The novel coronavirus pandemic was first reported in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China in December 2019, and has so far ravaged over a hundred countries in all the six regions demarcated under the World Health Organisation. The obvious economic repercussions that are expected to be seen in the wake of the current pandemic cannot be overestimated. In this light, there must be visible efforts committed to cushioning the SMEs in Ghana to have the capacity to recover from this unprecedented calamity. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) as part of its global role has launched what it terms the “Save our SMEs” initiative as a platform to campaign for how ideas can be garnered to respond to this global situation. In this respect, it is expected that countries that have an association with the ICC would take a cue or on their own would have their indigenously customised plans to abate the crisis as expected by the world body. To follow up to this campaign, I wish to draw the attention of the Ghana National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GNCCI) to as a matter of urgency think on the following as part of the broader ideas and plans to insulate the already fragile states of Ghanaian businesses. There is no denying the fact that the impact of the COVID-19 crisis will be strong for the SMEs in developing countries like Ghana.
As one would reasonably expect, the GNCCI must by now be putting in place the needed ideas, resources and strategies in place to confront the challenges of the COVID-19. To this end, there must be an URGENT coordinated action with the view to securing the SMEs to benefit from any economic stimulus incentive designed by the government to support these businesses. This is critical to prevent SMEs from losing out in the share of such packages in future to larger companies.
First, there must be a dedicated channel of communication and a common medium such as a website to inform firms and policymakers on their prospects and how to receive support and address their challenges. This is more crucial at this period when most businesses will be working from homes due to lockdown orders. Information sharing, therefore, becomes necessary than any other element as a productive resource for thriving businesses today. Any neglect for this would be calamitous to the sector.
Second, an essential phenomenon in these times is what has come to be known as Business Health Check. While the general focus of this pandemic would be on the human and social health of countries, attention must not be lost on check listing all the critical elements of healthy businesses to diagnose the overall health of the SME sector. SMEs are the lifeblood of the Ghanaian economy and cannot be allowed to deteriorate. It is important to realise that a thorough assessment of these conventional elements will reveal a lot more about the challenges of the SMEs for the appropriate solutions. This is necessary to highlight and fashion out the appropriate ways of changing the narrative and improving conditions for the businesses in Ghana. Thus, the businesses will know their current states of affairs and identify how synergies could be built on their strengths for a vibrant sector in the future. The cost of resuscitating a lifeless economy without blood would be so perilous than the cost of invigorating it with the injection of the needed blood beforehand. A good business health check will be a basis for financial counselling for these firms to withstand the shocks ahead. We must acknowledge that there is already a forecast of capital flights from the financial markets at the moment. There is also an anticipation of a fundamental shift from investment to capital hoarding or savings. Another unprecedented economic recession is not a far-fetched projection as profit losses and economic quarantining are in sight. Even though many businesses will suffer disruptions, there must be ways to get SMEs going in Ghana.
Third, it is also suggested that business peer group fellowships are encouraged to bring insights into specific business areas by employing expert assistance. The GNCCI must be in the position to mobilise experts in specific industries to lead such fellowships to lead in the orientation of businesses to prepare them for the eminent situations and how to surmount them. Free mentoring programmes are feasible out there by experts and volunteered professionals as facilitators. One to one business alignment to expert services must not be discounted in this direction.
Fourth, in a globalised business environment, the least one can think is to assume that Ghana can battle the challenges ahead alone. Ghanaian businesses are involved in cross border trading all around the world. While some of the challenges may be localised, it is also a fact that most of the challenges will have global dimensions. It is on this reason that I recommend joint international networking with experts with international acumen to take advantage of international technological platforms to plan and engage in a series of brainstorming to find solutions. Activating international community instinct, networking and responses are crucial in this circumstance.
It is essential to reiterate that under such a situation, no single enterprise with any status can fight the storm alone. Online forums are therefore practical to create the avenue for the interaction of businesses through virtual moderation. Collective experiences can be shared for practical contributions towards desired solutions.
Fifth, as we anticipate the global plateauing and an eventual end to this crisis, capacities of firms must be invigorated to navigate these stormy waters through proper management, communication and stakeholder engagements throughout the supply chains.
Finally, in such periods, it is not advisable to discount the upsurge in the operations of crime in all spheres of life. Economic crimes are expected to increase as well. While devising means to anchor our SMEs, there must also be a means to safeguard businesses as the GNCCI employ technology to network on a larger scale than before. Online business platforms must be guarded against cybercrime in such situations to avoid losses and compromises.
In conclusion, the GNCCI must not lose sight of the enormous challenge that lies ahead for the economy now and for the long term; even after the annihilation of the COVID-19 pandemic as we experience business slow down, increased marketing cost, difficulty in finding new ways to reaching customers, difficulty in managing and coordinating remote workforce and marking out cost-effective strategies to operate from homes and maximising productivity. What is needed now are; leadership, motivation and the foresight to coordinate all ideas in a manner to destress our SMEs and profess assured strategies to cushion and position them against all eventualities. There must be a vivid crises recovery blueprint to the government on SMEs before any stimulus package is contemplated to avoid any decision executed extempore. Beforehand, relief mechanisms must be in place to have an incident-free occasion of apportioning such incentives. The ICC’s “Save Our SMEs” campaign must be localised as well.