The second edition of the Beyond the Known conference, which will be held online on 26-27-28 October, 2021, aims to facilitate peer learning and exchange of experiences among MSME development practitioners. I am looking forward to moderating the event, which is organised by seven organisations: BMZ/GIZ, EBRD, IFC, Swisscontact, Argidius Foundation and ILO.

The economic effects of public health and lockdown measures disproportionately affected MSMEs in general and informal enterprises in particular. The year 2021, and recovery from Covid-19, will therefore be a venturing into the unknown. – Information Note, Beyond the Known 2021

In preparation for the Conference, a Call for Solutions was put out, and organisations involved in entrepreneurship promotion were asked to submit their innovative solutions around MSME development, in line with any of the following three identified tracks:

Track 1: Achieving dynamic and resilient entrepreneurial ecosystems

Track 2: Accelerating MSME access to financial services through new technologies and skills development program.

Track 3: Challenging inclusiveness and environmental sustainability in entrepreneurship

Many new approaches to entrepreneurship support have emerged over the past decades, accompanied by impact reports and practitioners with extensive personal experience. But how can entrepreneurship practitioners provide their immense amount of isolated knowledge to MSMEs, entrepreneurs, and development partners to help develop new entrepreneurship ecosystems and strengthen existing ones in order to create resilient and dynamic businesses?

Developing dynamism and resilience in African MSMEs will be vital for its economy post-COVID because of the sheer size of the formal and informal SME sector, and the opportunities and innovations it provides.

Promoting dynamism in entrepreneurship should focus on MSME’s capabilities to reconfigure, respond and evolve in response to changing conditions, rather than rely solely on maintaining existing resources and competencies. It must also provide a means for businesses to identify and seize opportunities by acquiring new competencies or improving on existing ones.

In-house, businesses may work towards building resilience by ensuring employee health and well-being through effective talent and workforce management. This perhaps might mean more opportunities for remote work or any form of work environment that also empowers workers. Additionally, they must display readiness to transform skillsets, especially in the face of structural change such as an increased reliance on digital markets and workplaces.

Businesses and their support systems must be closely involved with governments and policy makers in designing policies, frameworks and interventions that encourage business resilience. There is also a place for government agencies to table entrepreneurs’ needs in order to drive resilience by creating favourable environments for businesses to thrive through investment and infrastructure.

As noted by Tatiana Krylova, Head of Enterprise Branch, UNCTAD in a November 2020 webinar on “Resilient entrepreneurship and MSMEs resurgence”, “resilience means an ability not only to protect entrepreneurs and their businesses, but also to mitigate uncertainties, to be able to recover quickly… developing new business models that would enable MSMES not just manage specific scenarios but to create agility and flexibility to cope with turbulent situations.”.

Entrepreneurship support organisations that aim to create and promote such dynamic businesses must therefore cultivate a culture that supports risk-taking and innovation, tolerates business failure, and demonstrates creativity in providing services and guidance that MSMEs require.

Building dynamic capabilities will also include support for entrepreneurial learning, allowing MSMEs access to customers, networks of other entrepreneurs, conferences and pitch competitions.  All of these are avenues for businesses to form deep connections with similar enterprises, investors and advisors, facilitating knowledge transfer and keeping them up-to-date and poised for change.

With presentations based on solutions, the BTK2021 Conference is set to showcase examples that can inspire, generate discussion and provide opportunities for practitioners to learn from the success and challenges of initiatives that have succeeded or come up against the selected tracks. We look forward to your participation in BTK2021 as we venture into the unknown. Register for the event here:

About Parminder Vir OBE

In a professional career spanning 40 years, Parminder Vir OBE has dedicated her life to telling untold stories, resourcing the skills and imagination of under-served communities. She is an expert on African entrepreneurship, an award-winning film and television producer and advocate for arts and culture. She currently serves as the Chair of Ongoza, Kenya and an Advisory Board member of Dalberg Media. She served as the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation where she designed and implemented a holistic entrepreneurship programme, impacting over 10,000 African entrepreneurs across 54 African countries from 2014–2019. She continues to advocate for entrepreneurship as the best path for the social and economic development of Africa.

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