Smart initiatives to help small businesses embrace digital transformation

Authors: Pavrita Solanki and Christina Kappaz

Pavitra Solanki from Accenture works on YBI’s Digital Accelerator programme, as part of YBI’s Accelerating Youth-led Businesses in the Digital Era programme, funded by IKEA Foundation. Pavitra is the Project Delivery Lead at Accenture and is an expert with 10 years of work experience in Consulting across Marketing and Strategy.

Christina Kappaz is YBI’s Director of Strategic Projects and has been overseeing YBI’s digital accelerator programme since it was first piloted in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2018. 

Digital tools are increasingly permeating almost every aspect of our lives. In India, as in other countries around the world, even the smallest businesses are looking to digitize aspects of their operations and are seeking to leverage digitally-savvy consumers by selling their services and products online.

But this process is not easy. YBI has therefore developed a number of initiatives, in partnership with Accenture, to support digital adoption. Our work in India and Bangladesh, funded by the Ikea Foundation, is indicative of our approach and provides insights on how to help small businesses embrace digital transformation.

The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has exposed the digital divide and hit micro, small and medium enterprises particularly hard. There are several barriers to digital adoption, from choosing the right technological solution to the high costs of digital implementation. Small business owners may lack the skills to use technologies appropriately and ensure IT and data security. In more rural areas, connectivity and low smartphone usage are key challenges. 

YBI’s Digital Accelerator Programme, implemented in India and Bangladesh with a team from Accenture Development Partnerships, guides local YBI members Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST) and Bangladesh Youth Enterprise Advice and Helpcentre (B’YEAH) to adopt digital solutions to improve the reach and relevance of their services to entrepreneurs, especially those in rural or semi-rural areas. 

In addition to the Accelerator, YBI supports the digitisation of its members in other ways, such as delivery of training on digital tools and looking at ways to scale solutions across its network. Taking an example from another region, YBI recently ran an internal innovation crowdsourcing campaign with its African members to identify solutions that can help entrepreneurs during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now channelling funds to the most voted idea with the aim to scale it across the YBI network once it has been developed.

What have we learned about supporting small businesses to go digital?

Some of the recurring themes that have emerged from YBI and Accenture’s work on digital transformation with organisations supporting young entrepreneurs are:

1. Virtual internal operations

It’s no surprise that this is one of the top areas for organisations to focus on and invest in during this pandemic crisis. Setting up smooth internal communication and collaboration systems has always been one of the key factors to working effectively in the digital era. With limited physical space and the closure of offices, factories and meeting areas, implementing useful digital processes is vital.

These are some of the organisational areas where this is key:

  • Internal operations: This translates into using digital platforms, apps and tools for different functions.
  • Virtual collaboration and project management: Usage of online tools such as Teams, Zoom, Google Suite and Dropbox.
  • Logistics and customer reach: Leveraging social media and virtual channels to reach customers via digital marketing. Additionally, it includes liaising with suppliers and delivery partners via virtual channels.
  • Payment systems: Usage of secure e-wallets and payment gateways.

2. Virtual training and counselling for digital business skills

A key challenge facing business owners during the current crisis is a lack of resources and access to financial support to continue their operations. Virtual training and counselling can help business owners develop digital skills to stay afloat. Key pain points such as fall in demand, inability to restart operations and reduced sales channels can be addressed through innovative digital solutions.

Some initiatives under these areas are:

  • Online training: This includes trainings in areas such as e-commerce platform usage and digital marketing and skill development webinars and sessions.
  • Access to resources: E-books and materials for upskilling on topics regarding market and industry trends and updates.
  • Training over the phone or remote face-to-face facilitators: Relief package information, governmental schemes, banking schemes etc.

3. Networking for entrepreneurs and mentors

Networking has numerous advantages for entrepreneurs. It helps them connect with people in similar situations, learn alternative solutions, share ideas or even find the motivation to continue their business operations. It builds a community of entrepreneurs and mentors that acts as a support system.

Platform-based and social media tools can be used to facilitate networking – particularly during the current crisis when physical meetings are not possible. WhatsApp groups or Facebook meet are an easy way to enable networking online.  

4. Mentoring and online support

In the past, young entrepreneurs have benefited from wellbeing support in times of crisis.  Motivation is key to success. The role of the mentor becomes critical in these hard times.

Some of the initiatives that can be set up to make mentoring available virtually are:

  • Call and text-based helpline support systems for entrepreneurs to reach out for support.
  • Virtual mentoring support to help entrepreneurs succeed through the tough times with the right motivational support.

Our digital transformation work is a key part of our Accenture partnership. The learnings shared here are drawn from a range of initiatives we are currently supporting, including our Accelerating Youth-led Businesses in the Digital Era programme in collaboration with IKEA Foundation.

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