At Visa, we believe in the power of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). The backbone of local economies around the world — particularly in developing countries — a vibrant SMB sector is vital for healthy markets and an important contributor to job creation and economic development.
Globally, SMBs represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment, contributing up to 40% of national income (GDP) in emerging economies — percentages which are significantly higher when informal SMBs are included.
Now widely recognised as the lifeblood of MENA and Asian markets, formal SMBs in the MENA region are estimated at 23 million, while there are approximately 19 million informal SMBs — numbers that make up 80 to 90% of total businesses in most countries. In Pakistan, SMBs constitute nearly 90% of the entirety of private businesses and employ almost 78% of the non-agricultural labour force.
While it is very clear that communities across geographies are highly dependent on SMBs, these enterprising drivers of innovation and growth often struggle with factors which are essential to their evolution. Without the global footprint of their larger counterparts, SMBs encounter different sets of challenges as they seek to propel their vision forward, working towards a better understanding of consumers and remaining agile in the face of unpredictable economic shifts.
Capitalising on their biggest strength — adaptability — is key for SMBs to thrive and scale their businesses. However, adaptability requires the right skillsets and a practical approach to market fluctuations — both often unattainable given the typically limited resources of SMBs.
As a company that enables digital payments for millions of merchants around the world, Visa’s priority is to help these small businesses every step of the way. Consequently, we are fully invested in the crucial role that SMBs play in our communities, especially as they continue to operate under the immensely challenging conditions brought on by the pandemic.
As part of Visa’s commitment to help drive inclusive, sustainable, and equitable economic growth for SMBs, Practical Business Skills is Visa’s global digital platform, delivering free education resources to help SMB owners make confident, informed decisions to grow their businesses.
Visa’s goal is to empower these enterprises and improve their livelihoods, to be a part of their aspirations, as we continue to be inspired by their resilience and entrepreneurial spirit. Building on a target of digitising 50 million SMBs that was announced in 2020, Visa has already reached out to an estimated 16 million SMBs worldwide in 2021, or just over 30% of the multi-year goal Visa had set. Visa spares no efforts in ensuring that both existing and newly minted SMBs are well-equipped to meet changing consumer demands and embrace the digital future.
To expand the reach of Practical Business Skills, we at Visa have embarked on a slew of partnerships with governments, financial institutions, and civil society organisations across North Africa, the Levant, and Pakistan.
The most recent collaboration with INJAZ Egypt — a non-governmental organization specialised in business education and empowering youth to take ownership of their economic success — focuses on female students.
The INJAZ-Visa initiative comprises two phases — the first targeting public schools, where 100 elementary students learn about finances through the Personal Economics platform. The second phase is designed for older girls in vocational schools and centred around Practical Business Skills with a strong focus on financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and work readiness, offering interactive and experiential learning materials and workshops.
In a continuation of our local efforts to support women entrepreneurs, Visa also launched for the first time She’s Next — Visa’s global programme advancing women in their efforts to fund, run, and grow their small businesses in Egypt and Morocco.
She’s Next brings practical insights and tools to women-led small businesses, including networking, mentoring, and funding opportunities. More than two thirds of all MENA applicants were from North Africa and 10 winners went home with a one-year mentorship programme from IFundWomen, a financial grant, access to a stronger network, and exposure they can leverage for business growth.
Furthermore, in 2020, Visa joined hands with Egypt’s Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA), launching the Practical Business Skills platform to support fintech start-ups and entrepreneurs impacted by the post-pandemic financial crisis in the country. With content in both English and Arabic, the website was part of a wider partnership, which included virtual webinars by Visa experts.
In Mauritania, we partnered with the Mauritanian Investment Promotion Agency (APIM) to bring Practical Business Skills to the North African nation’s SMBs, in line with Visa’s commitment to help create more inclusive economies for everyone, everywhere. Similarly, in Pakistan, Visa has partnered with Daraz University, helping around 5,000 merchants each month get closer to their goals.
Whether it is the implementation of grassroots initiatives, or offering learning opportunities to boost talent development, skills acquisition, or access to capital, we believe that capacity-building is integral to helping SMBs reach their full potential.
At the core of capacity-building lies the provision of tools, knowledge, and access to services that support SMBs in rebuilding — or starting — stronger, digitally enabled businesses. Meeting consumer demand for digital-first experiences can, and should be, a seamless undertaking, especially when resources can be found in a single place.
At Visa, we take pride in the fact that SMBs have benefitted from our partner initiatives across four countries in North Africa, Levant, and Pakistan. Visa will continue to build digital ecosystems that offer SMBs the right practical skills to leverage capacity-building for accelerated business growth, because as a company with a network of over 80 million merchant locations around the world — most of which are SMBs — we are fuelled by SMBs’ success.
* Leila Serhan is the Senior Vice President and Group Country Manager for North Africa, the Levant, and Pakistan for Visa