It had to be a woman that saves MSMEs from the COVID-19 scourge

Executive Director of NBSSI, Kosi Yankey-Ayeh

… The CAP BuSS story of Kosi Yankey Ayeh

Every business, including those in their incubation stages, was affected by COVID-19 – either positively or negatively; but it has been well documented that negatives of the pandemic far outweigh the positives till today.

Among the many challenges developing countries like Ghana faced and continue to face is included how it can save Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) from collapse, as that would have a devastating effect on the nation’s socio-economic architecture.

Data from the Ministry of Finance show that MSMEs account for 70 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and represent some 92 percent of businesses. It was clear that this stratum of the economy was going to be the president’s biggest headache, as they constitute the majority of Ghana’s business community.

When the president called upon his Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, to deliberate and draft initiatives to cater for MSMEs, the Coronavirus Alleviation Programme Business Support Scheme (CAPBuSS) was arrived at.

While their thoughts were being put together, an institution fell into their minds. That institution was the National Board for Small Scale Industries (NBSSI) with Kosi Yankey-Ayeh as its Executive Director.  She was then brought in and made aware of the president’s vision.

As the days went swiftly by, she connected with the idea, developed and executed a plan to disburse some GH¢600million which was later toppedup to become GH¢750million. With the sheer number of MSMEs, it was clear that “Execution was going to be everything” as John Doerr once put it.

She was then left to mesh strategies with reality, align people with goals, and achieve the promised results to save 92 percent of Ghana’s businesses; a job that she has so far done with distinction.

Kosi Yankey-Ayeh (Mrs.), Executive Director-NBSSI

Speaking to the B&FT in an interview, she said it was near impossible to cater for the 92 percent of businesses, but she covered enough turf to help build a resilient economy. She added: “Our work has been felt in every district of the country. We have not only touched lives but have also saved the economy”.

CAP BuSS Execution  

According Mrs. Yankey-Ayeh, the execution of CAP BuSS was planned in three phases: the provision of financial support, capacity building and digitalisation of businesses, as the new normal had come to stay and businesses would be more efficient if they had their goods and services online.  The Mastercard Foundation, GIZ and World Bank were some of their partners.

“Our main goal in all that we did was to support more MSMEs to keep their operations afloat and continue to keep their workers. We had to set up an electronic platform for execution. In record time, less than a month, the platform was up and functioning. This platform was to ensure transparency from start to finish and ensure that we are giving the monies to the right people.

“We worked hard at every challenge we encountered. For months, we were leaving the office close to midnight just to ensure we have a robust system that guarantees transparency and accountability. The system was to also give the NBSSI relevant data for planning. Sometimes the Finance Minister and his deputies would question our system after all the pain, but we took it in good stride and satisfied their questions.”

Local name-tagging on financial support  

In a rather pleasant surprise, the NBSSI decided to tag the financial support with indigenous names. The Anidaso, Adom and Nkosuo special loans were created to begin disbursement of the funds. These names, according to Mrs. Yankey-Ayeh, were carefully and critically thought-through to give comfort, bring hope and assure the business community that grace will be sufficient to take them through the COVID-19 turbulence.

“We had to defend these names at the Finance Ministry. They asked why these local names, but we were able to convince them that these names, Anidaso, Adom and Nkosuo – meaning Hope, Grace and Progress – would best resonate with the masses and communicate the vision of the president.

“They really did, they brought hope and are still giving hope to many. Businesses have realised that despite the hard times of COVID, we have been gracious as a country and made progress despite all the challenges. It seems simple, but my team and I had it difficult. I am a very creative person, so when the going gets tough my creative aspects tick and we move along,” she added.

CAP BuSS Impact

She noted that the use of technology throughout the whole process has been of great impact and also made the MSMEs see its benefits. All the over-800,000 people who applied for the loans had to go get their Tax Identification Numbers (TIN) – a move that greatly escalated the Ghana Revenue TIN figures.

Also, all applicants needed to show their business registration numbers; and this meant that many businesses went to the Registrar-General’s Department to formalise their operations.

