There is general agreement about the economic potential of economies in Africa. As many have compellingly claimed “Africa is the continent of the future”. As in other continents SMEs also in African countries are the backbone of the economies. With the business environment rapidly changing business opportunities for SMEs become more visible, but also challenges need to be addressed properly to secure the role of SMEs in generating economic growth. In general, the situation to develop SMEs business in Africa has never been better. African states have been successfully developing the scheme for a free trade system – if carefully implemented – it would accelerate production, trade and consumption to yet unknown degree. Several states have engaged in creating a more business friendly environment by changing legal and societal impediments under the name of OHADA. African business associations are developing their modes of operation and have created a remarkable system of exchange and peer learning and in general the result of business stimulation measures in several countries is visible.
Also other actors have contributed with new mechanisms and actions to the positive expectations about the future business in Africa. The European Commission’s with its External Investment Plan is producing hopes and expectations to enter into a new successful phase of supporting economies in Africa by boosting private investments with a three-pillar policy including a novel guarantee scheme. EU Member states are contributing in various forms to economic development in several African states with plans or already implemented measures with African partners. Germany in this respect is providing means under the heading of “Marshall Plan for Africa”. The World Bank with its Creating Markets initiative had been supporting states and economies substantially and is providing data about success stories in areas which had been entirely neglected in the past.
Despite the overall positive developments and high expectations, SMEs are still are not fully content with what has been established or is planned. Many of the measures are aiming at boosting investments which is crucial for all types of companies but does not establish on its own the SME friendly ecosystem which is needed to build sustainable business. SMEs regularly have not been consulted or overheard when pointing to areas of specific needs. Access to markets as an example is as important as investments but does need a different approach and additional measures to be fruitful.
There are the business-related difficulties SMEs are confronted with when tyring to establish sustainable business. There are also numerous market related aspects affecting the business environment or regulations and laws preventing business. All such elements have their impact and are important for SMEs independently of country and continent.
Moreover, some principal aspects need special attention. All business today must accept the importance of the SDGs for countries, societies and individuals. To produce shared value when establishing business is essential in pursuing the SDGs. What specific aspects are fundamental to SMEs future business is not yet fully explored beyond the goal not to cause harm. Undeniably in most if the business environments to establish sustainable business requires cooperation with authorities and stakeholders but also with business partners national or international. Only those who know how to connect to the world outside of the SME internal walls will be successful. One of the essential means to establish cooperation is the use of data in the relevant field if they exist in one form or the other, knowledge how to use the data is existing, access is given to available databases and platforms and can be paid for. National and international programmes do take care of specific needs such as investment and availability of data. However, the big leap which is required to make SMEs benefit from the economic changes under way in Africa needs to create synergies between actors and to build strong partnerships.
Objectives of the Summit
The Africa SME summit which is organized by European Entrepreneurs CEA-PME and partners is pursuing four main objectives:
- To identify the concrete impact of SME business on the SDGs in Africa
- To highlight the importance of SMEs in the economic development of Africa;
- To tighten the relationship between SMEs from Africa and Europe;
- To call the European Commission to offer tailor-made solutions for SMEs to support their investments in Africa.
The objectives will be pursued in keynote speeches and panel discussions (see the programme). The discussion can benefit from the results of the shared value business lab which takes place the day before the summit. The lab will provide additional input from African and European entrepreneurs and their representatives for the summit objectives.
The summit will also include the signature of a new alliance to support SME business with a cross continent cooperation between African and European business federations.
All stakeholders are invited to participate such as SME Entrepreneurs, SME and larger companies as well as Business Federations from Africa and Europe, International institutions, development organisations, NGOs, SME-focused venture funds and financiers.