In addition to its impact on public health, coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused a major effect on the economy, with Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) being affected the most.
The pandemic has caused a massive dislocation among small businesses especially in light of the general financial fragility as exhibited by MSMEs.
A recent survey done by the Small Enterprises Development Company (SEDCO) revealed that mass layoffs and business closures were inevitable as a number of MSMEs reported that they have had to terminate employment of their workers. With restricted movement and lockdown regulations imposed, others reported an anticipated reduction in their annual turnover for the current year. There exists, therefore, a need to develop well-designed and sustained interventions that seek to ensure MSMEs resilience and profitability amidst unpredictable times such as these. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has proved to be a solution in creating resilience for MSMEs as some continue to thrive even during these economic hardships.
With the impact of the pandemic on MSMEs, it is clear that the situation requires a rapid move towards inclusive MSME targeted ICT interventions that include solidifying the country’s e-commerce’s position as a mainstream alternative and complementary model to brick-and-mortar enterprises. As a result, SEDCO in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will launch an online directory for MSMEs as means of digitalising the MSME Sector through ensuring online presence for MSMEs. This directory will also help create a digital market for MSMEs in Eswatini and will also ensure that MSMEs remain resilient and profitable even during the prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges.
Digital market place for MSMEs
The MSME online directory will be a digital marketplace in the form of a website and an Application (App), where customers will converge digitally, search and buy from small, verified and trusted businesses. The platform will be accessible on the World Wide Web and on Mobile Apps through Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Users can easily locate businesses or services they require in their area, request quotes from multiple businesses at the same time, directly book appointments from the App, view the store online, and even review its ratings. All these will happen while customers enjoy the comfort of their own space, without moving an inch.
The platform (App) is geared towards economic sustainability, creating a long-term future for small businesses. Registered MSMEs will be vetted to ensure legitimacy and reliability before they are enrolled into the platform using different classification criteria, such as; economic sector, geographic location as well as other classifications. For each listed enterprise, details such as the location of the business, contact information, a brief description detailing the nature of the business, business operating hours, will be available for prospective customers. This platform seeks to provide or simulate a physical shopping centre, where prospective customers are directed to their intended providers.
MSMEs to have their own World Wide Web and .co.sz email addresses
Since a number of MSMEs do not have personalised email addresses, SEDCO will also afford MSMEs corporate email addresses to help enhance the enterprises’ digital presence and authenticity thereby enhancing their credibility in the competitive market. This service will have the .co.sz suffix for all enrolled businesses. To further entrench this digital presence, enlisted MSMEs will have distinct Universal Resource Locators (website addresses) that will ensure that MSMEs have personalised website pages that will be accessed directly. Training on social media creation will also be provided to enrolled MSMEs. Furthermore, the platform will provide a one stop solution informative portal where information for instance on, business start-up requirements will be posted.
Free Internet services for SMEs
To further curb the digital divide gap and to ensure a wider coverage, a number of SEDCO estates have been earmarked to provide free internet hot-spotting services to MSMEs in the remote areas in the near future. This will ensure the facilitation of the digital integration of MSMEs operations in these areas and further allow MSMEs to participate in the updating and editing of their respective listings in the online directory autonomously. The Wi-Fi hot spots will further ensure that MSMEs benefit from the recently introduced SEDCO online distance learning program for small businesses. In each of the centres, desktops will be installed for use by MSMEs for a fixed period or data volume at any given day. Complementing these desktops will be free Wi-Fi for the subscribers of the online directory, allowing MSMEs with their own gadgets to browse the internet for their business requirements. To ensure all MSMEs benefit from the internet service while around any SEDCO estate, a discounted rate will be charged to non-registered MSMEs.
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