Adaora Ikenze

Head of Public Policy for Anglophone West Africa at Facebook, Adaora Ikenze, in this interview, speaks on the impact of the N500 million Nigerian Small and Medium Business Grants Programme and the need for small businesses to take the advantage to grow their businesses. Emma Okonji presents the excerpts:

Facebook recently announced a N500 million Nigerian Small and Medium Business (SMB) Grants Programme for Nigerian small and medium businesses. What motivated the initiative?

The Nigerian Small and Medium Business (SMB) Grants Programme is a part of our Global SMB Grants that aims to provide support for about 30,000 SMBs in over 30 countries. The grants programme, which opened its application in August last month for Nigerian SMBs in different regions across the country, will help SMBs during these difficult times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Facebook wants to provide useful resources and support during this difficult and uncertain year.
The COVID-19 crisis is more than just a public health crisis. It is an economic crisis, and small businesses, in particular, have been most affected as they face the challenge of a lifetime. Facebook has been listening and we are aware of the challenges small business owners are facing right now. To better understand the scale of the problem, we recently published the State of Small Business Report – a study by OECD, the World Bank, and Facebook to survey SMBs. The results of the survey showed that about 37 per cent of SMBs believe cash flow to be a concern. So, for Nigerian SMBs, we believe the grant will help them overcome some of their current challenges, keep their workforce going strong, help with rent and operational costs, and to connect with more customers. At the end of the day, 781 Nigerian SMBs will share from the N500 million grant, which will come in the form of cash grants and ad credits from Facebook. It is also important to add that applicants for this grants do not need to have a Facebook or Instagram account to apply. You just have to be a small business in Nigeria, as well as other eligibility criteria to take part.

Why the focus on small businesses?

Small businesses have a direct effect and a huge impact on their communities. They are at the heart of our communities, providing jobs, products and services that are necessary for economic growth. However, with the lockdown and restrictions on movement, entrepreneurs and their employees are faced with huge challenges and threats to business survivability, even though the lockdown is gradually being lifted.
SMBs are an important part of our community, Facebook is listening to the challenges small business owners are facing right now and we want to provide useful resources for them during this difficult and uncertain year, to help them keep the lights on, save jobs and weather the storm. It is the reason why we are focused on small businesses because we recognise their impact in local communities.

Will the grant come in form of a loan, and what are the repayment plans?

This is not a loan, and it is a non-repayable grant for small businesses to support them through these difficult times. Businesses do not even have to be on Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp to be eligible for the grant.

What are the other criteria for eligibility. What are the selection processes and how could SMBs apply for the grant?

The focus is on helping small businesses who need it most. We are focusing on supporting businesses in the locations where we have operations, like in Nigeria where we have a community hub, called the NG_Hub. To be eligible to apply, the SMB must fit the following criteria:Be a for-profit business; have between two and 50 employees; have been in business for over a year; have experienced challenges from COVID-19; be in or near a location where Facebook operates; and businesses do not have to be on Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp to be eligible. Applications for the grant opened Monday, August 24, 2020, businesses can go the website to see whether they are eligible and for more details about the programme. Interested applicants can also stay updated via the website.

Is Facebook partnering with any organisation on this?

For this grant we are working with trusted third parties to help manage the grant distribution. In Nigeria, we are partnering Deloitte, Fate Foundation and Afrigrants who will be selecting the small business grant recipients and managing the delivery of grants. Applications will be examined objectively and in a fair manner, with all applicants treated equally.

Nigeria is a very large and diverse country. What are your plans to ensure that SMBs in all the six geopolitical zones in the country, have equal access to the grant as their counterparts in popular cities?
The grant is available for eligible businesses whether in the North-East, South-West, South-East, South-South, Northern regions and beyond. We will qualitatively be assessing applications based on a variety of factors, including business need, how you intend to use the funds, and the impact it will have on the community.

Is there going to be a monitoring mechanism by Facebook and Deloitte for the use of the grant by beneficiaries?

Business owners understand their pain points better than we do. This means that they understand better how to financially manage and structure their businesses. The grant will provide them with the support they need to pay their employees and keep business afloat during tough times.

Is there any other form of assistance that Facebook is offering local SMBs, apart from the grant?

This is only the start. We are committed to supporting small businesses for the long haul. As part of our ongoing efforts to support small businesses, we have developed opportunities where they can access support. For instance, the Business Resource Hub is an online portal where SMBs can access tips and resources to help them sell online and keep customers connected. We also have free training available – like messaging best and the following virtual training programmes: Boost with Facebook – we are rolling out virtual versions of our in-person training in the country. These free webinars and online resources cover a range of topics from how to take your business online, build resilience, stay connected with customers and adapt in real time.

SheMeansBusiness is another training programme where we provide space for entrepreneurial women to make valuable connections, share advice and move forward together. We are aware that small businesses are agile and are able to pivot and react faster to meet customer demands. So we have added a new field for “temporary service info” that allows them to quickly update status so customers know what to expect at any given time. Furthermore, Facebook is listening to SMB feedback and making updates to meet their needs. We have teams working hard to support SMBs during this critical time.

What are your thoughts on the impact of CIVID-19 on the economy?

Overall, companies and individuals are facing difficult and unprecedented times, which has brought about economic difficulties particularly for SMBs. This is, however, reflected in Facebook’s recent publication- The State of Small Business Report – a global study by OECD, the World Bank, and Facebook, which surveyed SMBs on our platform and focused on COVID-19-related issues in Nigeria. The survey revealed 46 per cent of operational SMBs on Facebook have reduced the number of employees/workers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 37 per cent of those operational reporting that their sales this year were lower than last year.