Covid-19 restrictions have left a majority of MSMEs struggling to survive while others have even folded up. In view of the devastating impact of the pandemic on businesses, the Youth Impact Team of New Faces New Voices (NFNV) Nigeria last weekend, hosted a two-day virtual youth expo focused on the prospects of MSMEs, in the post-Covid-19 period.
The 2021 NFNV Nigeria Youth Macro/Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MMSME) Solution Expo was held virtually with youths from Nigeria and beyond in attendance. The expo covered strategies for rapidly rebuilding and sustaining SMEs in the context of the pandemic, specifically covering topics such as digital marketing, product development, and entrepreneurship. Thus, the expo afforded its entrepreneurial participants the platform to advance their business skills and knowledge as well as share experiences, network and uncover new opportunities.
New Faces New Voices (NFNV) is an initiative of Graca Machel Trust (GMT) while the NFNV-Nigeria Youth Impact Team is a network of young change makers passionate about entrepreneurship and community development. The Team is charged with amplifying NFNV’s vision among their co-youths while also developing and building links with all categories of young entrepreneurs through capacity building programs, expos as well as connecting them with key institutions to improve their access to finance and obtaining of legal documents crucial for trade and export.
In her prerecorded goodwill message to the expo participants, Dr Shungu Gwarinda, CEO cum Head of Programmes at the Graca Machel Trust (GMT), described the focus of the expo on ‘solutions’ as timely, as the world currently grapples with the negative impact of Covid-19 on lives, livelihood and businesses. She said the theme of the expo which focuses on the post-covid-19 future of MMSMEs was essential in driving economic recovery and reconstruction.
“The deliberations you are going to have in the next two days around pre-selected themes are very critical. More so, for you as young people who are key in driving the continent forward and building the Africa you want to see. I look forward to learning about the solutions and innovations that would emerge out of your deliberations, including how we can contribute towards faster, deeper recovery and growth of particularly women-led and women-owned businesses and their graduation from micro to small, from small to medium and from medium to macro businesses,’’ Dr Gwarinda said.
While welcoming participants to the expo, Ms Hadiza Bashir Aliyu, the NFNV Nigeria Youth Lead, said the expo was aimed at building the capacity of young entrepreneurs to enable them explore new strategies for doing business, urging the participants to take advantage of the new realities shaping business entrepreneurship, in the post Covid-19 era. “The Africa we want is one where youths can manifest their full potentials when it comes to entrepreneurship and personal development. I am certain that this meeting will give us the inspiration to do business in a dynamic way, amidst challenges posed by the covid-19 pandemic,” she said.
In her keynote address, Ms Cecilia Akintomide, an Independent Non-Executive Director at FBN Holdings cum member of the Board of Trustees for NFNV Nigeria, described the theme of the expo – ‘Post Covid-19: The Future of Macro/Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)’ – as strategic. She said the theme had recognized the necessity for entrepreneurs to diversify their businesses as the Covid-19 pandemic continue to reshape the way businesses were being run across the world.
Ms Akintomide described the pandemic as both a leveler and an accelerator of businesses; one that exposes the weaknesses and strengths of businesses, adding that technology had during the pandemic, enabled businesses to bridge distances, thereby making the world a truly global village. “We saw how a health challenge metamorphosed into an economic, security as well as a food security challenge. In Nigeria, MSME’s constitute about 90% of all businesses, provide 60% of employment and contribute 50% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Without paying attention to them, there will be no recovery from the impact of coronavirus,” Ms Akintomide said.
While speaking on the role of young women in business, Ms Akintomide urged young women to be conscious of the limitations constraining their businesses and subsequently work to defy and conquer them. “Our unemployment rate stands at 33%, our unemployed population supersedes the entire population of some of our neighboring countries. While youth unemployment rate in the country stands at 34.9% – and there are more unemployed women than men. We have to create thriving and successful businesses. If individuals create businesses out of their passions, greater returns would be the outcome.”
While engaging the participants on growth process, mindset and cost regularization, Prof. Abdulkadir Rafindadi, a lecturer in financing and accounting at the Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto, said in the growth process, an entrepreneurship mindset had proven to be the leading trend in modern global business. He described pandemics as unfortunate events which act as barriers to business productivity, negatively impacting the business space.
Prof Rafindadi said irrespective of the pandemic, demand for business services still remained hence those with a resilient business mindset would thrive in the post Covid-19 world. “Identify imperfections which led to the initial failure, convert the imperfections into opportunities, establish opportunities as new goals, provide practical methodologies to enable vigor, redefine weaknesses, amongst others. These are strategies to ensure positive entrepreneurial mindset in the post pandemic era,” Prof Rafindadi told the youth entrepreneurs.
While speaking on strategic funding opportunities for startups, Dr Friday Okpara, director in charge of partnership and coordination at the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), said access to funding for business startups was not an easy affair. He therefore urged startups seeking for funds to keep in mind the need to establish sustained relationships with their potential funders.
“Four major financing options which entrepreneurs can leverage are loans, equity financing, suppliers’ credit, and leasing. Other funding opportunities available to startups are personal savings, venture capitalists, private investors, commercial banks, micro finance banks as well as funding through CBN support windows such as the MSME Development Fund, which is domiciled in the CBN. There are also government programmes such as You Win and others from funding institutions such as the Bank of Industry (BOI), Development Bank of Nigeria (DBN), amongst other funding opportunities available for startups,” Dr Okpara added.
Ms Aisha Mukhtar, the CEO of Kayana by Aisha, is a beneficiary of a previous youth MMSME expo by NFNV Nigeria who eventually launched her business and recorded a remarkable success. Ms Mukhtar described adjusting to the new trends of doing business in the context of the Covid-19 as really challenging; however, she said adopting the new strategies and diversification allowed her to expand her business. “I started my business at home and overtime it grew to the level where I started selling via online stores before I eventually opened a physical store, because of the large number of clients I was getting. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit us, it was difficult as I almost had to start afresh,” she recalls.
Hussaina Bashir, a food processing entrepreneur, encouraged the young entrepreneurs to tap into the numerous entrepreneurship opportunities available in the country. “Local Nigerian resources, mostly in the agricultural sector, are not being tapped and a good number of them don’t require much value addition. Despite the pandemic lockdowns, I was still able to run my business because I was providing essential services. The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us many lessons, entrepreneurs who learned from these lessons and respond in creative ways would achieve greater results,” she added.
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