Last week, the country held commemorations to mark Buy Malawi Day, a day that was set aside as part of a campaign to encourage the use and consumption of locally-made products. The Chamber for Small and Medium Business Associations was launched to, among other things, advocate and lobby for the creation of a favourable environment for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to thrive. The association’s Executive Secretary, James Chiutsi, spoke to GRACE THIPA on the significance of the Buy Malawi Strategy and what is needed to make the crusade more successful.
Tellus what the SME chamber is all about and what led to its establishment?
The rationale behind the establishment of the chamber was the realisation that there is strength in unity. Growth of the SMEs sector in Malawi has been very slow owing to challenges, top of which is limited access to finance. The problem has escalated as most [SMEs] operate in isolation, a thing the chamber hopes to address.
This chamber is unique in that its membership is all encompassing, incorporating industry sector-based associations, business clubs, cooperatives individual SMEs and even large corporations, who might want to interact closely with SMEs.
The chamber provides unique support to SMEs, the youth, women entrepreneurs and start-ups to help them convert business ideas and new concepts into profitable business ventures as well as strengthen family-managed businesses for better development as well as transition and transformation.
What are your immediate sentiments around the Buy Malawian strategy?
As a voice of the SMEs, the chamber applauds government and all supporting partners for the introduction of the Buy Malawi Strategy. If, well implemented, this initiative can completely transform the SME sector in Malawi.
We want to work with government and other authorities to ensure that a systematic approach is employed for the implementation of the strategy.
So, what are some of these measures that should be adopted to ensure the initiative is successful?
There is need for massive investment in Research and Technology (R&D). R&D is obviously not cheap. Small enterprises can hardly obtain such services. So if, SMEs are to benefit from the strategy, a deliberate effort should be employed. This can be achieved through engaging universities of higher learning to provide such services to SMEs at affordable rates.
Our chance for favourable completion on the world market lies in our ability to adapt to modern technology. Such an approach can also lead to SMEs helping in import substitution, as we still import products that otherwise should be made at home.
It is obvious that R&D services are not cheap. It is, however, prudent to make an investment now while being assured of returns in a few years to come.
There is also need to invest in skills development. Skills development is equally key and can be done through SMEs exchange visits, targeted sector training, modern training facilities. We further need to develop small scale industries. We are still selling too many raw products across the boarders, leading to less forex inflows, especially where same products are sold back to us more dearly after value addition.
We also need to have improved payment systems. Many SMEs still complain about late payment, both from government and larger economic players, but most just suffer silently as they are afraid of jeopardising future business. There is need for deliberate policies to be developed to ensure payments, especially to SMEs with minimal capital, are made timely.[We also need]; incentives to large corporations to enable them create business linkages with SMEs. This would help SMEs enjoy the benefits indirectly. They would also be helped to improve quality, as well as access to services such as modern laboratories that, on their own, SMEs can’t afford.
Your final comment
While agreeing that all products are important, we need to streamline and pour massive resources into sectors that will be a springboard for other sectors; otherwise, throwing our meager resources around will not achieve the intended purpose.
We want government to recognise that the Buy Malawi Strategy will have more weight and meaning if production capacity by SMEs is to be massively improved. We hope the SME chamber will be engaged in other initiatives to improve the SME landscape in the country. The chamber has noted that there are a number of initiatives within government that can be linked to support the Buy Malawian Strategy.
Today’s top business story: Top Commercial Banks In Malawi