MSME Day: As technology unlocks economic value for small enterprises, By Zeenat Sambo

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Technology has a huge effect on the ability of businesses and governments to harness natural resources and use them in the most effective ways possible to benefit themselves and the economy. This is why Nigerian technology agencies need to sustain awareness campaigns for MSMEs to adopt the use of technology aimed at facilitating the digital economy.

As the world celebrates Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) Day every June 27, this is a day  designated by the United Nations General Assembly to serve as a reminder that small enterprises provide sustainable development goals, encourage innovation, provide livelihoosd to millions, and are essential for the economic wellbeing of any society.

The theme of this year’s World MSME Day is “Resilience and Rebuilding: MSMEs for Sustainable Development.” Global experts have not only recognised the day as a way forward for MSMEs as major contributors to the world economy but to also indulge MSMEs in digital inclusion and visibility.

The recent initiative by the Federal Government in acknowledging and contributing to the development of MSMEs in the country is remarkable. In commemoration of the World MSME Day, the Nigerian government announced a plan to establish at least one Shared MSMEs Facility in every state of the federation. With over five shared facilities currently in operation, the project is said to help improve engagements between government and MSMEs, to contribute more to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and inspire prospective business owners to strive for excellence.

The project, as outlined, provides MSMEs with affordable shared access to essential amenities such as power, high quality operating equipment, and broadband connectivity, as government works to reduce the cost of operation of small businesses across the country. This is applicable to all MSMEs, which are free to participate in the scheme.

Additionally, the director general of the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), Olawale Fasanya, also related how the government further plans to focus more on startups in the agricultural sector and women-led enterprises in Nigeria in order to enhance its economic diversification policy.

He said: “As the world marks the 2022 MSME Day, we remain unyielding in strengthening MSMEs and startups, particularly in agriculture, agro-based industries, as well as youth and women-led enterprises”.

With all these unyielding support and encouragement, it is important to note that in this digital age, the incorporation of MSMEs into Nigeria’s digital ecosystem is unavoidable for sustainable development.

MSMEs are business entities that have about seventy-five employees or fewer. In addition to employing a large percentage of labour in Nigeria, the sector has also been able to drive inventions leading to an increase in job creation, while also highlighting the important role of technology in economic growth.

According to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), small and medium enterprises in Nigeria contributed about 48 per cent of the national GDP in the last five years. With a total number of about 17.4 million MSMEs, they account for about 50 per cent of industrial jobs and nearly 90 per cent in the manufacturing sector.

With technological advancement and the internet penetration in Nigeria, it is evident that the awareness around MSMEs has increased, but they still need more engagement. As consumers migrate to the Internet for everything from gifts to groceries, companies/busineses with physical storefronts are now also creating online stores to extend their visibility and reach target markets beyond their local communities.

Despite numerous challenges such as inadequate working capital, stiff competition from larger companies, difficulties in sourcing raw materials, low capacity utilisation, among other challenges faced by MSMEs, their significance to the Nigerian economy cannot be overemphasised.

With technological advancement and the internet penetration in Nigeria, it is evident that the awareness around MSMEs has increased, but they still need more engagement. As consumers migrate to the Internet for everything from gifts to groceries, companies/busineses with physical storefronts are now also creating online stores to extend their visibility and reach target markets beyond their local communities.

Through internet-assisted marketing, small businesses can access available funds, communicate with their clients via email, blogs, social networking, and forums. Using the instant connection, micro-business owners can immediately apply customer feedback to their businesses, as soon as possible.

For instance, the food cart/mobile food business, rental services, liquid soap production, mobile phone repairs, blogging to even the making and sales of plantain chips have, in a way, built online stores with the ability to instantly connect, share information and receive feedback.

Creative sector enterprises such as crafters, clothing and accessories designers, and painters have found it a lot easier to set up online stores rather than invest in expensive storefronts. However, when small businesses adopt new technologies in their processes, they are required to train their employees to take advantage of business opportunities.

Apart from MSMEs, startups such as Wardchat and Myclinic.ng have digitalised the Nigerian electoral process and medical/clinical consultation, even as more industries are leveraging digital technology to reach out to a larger audience and activate change.

Technology has a huge effect on the ability of businesses and governments to harness natural resources and use them in the most effective ways possible to benefit themselves and the economy. This is why Nigerian technology agencies need to sustain awareness campaigns for MSMEs to adopt the use of technology aimed at facilitating the digital economy.

NITDA, SMEDAN and other stakeholders within the tech innovation industry team must raise awareness on digital tools, training, and capacity-building programmes to motivate MSMEs to embrace innovative but cost-effective digital technologies. Digital connectivity should be strengthened to help MSMEs to acquire technical and networking skills virtually/online without having to travel out of their immediate locations.

To that effect, the untiring efforts of Federal Government agencies like the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), alongside those of its subsidiaries, have over the years promoted technology for MSMEs and startups by establishing over 1500 IT Centres across the country, where thousands of people can gain basic computer skills to set up their businesses.

As part of the commitment to ensure the successful implementation of its mandate, NITDA unveiled the Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan (SRAP 2021 – 2024) to prioritise digital innovation and entrepreneurship support for MSMEs, in order for them to evolve into Innovation-Driven Enterprises (IDEs).

Recently, NITDA scored another landmark achievement with the establishment of a state-of-the-art fabrication laboratory (FabLab) through one of its subsidiaries, the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR). High-tech equipment available in the facility includes CNC routers, laser cutters, milling machines, 3D printers, embroidery machines, and a lab oven. The FabLab offers the opportunity for young Nigerian innovators to create solutions and help MSMEs and other sectors to thrive in the digital economy.

Meanwhile, international tech giants like Google, through partnerships with public and private sector organisations created programmes to provide MSMEs access to support in the areas of funding, training, and networking, to expose them to the necessary knowledge and expertise to actively participate in the global market place.

NITDA, SMEDAN and other stakeholders within the tech innovation industry team must raise awareness on digital tools, training, and capacity-building programmes to motivate MSMEs to embrace innovative but cost-effective digital technologies. Digital connectivity should be strengthened to help MSMEs to acquire technical and networking skills virtually/online without having to travel out of their immediate locations.

Undoubtedly, when adequate resources are channeled into our small businesses, more entrepreneurs and innovators will grow in communities and contribute their quotas to boosting development and fostering wealth creation for the wellbeing of our community dwellers.

Zeenat O. Sambo writes from Abuja.

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