The Covid-19 pandemic has added to the challenges small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in northern Kenya face, with most changing their strategies and adopting new innovative models to stay afloat, such as going online
Many have suffered economic setbacks caused by measures aimed at containing the spread of the respiratory disease in the last one year.
Ms Halima Dika, 25, who owns a small clothing store at Odda shopping centre in Moyale sub-county, is one ambitious and optimistic entrepreneur.
“At a time like this when we are marooned by curfews and lockdowns, our SMEs would have fully leveraged technology in overcoming the economic downturns,” she said.
“Unfortunately, most of us lack even basic IT skills. We appeal to all partners to offer more training in this area.’
But despite these shortcomings, she has been able to increase her stock by applying the management skills she acquired at the Kenya Institute of Management and training by German non-governmental agency Welthungerhilfe.
Use digital tools
She now recommends leveraging digital tools to stay visible, take advantage of stimulus packages and develop and adopt intentional growth strategies.
The business has been her lifeline, guaranteeing her an income of at least Sh4,000 per month.
However, with the continuing economic shocks from the Covid-19 pandemic, her business and others in the region are facing headwinds.
Poor internet access
Ms Hadija Ibrahim, 27, a shop attendant at Odda shopping centre, decried the business challenges caused by Covid-19 curfews and lockdowns.
For her, a rethinking of SME development strategies is needed to make digitisation a priority.
She is a beneficiary of Sh16,000 in funding and training from Welthungerhilfe to cushion her business against Covid-19 shocks.
However, she is saddened by sluggish mobile networks and slow internet connections in most parts of northern Kenya away from urban areas.
Ms Ibrahim said that in the post-Covid-19 economic recovery, access to broadband internet will be critical for businesses transitioning to the digital economy.
“We appeal to the power and mobile network companies to ensure there is steadfast electricity, mobile network and internet even in the remotest areas to aid in creating more employment opportunities,’’ she said.
She was unhappy that the majority of young people in the region, even those who have post-secondary education, are not well versed on e-commerce trends thus narrowing the reach of their businesses.
Reach new clients
SMEs’ growth prospects can be significantly boosted through enhanced access to affordable broadband internet and digital technologies.
Going online enables SMEs to reach new clients and markets at low cost, reduce communication costs, and conduct business during the lockdowns.
Through these channels, broadband internet and digital technologies help firms scale up faster, increase employment and boost output growth.
Apart from the job creation arising from SME growth, digitalisation promises other employment advantages.
Digital jobs, an entrepreneurial culture and skills are better able to adjust to new technological demands. The jobs are also likely to come with a more flexible working culture that allows self-employment and remote work.