There is no doubt that supporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can be the answer to both economic growth and job creation across Africa, where more than 60 per cent of the continent's population is aged under 35.
Many countries on the continent are grappling with chronic unemployment and soft economic growth rates that impede job creation by large corporates.
Data shows that SMEs represent a significant share of the economy as they constitute about 90 per cent of private business.
It is clear, therefore, that SMEs play a crucial role in stimulating growth, generating employment and contributing to poverty-alleviation and social development.
Starting and running an SME is always a daunting challenge, especially for those with no access to funding or without the business skill set needed to successfully run an SME.
Apart access to financial support, market access is also important, since more often than not, many entrepreneurs struggle to establish, let alone grow, their market presence.
Providing financial support is easier said than done, mainly because of the challenges posed by adapting traditional lending methods to SMEs.
Many SMEs do not have financial records, some do not have adequate - if any - security to access loans, and some have poor credit records.
Therefore, it is important that credit institutions work with stakeholders such as governments and other corporates to innovate ways of providing funding to SMEs in a manner that is not only commercially sustainable, but, most importantly, takes into consideration the challenges already mentioned above.
With time, such solutions not only improve access to finance, but also lower the cost of financing and optimise much-needed operating cash flow for SMEs.
Beyond this, credit institutions can also specialise in non-traditional funding solutions to assist SMEs, among which include creating specialised funds such as:
Women empowerment fund
Such a fund provides finance to women entrepreneurs who have the skills, expertise and demonstrable potential relevant to the business and or the industry or sector.
The funding must be available to women SMEs that do not have sufficient security to start their own business or purchase an existing one in terms of normal bank lending criteria.
Development credit fund
This is offered to SMEs with insufficient security to obtain credit. Clients or applicants need to provide an own contribution, which will be determined by the risk grading pertaining to the industry.
Many SMEs struggle to penetrate existing markets or even establish new ones, particularly when they are competing against larger competitors.
Therefore, there is need to commit towards linking SMEs to supply chains, because major corporations spend billions in funding annually to procure products and services from other companies. By linking SMEs to these companies, there is a greater opportunity for small businesses to rapidly grow.
Business support initiatives
To develop the business skills of SMEs there should be, through business development support initiatives, an agenda that seeks to help SMEs develop their businesses through training, business tools, seminars and networking.
By offering non-traditional support, you make it easier for entrepreneurs to establish and grow their businesses.
Data shows that SMEs represent a significant part of the African economy as they constitute about 90 per cent of private business, contribute more than 50 per cent of country employment rates, and make up as much as 40 per cent of gross domestic product in most African countries.