The international community is busy defining a new set of “Sustainable Development Goals” that will shape the agenda when the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire later this year. One striking improvement is the emphasis being placed on inclusive growth, jobs and enterprise. And in that context it is encouraging to see the draft SDGs including a call on the global community to encourage the “formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises.1
As a global company with local operations in more than 80 countries, it is an obvious reality to us that helping these small businesses thrive will be critical to the livelihoods of the families behind them, as well as of the communities in which they are embedded. It is widely accepted that these small businesses will be a critical source of employment and improved livelihoods over the next decade. The jobs, incomes and tax revenues they generate reduce poverty and enable communities, especially in developing countries, to access better healthcare, education and diets. They also bring communities together and are an important source of local leadership.
At the same time, small businesses in our value chain are essential to our growth and success. Ask anyone in our sales and procurement teams around the world, and they will tell you that as these small businesses prosper so to will our business.
Across the world, we have direct buying or selling relationships with approximately 1.5 million small enterprises: retailers, distributors, suppliers and farmers. The majority of these are run by women and are family-owned. And, we have made a commitment to put the needs of these small businesses, beyond a traditional commercial relationship, at the heart of our business approach
In our experience, the challenges that face small businesses vary from market to market. For some these might relate primarily to limited availability of training and business advice, while for others inadequate access to financial services and markets may be the key issues. In many cases, small businesses face unsupportive policies and regulations. Too often these businesses are trapped in a vicious cycle: low yields, low turnover, low profits and an inability to invest in business growth and a better life.
We actively building core business approaches to promoting small enterprise development. For instance, in Latin America, SABMiller, the Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), and the civil society organization FUNDES aim to reach 190,000 small retailers through the 4e Camino al Progreso (4e) programme. In Africa, we are working with our sales function to better understand how we can deepen our support for small distributors and retailers as part of our daily engagement with those customers.
By enabling greater access to the markets, skills, capital and technology we can unlock the human and financial capital that is so crucial small businesses need to grow and thrive. And, we will be able make a very tangible contribution to accelerating growth and social development.
But we can’t do this alone. We want to collaborate with governments, other companies and civil society organisations who also care about the success of small businesses: to co-ordinate support, to deliver activities more efficiently and at greater scale, to share learnings on successful approaches, and to encourage policies that help small businesses grow.
We believe that by supporting small businesses, we can grow our business whilst contributing to poverty alleviation, local economic development, livelihoods enhancement and on the prosperity of millions of people around the world. But it is only by working together that we will be able to drive the systemic change that is needed.