MSME Day 2021: A celebration of the resilience of young entrepreneurs

Emilia McElvenney
Emilia McElvenney Head of Development and Programmes Youth Business International (YBI)

Over the last 18 months we have proudly talked about the work of Youth Business International (YBI) and our members who have supported youth-led businesses around the world to survive and thrive during the COVID-19 crisis. And we have shouted and shared stories of the incredible micro, small and medium business owners who have been first to respond to societal needs in their community, the innovators, the survivors and the engines of economic growth.

On this year’s MSME Day our message is amplified as we join together with others around the world to celebrate the vital contribution micro, small and medium enterprises make and recognise their struggles and successes during the COVID-19 crisis. Sadly, these struggles are not over as many businesses are still affected by the pandemic, with Bangladesh, India, Rwanda and Uganda still in various degrees of lockdown or returning to lockdown.

Mother-of-two Ripa, from Bangladesh, had a thriving business until COVID-19 – the national lockdown meant she could no longer attend markets, losing her income overnight. But having already registered with YBI member organisation B’YEAH, Ripa trained in e-commerce and Facebook commerce and received orders that not only saved her business but grew her portfolio.

The power of mentoring

The UN talks to the power of, ‘being with MSME’s, including sitting with their struggles, successes, stories, experiences, and opportunities’. This is at the heart of our network and what we do. One of the key strengths of being a network organisation is the ability to come together to support, share and innovate to address the changing and shifting challenges of COVID-19. As a collective of aligned organisations, we were there at the start of the crisis and we continue to be a Whatsapp, call or web-link away to respond to the urgent needs of young entrepreneurs across the globe.

The past year has proven that young entrepreneurs are resilient and resourceful. However, in challenging times they need support to harness these skills. Central to the support we are providing is mentoring and building a young person’s resilience to cope in this changing world.

Now more than ever, young entrepreneurs need the personal connection and focus on personal development that a mentoring relationship brings. With guidance from a mentor, a young person can navigate challenges, understand their strengths, improve their decision-making skills and decide what is best for them and their business. Mentoring provides space for reflection, critical thinking and exploration of different solutions to challenges. Mentoring is a proven tool to build and grow confidence and self-belief. All essential skills in this volatile world.

Growing resilience and soft skills

Our 2020 Impact Report highlights the soft skills that will continue to be essential as young entrepreneurs adapt their businesses, supporting sustainable recovery for their local economies. Growth and performance skills such as grit and agility help business owners to manage the stress and emotions that can come between them and the success of their ventures.

Sam Odongo, supported by our member ICCO Uganda, is one of 120 young entrepreneurs who attended our free Growth & Performance Skills (GPS) Online Training last year. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Sam lost over 70% of sales of his honey and his expected revenue dropped by 20%. But after attending our GPS Training and learning about grit and agility, he managed to turn it around. In his own words:

“Grit is not just about hard work but about creating a self-sustaining system. Agility means avoiding rigidity and adopting changes that redefine strategy. Until 2020, I was rearing chickens in addition to beekeeping – it became too costly. With my grit and agility skills I redefined my strategy and downscaled my poultry farm to focus on my ‘cash cow’ beekeeping. Once I have enough funds and experience, I will upscale my other venture.”

We salute all the young entrepreneurs whose businesses are about to be severely affected yet again, alongside all our members and other enterprise support organisations who will be picking up pace to provide much-needed support to entrepreneurs to survive this next wave.

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