You have all the digital options to grow your SME

Tuesday January 19 2021

A group of innovators show off different social media marketing platforms. PHOTO/COURTESY.

By Charlotte Ninsiima

The easiest panacea of Covid-19 is to figure out what opportunities you can hold on. 

And as it looks, there is so much hurry to take on what is available amid growing challenges.   
It is, therefore, not intriguing that during the ‘Boost with Facebook’ webinar series hosted by the Innovation Village, Wangeci Kanyeki, the moderator of the day, was overwhelmed with responses when he asked what opportunities were available to hold onto.  

E-commerce, virtual meetings, e-learning platforms for schools pick-up and delivery services, farming tutorials and opportunities in ICT infrastructure were some of the mentions in a list is endless suggestions. 

In partnership with Facebook, the programme themed, ‘Leveraging digital platforms for Covid-19 SME recovery’, seeks to share skills and knowledge to help small businesses build resilience amid Covid-19.  

Built around interactive panel discussions and digital skilling webinars, the Boost with Facebook series brought together government representatives, private sector and startups to share experiences and learn how digital platforms can play a role in recovery of the economy. 

In her keynote speech, Mercy Ndegwa, the Facebook, East and Horn of Africa head of public policy, said Facebook seeks to provide users with the power to grow their community using different tools and apps. 
Facebook, she said, relies heavily on innovation to make sure people achieve what they want and bringing communities closer. 


“We recently launched the Global State of Small Business Report to examine the impact of Covid-19 on micro-businesses and livelihoods of people in Sub-Saharan Africa. We found that businesses suffered reduced revenues, cut off staff and access to customers was hard. We want to ensure that businesses get the opportunity to utilise available resources to build resilience,” she said. 

The programme gives insights into how people operate at grassroots as well as helping business owners to embrace digital opportunities to reach wider audiences. 

“SMEs are the heart of Facebook. They need to position themselves to make attractive content and promote it to reach more for followers,” Ndegwa said. 

Speaking in a webinar recently, Arnold Bareba, the Uganda Communications Commission manager projects in the Rural Communications Development Fund, said “It is important that businesses owners know and control the content they churn out.”

Covid-19 has kept everyone in a somewhat virtual corner linked up by mainly social media or the Internet. 

But beyond this has been the issue of technological innovations that have come in droves. 

According to Japheth Kawanguzi, the Innovation Village team leader, Covid-19 has emphasised the role of technology in business operations and its convenience. 

“At the Village, we were able to work with our start-ups to put over 4,000 SMEs online. The partnership with Facebook only gives us an opportunity in reaching more youth on how to navigate tools such as Facebook in digitising businesses.”

Ninety six per cent of entrepreneurs, he says, fail, which is also common in grown ecosystems, however, it is important that we work towards building a sustainable ecosystem to support businesses grow. 
SMEs account for 90 per cent of the private sector and employ three million people contributing 70 percent to National GDP. 

Therefore, equipping them with digital skills keeps them competitive, which can be achieved by leveraging on increase in Internet penetration. 
According to UCC, there is a slight increase in Internet connections with subscribers growing from 18.3 million to 18.9 million. 

The increase is centrally to a 13 per cent global reduction and there has been a noticeable stability in devices supply propped up by initiatives by device sellers and telecoms. 

However, not even this has saved SMEs as they continue to face challenges of reduced demand and cash flow. 
John Walugembe, the Federation of Small Medium Enterprises executive director, believes that whereas challenges will come in all shapes, SMEs must be part of the digital revolution. 

This, he says, should be every business’s agenda and there must not be any excuse including poor connectivity and cost, especially in the rural areas. 

For the last two years, UCC has been building partnerships to identify problems and solutions, especially around digital literacy, which is a key impediment to SME progress across the country. 

But beyond this, is the need to address prices of both devices and Internet, which according to Aaron Musoke, the Innovation Village UpSkill senior associate special projects, are relevant excuses for the slow growth.