Small and medium-sized businesses are a vital ingredient for most economies. A vibrant small and medium enterprise environment can create job opportunities, aid industrial development, foster breeding grounds for innovation, contribute to the GDP of a country as well as support large businesses with services.
However, even though this sector is important for raising the GDP of a country, SMEs often face the challenge of scalability. The lack of knowledge, skills, managerial training and adequate education causes entrepreneurs to focus only on operational plans at the expense of strategic decisions, which could contribute to the growth of a business.
The lack of seed capital or financial aid from banks is also a major challenge facing small and medium-sized businesses. In addition to the rapid technological changes which also pose a threat to these businesses.
This is why the collaboration between Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) and the Kenya Bureau of Standards couldn’t have come at a better time. This partnership provides support for women running small and medium-sized business by creating access to local and international markets.
Since 2012 when Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) was set up, the agency has partnered with other organisations including Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture to support women enterprises and start-ups with the guidance needed to develop and grow their businesses.
The recent partnership with KEBS is aimed at standardizing and improving the quality of products provided by these small and medium businesses. Once the products are standardized the women are eligible to apply for certification, which WEF pays a subsidized rate of Kshs.5,800. As a result, their products qualify for the KEBS Diamond of quality allowing them to access both local and international markets.
WEF addresses the challenges that women and the youth, who comprise 70% of the nation’s population, face, in their pursuit of social empowerment. This is by providing support, linkages, technical guidance and training to women entrepreneurs of these small and medium-sized businesses.
WEF builds the capacity of these micro-entrepreneurs increasing their chances for success. Additionally, through capacity building and partnerships the fund increases their chances of accessing credit; a challenge that the unbanked face when trying to start or expand their businesses.
Over the last 5 years, these strategic partnerships have enabled 13500 beneficiaries to be trained to enable them to improve their products and meet industry standards. This in terms of handling, product quality, packaging and preservation as Eng Mwirigi, CEO Women Enterprise Fund states.
As a result, WEF has disbursed over KSH 150 million to fund beneficiary businesses in the manufacturing and processing sector.
The funding cuts across numerous ventures including vegetable oil processing, soap and detergents making, water purification and bottling, yoghurt processing, aquarium making for sale, honey processing, making of hides and skins products, processing of horticultural produce, making of construction materials e.g. tiles and bricks making, ventilation blocks, milk processing and welding.
This sum is expected to increase significantly as the number of SMEs venturing into manufacturing continues to grow.
In 2018, the initiative empowered 161,000 Kenyan women.
Earlier in the year, WEF and Coca-Cola Central, East and West Africa Limited (CEWA Ltd) announced that a further 285,000 Kenyan women will be empowered in their joint economic empowerment program. Participants in the program receive business skills training, financial services, as well as access to peer networks through a business club for mentoring and ideas sharing.
Given that SMEs play a fundamental role in job creation in the country – about 30% and contribute up to 3% of Kenya’s GDP, the nation stands to gain through skill development and support of the informal sector. In reference to the vision 2030 which aims to transform Kenya into a newly industrialising middle-income country, it is high time we start addressing the constraints that hinder the growth of small and medium-sized businesses.