The impact that Covid-19 is having on African businesses is particularly devastating to the sector the continent relies on most for employment – small and micro enterprises (SMEs). Many owned and operated by young entrepreneurs, the SME sector has been hit hard by the pandemic. At a virtual summit of business leaders from across the continent on 2–5 June 2020, leading entrepreneurs will lay out the support they need to recover after the crisis and to grow employment and sustainability.
“Supporting SMEs to stay afloat is central to the Covid-19 relief efforts of many larger businesses,” says Tiekie Barnard, founder of social impact consultancy Shift Impact Africa which has convened the summit. “But what do entrepreneurs themselves need now? The Africa Shared Value Leadership eSummit, which is a virtual event providing delegates with a wide selection of business discussions to choose from, enables business heads to discuss this and other Covid-19-related relief efforts.”
Employing millions across the continent, the SME sector – many owned and operated by young entrepreneurs – feeds and sustains a significant portion of the population. Relief efforts provided by the financial services sector to support small business have included an extension of credit terms, loans enabling them to keep operating and certain payment holidays. In addition, says Barnard, Covid-19 is providing an opportunity for a longer-term change to the way corporates engage with SMEs.
At the summit, leaders will discuss their companies’ responses, identify approaches that are working, and share some Covid-19 initiatives that are already having a positive impact in our region.
With a focus on the health and safety of delegates but given the urgency of relief efforts, the virtual summit will motivate companies and individuals to take action and to contribute to Africa’s economic recovery. The virtual format gives delegates the flexibility to attend the sessions of most interest to them.
“It is through businesses sharing what they are doing, the challenges they face and the solutions they are finding that the private sector will be able to grow its impact during this time,” says Barnard. “At the eSummit, purpose-led companies will discuss what is needed and share views on potential solutions.”
This focus will include a discussion about financial inclusion after Covid-19, during which panellists will explore new growth opportunities across the continent. How does the Covid-19 pandemic pave the way for greater financial inclusion, including the need for improved access to finance and support for vulnerable SMEs? How can financial institutions use technology better to bridge the gap between business and society? How does the African business community respond to ensure vulnerable SMEs recover?
Delegates at the eSummit will also be able to interact with a range of Africa’s young entrepreneurs, who will share their experiences as young leaders and how they see the business after Covid-19. Barnard says this is a key element of the programme, given Africa’s young population. The eSummit will also feature young business leaders discussing their roles as entrepreneurs and as young business leaders in African economies and what the potential for a brighter future might look like. “Young leaders could transform the continent for the better. But how real is this opportunity amidst persistent realities associated with education, governance, job creation and more?”
In a discussion titled ‘Life After Covid-19 – How the Younger Generation Can Secure Our Future’, panellists will discuss the policies and programmes needed to grow the impact of the investments young people. What actions should young Africans take today that will have an impact on the future of the continent? What does a post-pandemic world mean for upcoming business leaders? And what changes are needed to bring about better access to finance, business networks and other factors for young millennials?
Linked to this topic is that of how African businesses are supporting innovation. The eSummit will feature panellists reflecting on the role of innovation in Covid-19 response. Says Barnard: “During the pandemic, there has been a huge upsurge of innovation, as solutions are sought. Why have we had to wait for a crisis like this to see this growth? What is needed to encourage innovation as a daily occurrence?”
eSummit sponsors Old Mutual, KCB Group and Abbott are showing the way in this. These companies have launched comprehensive responses during the pandemic.
“Nobody can argue with the fact that this is a time like no other,” says Barnard. We need to act, and we need to act fast.”
Register for the eSummit here.