despite these prospects and efforts targeted at making the sector an economic lubricant, it appears to have largely failed to come true on its promises, basically, due to certain challenges, which are well-documented. They have suggested at different fora that Nigeria’s economic growth especially under the current economic turmoil is directly proportional to the growth and role of the SMEs sector.
The potential for SME’s is great, but three main provisions need to be in place for the potential to be unlocked. First, business promoters must become aware of the opportunities to supply goods and services. Second, there needs to be an availability of relevant skilled labour. Third, finance must be made available in a timely manner and at affordable rates
There are reports that most SMEs in the country do not survive beyond the first five years of set–up, and that a smaller percentage go into extinction between the sixth and 10th year, while only about five per cent survive, blossom and grow to maturity. There is a general unanimity on the need to reposition the SMEs sector to enable it drive the economy and achieve a thriving impact.
The Chief Executive Officer, Etisalat Nigeria, Matthew Willsher, identified two factors that could facilitate the drive in terms these critical economic times: customers – listening to our customers, serving our customers, giving them outstanding experience – and innovation. “Things do not just get better by themselves, they get better through changing things, making a difference,” he said.
In an economy where construction and other civil infrastructure developments are doing well, the SME sector has had to do some extensive research to find niche products and services that can be produced and offered to the large corporates in a bid to become a player in the construction value chain.
Similar options can be developed in other prominent sectors such as food processing, agriculture and tourism.
With telecoms at its zenith in the country’s social stratification, it would not be wrong conversely, for some SMEs up-size to develop greater economies of scale, and embrace a larger portion of the value chain of production.
On the horizontal axis, many SMEs will need to consider product changes and sector changes in order to survive by providing the right product for the right industry that is doing well in a particular environment.
Already, a lot of large scale firms like Etisalat are holding workshops aimed at providing participants opportunity to fully appreciate the concept of entrepreneurship, as well as enhance their managerial capacity so as to navigate successfully, the challenging operating environment.
An applied solution to the problem of SMEs seems to have been evolved by Etisalat Nigeria, which is one of Nigeria’s most innovative telecommunication operators. Recently, in partnership with Singapore’s YuuZoo Corp, a renowned leader in e-commerce operations, unveiled an innovative and bespoke e-commerce and social networking platform, SME Arena, to help boost the chances of small and medium scale enterprises fulfil their socio-economic potentials.
Through the partnership, YuuZoo gains prime access to the booming e-Commerce and social networking market in Nigeria, with a specific focus on the huge SME market.
Speaking of this exciting new venture, YuuZoo CEO, James Sundram, said: “SME Arena provides an exciting new service to many Nigerians, who now can source and purchase a wide array of products online at their convenience.”
The dedicated e-commerce and social networking portal, developed and managed for Etisalat Nigeria by YuuZoo Corporation, enables small and medium-sized enterprises to converge, network, collaborate, showcase their products and interact with customers and business partners on the digital space, thereby enhancing efficiency, productivity and profit optimisation.
“It is a wonderful new tool to help businesses be both innovative and customer-orientated,” Willsher pointed out at te platform’s launch.
The Arena offers SME operators some exceptional features such as, the Community section, which enables customers and businesses to interact, share knowledge, find new businesses and markets, the marketplace, which provides a secure platform for both merchants to sell and visitors to buy products and services, and then, the directory section on which merchants can list their businesses and contact information for free for market visibility. This feature helps SMEs expand their client base and gain increased awareness for their businesses.
The Arena is not only a portal for buying and selling of products and services, but also a hub for businesses to learn from relevant experts and mentors. Additionally, both visitors and businesses are availed access to information regarding business set-up, positioning or branding and growth.
As an ecosystem that comes with a one-stop solution, the Arena provides some support services, which include nationwide delivery of goods through partners Zippy, DHL FedEx, Courier Plus, TNT and Quo, round-the-clock customer support, secure and robust payment options that include debit and credit cards, bank transfer, and cash on delivery and social media support channels via SME Arena Twitter, Facebook and Instagram handles.
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