“These are all things that the nation was struggling to get people to do, but we drafted a system that demanded all these, so the applicants were forced to begin moves for properly formalising their operations. The impact on sustaining jobs is overwhelming. For example, if I give funds to 300,000 people and they employ two people, that is 600,000 jobs. Even if 20 percent is taken off this number due to some happenings, that is still some 400,000 jobs – still a huge number,” Mrs. Yankey Ayeh said.

She added that the system was made available to everyone, and with the fair playing field more women applied for the funds. “In other circles, banks and other financial institutions, the data show that women struggle to access funds due to some documentations compared to men; but with our platform, more than 60 percent got the funds.

“We pushed them to create bank accounts, and we are building their business capabilities at levels never done before. Let me say here that the impact of CAP BuSS will be greatly felt in the future. Now, we have a database that can be analysed and used to attract funding for more MSMEs – and we are talking to some partners. This data will be used to transform the economy.”

Repayment of CAP BuSS

Mrs. Yankey-Ayeh assured Ghanaians that systems have been put in place to ensure the servicing of loans disbursed. According to her, the data that has been collected from the applicants can be used to easily fish them out.

She said the system was designed to evaluate the turnover of every business and grant a loan that sits within their financial strength, so the NBSSI is confident about repayment. She disclosed that persons who default with no tangible reason will be barred from any financial support by the NBSSI in future, as their data will be flagged if they apply.


“My husband is very understanding,” she with a big smile. “I communicate regularly with him on everything; I engage him and pick his thoughts on my work, so we are all in it together and he loves it.”

Executive Director of NBSSI, Kosi Yankey-Ayeh

She said it has not been easy through these times, as her family has had to sacrifice a lot to make things run as smooth as possible. “When I am not working, I give all my time to family. The work takes a lot of my time so I also spend all my free time with family,” she said, adding that breakfast and morning prayers are for family, and that is how it will be.

What drives her    

She said many things come together to make her execute her task with distinction. These include her upbringing, education, and experience but the one thing that is constant in driving her is passion.

“I am passionate about my work, sometimes I express my passion in the form of anger to my team. You have to get it. We have to deliver and that is one thing I have learnt from experience. Don’t mix work with personal feeling, execute the job and get the results and we will be all well and good.”

The Future

She said one of her ambitions is to have a global impact in business and politics. She mentioned that, from the work done at NBSSI, she aims to upgrade and build business moguls from Ghana who would have a great impact on the continent and the world.

“This is one of the reasons why I went back to Harvard, and I wrote in my paper that I was going to raise half a billion to support women entrepreneurs in Africa and grow businesses out of slums: that is a promise I hold myself to. When I see businesses growing and taking on new employees, it brings me so much happiness, because it changes lives.”

Brief Bio

Kosi Yankey- Ayeh is the Executive Director of the National Board for Small Scale Industries (NBSSI). Kosi spent the majority of her career focusing on access to finance and agribusiness in Africa. She has worked with the Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) where she set up Mobile Business Clinic and helped develop a training program for agribusinesses in Africa.

She was also the Founder and CEO of Nuba Foods and Commodities, an organisation that helped to bridge the gap between local farmers and industries in the West African sub-region by sourcing agricultural raw materials from smallholder farmers and supplying them to the industries. She also ensured that their activities focused on creating positive environmental and societal impact towards a sustainable development world.

Mrs. Yankey-Ayeh graduated from Harvard University, USA, with a Master’s in Public Administration and Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. At Harvard she received the 2016 Excellence Award for Academic Distinction and distinguished contribution to the Edward S. Mason Program and the School. Kosi’s experiences range from working as a banker at Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and UBS.

Her leadership at NBSSI has helped to shape enterprise development in Ghana giving NBSSI a firm footing in MSME development and promotion. Her rich experience in microfinance and finance has helped to scale up activities of the board (especially those in rural areas with better access to business development services; appropriate technology and skills; and financial services) and directed needed resources.

She has a certificate from Wageningen Universtiy, Netherlands where she studied Market Access for Sustainable Development and a two-year programme at MIT in Cambridge focusing on Entrepreneurship and Business Acceleration.

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