- SMEs throughout Eurasia have been hit hard by the shock of COVID-19
- Since the beginning of the pandemic, 75% of global SMEs have been forced to let employees go, whilst 70% have seen revenues fall
- Focus on capacity building in digital skills is central to a resilient regional recovery according to experts at the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit’s #GMIS2020 Digital Series
The global pandemic is transforming the social and economic landscape of economies around the world, and without a clear strategy that enables and encourages small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across Eurasia to adopt Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies (4IR), economic recovery will not be sustainable.
Since the beginning of the crisis, 75% of global SMEs have been forced to let employees go, whilst 70% have seen revenues fall and 40% suffer from liquidity issues as a result of the pandemic, according to data from the OECD. Whilst the situation appears grim, experts on the latest Digital Series from the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit’s #GMIS2020 believe that SMEs must maximise their ability to be flexible by embracing digitalisation and cutting-edge technologies in order to enable an inclusive and sustainable recovery.
Experts that participated in the discussion include Taras Kachka, Deputy Minister for Development of Economy, Trade and Agriculture, Ukraine; Naira Margaryan, Deputy Minister of Economy, Republic of Armenia; Maja Tomanic Vidovic, Director of the Slovenian Enterprise Fund; Milena Angelova, Vice President of the European Economic and Social Committee and Secretary-General of the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association (BICA); and Jacek Cukrowski, Chief Regional Coordination Division for Europe and Central Asia, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). The panel agreed that central to the importance of building a sustainable recovery for SMEs and micro business is building digital ecosystems that operate across borders to help overcome any potential future lockdowns. To do this, the experts are calling upon regional governments to work together to offer capacity building and technical support to SMEs through extensive training and upskilling programmes, so that SMEs can join the digital revolution and survive the crisis.
Taras Kachka, Deputy Minister for Development of Economy, Trade and Agriculture of Ukraine said the COVID-19 crisis has negatively affected the economic integration of SMEs on both a regional and global level. “SMEs are the key drivers of regional economic growth but the lockdown measures put in place in every country has impacted their ability to produce, trade and serve their communities as supply chains were disrupted.
“To ensure recovery is sustainable and given that this virus isn’t going away anytime soon – there is a balance to be struck between adhering to lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the virus and supporting economic activity. The movement of goods between markets should be supported, as should protecting employment – these were the main lessons we learnt in Ukraine during the height of the crisis.”
Maja Tomanic Vidovic, Director of the Slovenian Enterprise Fund discussed the financial difficulties faced by micro companies and SMEs across Eurasia during the pandemic explaining that solid management of financial incentives could improve regional economic and investment stability. “SMEs are more vulnerable to shocks such as COVID-19 than big businesses and therefore, the pandemic has shown how important digitalisation has become for protecting the stability of our economies.”
“The pandemic forced businesses to change how they interact with customers and suppliers, and to do this, digital transformation was made necessary overnight. Once the crisis passes, it is vital that governments put in place programmes to support digital development and innovation not only to survive but to emerge stronger from this crisis. Financial support is critical, but the focus should be on close cooperation and exchange of information and building partnerships, knowledge and skill development that will deliver a sustainable future.”
Naira Margaryan, Deputy Minister of Economy of the Republic of Armenia explained that capacity building in terms of upscaling and upskilling women throughout the SME workforce is vital to helping economies foster entrepreneurialism and ignite job creation. “The recovery process could become a transformative platform for the inclusion of women and young people in the manufacturing sector.
“Although the crisis has been devastating for some, for other businesses, it creates new employment and self-employment opportunities. In Armenia, we are seeing women embrace this as an opportunity to step up so to support their efforts, we in the government are working to provide better access for women to enter business networks and supporting capacity and skill-building, particularly in the manufacturing sector.”
Milena Angelova, Vice President of the European Economic and Social Committee in charge of Budget for the mandate of 2018-2020, and the Secretary-General of the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association (BICA) discussed how to formulate national and regional response measures with due consideration of the interests of the business community – including SMEs and micro businesses in particular. “The main challenge is to prevent any loss of industrial production but to do this, we need to map out the impact of the pandemic on individual sectors and countries to identify where support is needed the most. Until now, much of the business community’s response to the crisis has been on a local level. This approach will not deliver a sustainable recovery. To do so, we need to draw these efforts together, to form a network across Europe and Asia to build cohesion and a multiplier effect.”
“The European Union has already begun this endeavour with the ambitious recovery strategy outlined in March, which including unprecedented and ambitious financial and solvency support mechanisms, along with pledges to contribute educational and skills support in the form of innovation hub and facilitation of the free movement of data.”
The panel, entitled ‘Industrial recovery in Europe and Central Asia: Accelerating digital transformation for MSMEs’ explored the likelihood that Europe and Central Asia, in particular, the Western Balkans, South Caucasus and Central Asia, will experience the biggest slump in terms of remittances, as a result of COVID-19, with the World Bank projecting a decrease of around 28 percent in 2020.
Jacek Cukrowski, Chief, Regional Coordination Division for Europe and Central Asia, UNIDO moderated the session, concluding that focusing on the importance of supporting SMEs is central to global economic recovery. “Small and medium sized enterprises are the backbone of the regional Eurasian economy. Ensuring their resilience is key to creating a more inclusive and resilient, human-centered future and a thriving global economy.” He said.
The virtual panel discussion was the latest in a new sequence of weekly sessions held by the #GMIS2020 Digital Series, following the Virtual Summit that was held on September 4-5, 2020. The session is available to watch on-demand at https://bit.ly/2YHVHyY.