SMEs

Is there hope for small businesses?

Yes, with the setting up of Wezesha Biashara Network.

In Summary
  • The sector remains disjointed and isolated, and has not been integrated into the larger formal economy.
  • MSEs issues in the public sector are poorly coordinated as the institutions charged with the responsibility are inefficient, ineffective and disconnected from the sector. 
An open-air shop in Ruiru along Thika superhighway. SMEs account for 75% of the total workforce.
An open-air shop in Ruiru along Thika superhighway. SMEs account for 75% of the total workforce.
Image: JACK OWUOR

I have had the privilege of interacting with entrepreneurs in the last two decades as I go about helping individuals and small businesses embark on their exciting journeys and equipping them with tools and knowledge to succeed.

In December 2012, the Micro and Small Enterprises Act 2012 was enacted. I had been part of the core influencers who played an active role in birthing it, working tirelessly behind the scenes.  It was the result of a decade of blood, sweat and tears by actors in the sector, to secure a win that would bring sanity to the arena.

The Act sought to organise the sector through the Registrar of Micro and Small Enterprises, the Micro and Small Enterprises Authority and the Micro and Small Enterprises Fund. The first one comprises a national database that informs policy and simplify the process of formalising businesses.

The second institution’s remit is to formulate and review policies and programmes; to promote innovation; to develop demand-driven capacity building programmes and to promote and provide business development services. The last one was created to ease access to finances.

Seven years later, there is little to celebrate. First, the sector remains disjointed and isolated, and has not been integrated into the larger formal economy. Subsequently, the sector has been excluded from critical policy conversations and decisions. Whereas significant progress has been made in improving the business environment, MSEs are weakly integrated with large firms thereby inhibiting the potential gains from technology transfer and skill development.

Second, MSEs issues in the public sector are poorly coordinated as the institutions charged with the responsibility are inefficient, ineffective and disconnected from the sector. 

The key challenges highlighted were over-regulation by county and national governments; multiplicity of taxes and levies; lack of relevant sector specific information; corruption; government programmes and initiatives that are completely detached from the market as well as lack of evidence-based advocacy.

Third, associations representing the sector are fragmented and lack a common voice.  As a result of their weak institutional and governance structures, they have failed to evolve into a credible voice for the sector.

Where to from here?

Recently, a group of die-hard believers in the greater good of micro and small enterprises met to create a platform; one in which their voices as small business owners will be heard – a platform they would own and access to determine their futures individually and corporately. It’s not just another group.

Wezesha Biashara Network, as the name suggests, will truly enable its members to grow their dreams and ambitions and speak together as one voice.

Wezesha Biashara Network, a  non-profit network of small and microenterprises associations and other sector players, as part of the Global Entrepreneurship Week, held the first in a series of candid conversations on November 22 to discuss the topic ‘Status of the SMEs sector in Kenya, challenges, and solution to unpack “Vitu kwa Ground ni Different (the reality on the ground is different)”’.

The goal was for SMEs to articulate issues affecting their enterprises and discuss solutions. Participants included SMEs, non-state actors, sector experts and enablers. The key challenges highlighted were over-regulation by county and national governments; multiplicity of taxes and levies; lack of relevant sector specific information; corruption; government programmes and initiatives that are completely detached from the market as well as lack of evidence-based advocacy.

All is not lost, it’s time to change the narrative.

Director, Wezesha Biashara Network