Making the Case for the Small Business

I grew up in a community that gave premium to size, small size that is. We used to say “Kanini Kaseo” small is good. Nowadays that is a classic oxymoron. People shifted focus to the big, the mighty. We have grown to detest and despise the small ones. We have forgotten that even the big were once small only that they were given the chance. the BIG mentality is now institutionalized from individuals through corporates to government.

People nowadays prefer to patronize the big malls and their departments for shopping. We no longer want the small traders. We buy bread from supermarkets instead of the baker by the corner. Even vegetables are fetched from big retail stores while the mama mboga is now retreating from our residential estates. People drive long hours to go and spend big coin in those big joints instead of their locals. Those who have big money would rather even import furniture than buy local from the roadside carpenter. Construction projects are now tendered to big Chinese contractors at the expense of our local contractors. Big shame

Not only buying, we even refuse to give expertise to the small businesses. It started long time ago, when our children were told that the mark of success is to work for a big corporate. We slowly went for those big corporations and neglected the small ones. Sadly, the small ones are dying while the big ones either automated or fled next lucrative markets when they couldn’t take hardships. That is how come you now easily see joblessness any corner you look. Our experts and consultants only want to work for the big clients. They are the ones who can afford to pay big anyway. Our professionals are now vying for few opportunities in the big companies in their thousands. Did you see the 23000-youth queuing to drop CVs for only 5 slots in a big hotel chain? What is even funny, people will rather take a small salary in a big company than an equivalent or slightly lower in a smaller company. But the biggest shame is at the pre-job stage. Students and new graduates are only interested in taking internships in big companies. They will even wait months on end for those chances instead of taking up the challenge of a smaller company where the opportunities for learning are even bigger Senior citizens are happy to sit in big company board of advisors where they add very little value instead of supporting smaller companies and startups. Retiring experts would rather go to the village to watch sun rise and sun set instead of supporting start-ups. A much bigger indictment given that the Dutch and Germans have senior experts’ programmes that are bringing in experts to support our MSMEs when Kenyan experts can’t do that.

The problem is made worse by the government who will refuse to look at future and grow the enterprises of tomorrow. They put in very high demanding regulatory conditions and quickly shut down any small biz that is not satisfying instead of supporting them to grow capacity to meet the standards. The government won’t give concessions in license fees and taxes to grow the small ones; you pay or go under. Officials are willing to negotiate and give concessions to big companies but are quickly to close, auction and even jail small biz offenders.

That big mentality is adopted by the business organizations. Membership is only available to the big companies that can afford the hefty subscriptions. Advocacy is only geared to benefit the big corporates. How would it not when the boards are populated by the big company representatives. Only recently the Kenya Association of Manufacturers has launched an SME Hub. A vehicle that now responds to the MSMEs and one that should be supported by all especially the government even through budgetary support.

The challenge with access to capital has been long written about. Financiers and investors have mortal fear for the small businesses, the idea notwithstanding. It’s a vicious cycle because without the much-needed capital MSMEs cant shed off most of the risks associated with them. This has driven them to loan sharks and desperate business conditions resulting in quick death.

We have killed the esteem of our MSMEs to the extend they have adopted an inferiority complex as a cover and an excuse for ineptitude. Most small entrepreneurs lack enough drive and initiative choosing to do the most minimal for their biz. Why work on product improvement, innovation etc? Why invest in better machinery, staff, or even regulatory compliance? Why invest in knowledge acquisition for entrepreneur or staff? Why even pay subscription to belong in a business organization? Why spend money to attend that conference or networking event? Most have become lethargic and self-defeatist. The businesses are malnourished as a result and we end up with a stunted or regressive economy

So now we are faced with a country where we have a few large corporates and so many clueless, stagnant and dying MSMEs. We would do well to remember that most of those corporates aren’t even local and are only focused on profit optimizations. It’s only the MSMEs that are owned by the guy next door who has no option but to invest here and grow here. Until he becomes a large corporate, he will be giving our siblings those jobs and he will be sourcing from the supplier next door. Let’s all realize that we have a responsibility in supporting MSMEs for our own benefit and that of our economy.

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