Kelechi Nwosu: Supporting Growth of the SMEs Sector

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Kelechi Nwosu, the Chief Executive Officer /Managing Director of TBWA Concept, a strategic and creative communication outfit, in this interview with MARY NNAH, talks about an ongoing effort by his company, TBWA Concept in collaboration with Ford Foundation in training 10,000 SMEs in a bid to encourage entrepreneurship growth in Nigeria

Tell u a bit about TBWA Concept.

TBWA Concept is an international team that is part of the Omnicom group. We are a network of agencies that believe in what we call “disruption” and we have supported brands all over the world in very many countries. In Nigeria, we became part of TBWA about 20 years ago and we have been working here with very many bands. We have got a huge history of supporting brands with strategic and creative outputs.

Let’s talk a bit about the SMEs Shop which your organisation in conjunction with Ford Foundation is organising for business owners.

SMEs Shop is our construct at TBWA Concept to intervene in the SMEs world. We recognise that these SMEs are the engine of economic growth, as everybody says but the real truth is that we are all SMEs, most of the companies in Nigeria are still SMEs by definition and character. I mean if we do not have more than 45 people working with us, we are really a SME. So, we do know that 95-96 per cent of the companies in Nigeria are in the real sense of SMEs and for us to achieve growth as in real growth, the SMEs in Nigeria need to fire up. So the SMEs Shop is an opportunity for us to launch a unit that we support and grow the SMEs sector in the country. And under that platform, we have supported a few brands and we have also had a few initiatives. In fact, three years ago, we had an initiative in Aba. It was quite successful in bringing knowledge and awareness to Aba and also in supporting a few brands. This year in February, we had a convening in Nnewi, which was about how to get people to collaborate with Nnewi to grow Nnewi into an industrial hub focusing on the automotive industry.

Now, this initiative that we are working on, which we call, “Stay Safe Economy Programme”, is in conjunction with Ford Foundation who has been more gracious to support most of our initiatives. They supported in Aba, Nnewi and now they are supporting this resent initiative to grow and help SMEs to overcome some of the problems they have had during pre-COVID, post- COVID and afterwards so as to return safely to businesses and have businesses recovery and continuity for them as well as be competitive.

How exactly does Ford Foundation come in?

Ford Foundation not only provides the funds but they also provide some of the resources and intellectuals. Ford Foundation believes in development and support, especially women and young people to be sure that they are growing.

You are looking at training about 10,000 SMEs, how are you going about that?

We came up with this programme by understanding the needs based on the current situation of a lot of SMEs. We did a little bit of survey and research and then we have built a capacity enhancement programme in modules; there is one that is talking about access to funds, there is one that talks about marketing and branding, there is one that talks about digitalisation and then business remodelling – we have four buckets with different experts talking to them. And they are going to be put online for free for SMEs. We are targeting about 10,000 all over the country and the idea is that as we also go, we have set a questionnaire to recruit 50 of these SMEs based on criteria with their various problems. And 40 of these 50 will be women. That is the brief we agreed with Ford Foundation and we would do live consultations for those 50 SMEs; free as well.

What qualifies one to be a partaker of any of these modules?

The 10,000 is for anyone who runs a SME and is ambitious. It is free and the videos will be there. We are even talking to market clusters in Nnewi, Aba, Kano and Kaduna in addition to the online market that we are going to do. For the 50, we have sent out questionnaires and based on the responses on the questionnaires, we would shortlist and then talk to those who believe in growth because we need people who are ambitious and want to grow. And have problems that we can look into.

What actually brought about this initiative like you mentioned earlier, is the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you describe what really have been the effects of COVID on SMEs?

First there have been reduced demands because people don’t even have enough money to even buy. The second is that they reduced supply because the producers, manufactures and makers do not have the opportunities to make because there is nobody who is demanding. At some point we had a lockdown and couldn’t even move. So it remains that most businesses have suffered. They have either not been able to produce their stuff or even the ones they have produced nobody has bought. There is therefore the need for people to do a re-evaluation of situation and think about how they want to come out of it, especially now that things are beginning to open up a little bit more. So COVID-19 has been particularly bad on us economically.

There were even a couple of economic cracks before even COVID for most people, therefore, if you look at the gab areas that we are trying to fulfil, access to fund – funding is not everything, but people also have to know how to get access to these funds and we would be talking about that in the videos. Think of brand marketing; a lot of us have abused the word branding. They don’t understand the fundamental and core of it – the 4Ps and 7P. Those elements are critical for any business to thrive.

Leadership and management strategy is important for a business. These are the kinds of things that even the banks look out for because these are the things that will make your business to be successful.

Digitalisation; now with COVID-19 and the fact that we would no longer do business the way we used to do, a lot of things have changed. People can actually fulfil and provide their businesses almost remotely. If we are not able to do that, it means we would not have business continuity. So if you are producers, you have to be able to produce and take to your consumers without physically seeing them. So you get to learn about digital commerce and all that. Those are the gabs we are trying to fill and those gabs are real.

What platforms are you using to connect to your target audience?

There is a link and it is being hosted by www.smeshop which has already opened since November 11. It is online, it is a website that people can get on to and all they need to do is to register and be part of it.

What expected changes do you envisage at the end of this?

One is that it will help people mitigate negative economic effects of COVID – the small businesses have had a tough time. They have a bit of resilience and they’ve got a bit of recovery. It will also change their behaviours. The way we were doing businesses in pre-COVID era, I don’t think we can continue doing business that way. So people need to change their behaviour therefore they would create a recovery programme for themselves, job opportunities for axillary and partner industries and hopefully, there should be a catalyst somewhere for these businesses to begin to grow post the pandemic. It would also support women. The thinking is that more women SMEs leaders go through a rougher path when you’ve got a downturn than the men. It may not be institutional but there is a literature to suggest that there might be disadvantages in even things like access to funds in running businesses when it comes to women and we need more women actually to run businesses.

What would be your advice to SMEs?

Everyone needs to work with the understanding of what works or does not work for him or her and then utilise it. When you expand the 4Ps of marketing, one of the Ps stands for partnership and partnerships are critical especially in our lives now – in our environment and context. You don’t need to be everything nor the one who understands everything because nobody ever does. You need to have an advisory board that consists of people who can advise you; have a mentor. That’s a sort of partnership and collaboration. Know where you are weak and get people to support you. That is what partnership is about.