I received an alert from the Africa CEO Forum, announcing their forthcoming Financial Industry Summit in partnership with IFC on the 10 and 11 March 2021. Africa’s top financial industry decision-makers will gather to debate on the theme “African Finance after Covid: reboot, digitalise, transform”.

The programme is advertised to feature “500 decision-makers representing the entire spectrum of the financial industry” and is only open to Chairmen, Board members, Presidents, VP, CEOs, MDs, executive committee members, etc of major banks and insurers, fintech firms, CFOs of large African companies, etc. It aims to “enable the industry to return to sustainable growth, boost competitiveness, embrace innovation and contribute to the continent’s economic recovery”.

Through the pandemic, it is the African small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) who have shown the resilience to reboot, digitalise and transform. It will benefit SMEs and the African economy at large if events like the Financial Industry Summit are opened to entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship support organisations (ESOs), incubator programmes and other entrepreneurship-oriented organisations.

We know that SMEs account for the majority of businesses worldwide and are important contributors to job creation and global economic development. In emerging markets such as across Africa, formal SMEs contribute up to 40% of national income (GDP) and generate 7 out of 10 jobs. Informal SMEs are even more prolific.

But for many SMEs across the African continent, access to finance is a significant challenge, often limiting their ability to thrive and scale. Before COVID-19, less than 15 percent of SMEs in emerging economies had access to the resources they needed to grow and create wealth – the unmet financing need of SMEs in developing countries is estimated at US$5.2 trillion every year, and the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly worsened these figures. With these stark realities in mind, SMEs require support, input, information and access to financiers and policymakers in order to help many people create and maintain meaningful work.

Events and summits like the Financial Industry Summit discussing Africa’s economic future cannot continue to exclude African entrepreneurs, leaving them to receive such information second-hand – their sheer number and impact on the continent’s economy preclude it. Through their innovation and activities, SMEs are a major driver of finance on the continent. It is important to recognise this and ensure they are duly represented.

In the same way, entrepreneurship support organisations, from hubs to incubators, such as MEST, i4Policy, and Co-Creation Hub must be included in these conversations, because they can also attest to the role of entrepreneurship and ensure SMEs can get the support they need from the very same corporations and development finance institutions that are welcome at these summits and who may be unaware of the direction and impact their projected investments in African entrepreneurship.

On the part of the SMEs, they can begin to make their inclusion easier by creating collectives that allow them to be represented and to speak with a common voice, as I discuss in this article here.

About Parminder Vir OBE
Parminder Vir OBE has dedicated herself to positively impacting and transforming lives through a professional career spanning 40 years in philanthropy, entrepreneurship, film and television production, arts and culture, and investment funding. She is the co-founder of the Support4AfricaSMEs campaign and The African Farmers Stories, launched in 2020. She served as the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Africa’s leading philanthropic organisation based in Lagos, Nigeria from April 2014 to April 2019. Prior to joining the Foundation, Parminder has enjoyed a distinguished career as an awarding winning film and television producer and private equity investor in film and media.

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