Small Business, “Big Problem,” Report Reveals that 67% of SMEs Worldwide Are “Fighting for Survival”

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and mid-sized companies are the backbone of the global economy, according to an update from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

They create “close to 70% of jobs and GDP worldwide.” But, amid warnings of a global recession, research from the World Economic Forum and the National University of Singapore Business School indicates “that 67% of executives from SMEs cite survival and expansion as their main challenge.”

They mention low margins, the challenge of scaling the business and expanding to new markets, and clients/consumers “as the main pressure points.”

The report, Future Readiness of SMEs and Mid-Sized Companies: A Year On, looks “at companies emerging from the pandemic.”

It builds on analysis “of over 200 peer-reviewed articles and the quantitative and qualitative surveying of about 800 leaders and executives from SMEs and mid-sized companies.”

Business leaders also “cite talent acquisition and retention (48%), culture and values (34%), funding and access to capital (24%), as well as non-favourable business policy environments (22%) as their biggest challenge.”

The report also “identifies pragmatic ways for smaller companies to embed future readiness into corporate strategies and highlights sustainability and digital transformation as two overlooked challenges.” It focuses “on how smaller companies can boost their resilience through stronger business frameworks.” It also highlights “how their high level of agility can benefit the development” and implementation of:

  • A strategic approach to talent management
  • A staged approach to digital transformation
  • Specific sustainability measures depending on the company’s level of maturity in this space

While smaller companies can increase their future-readiness, the wider policy environment – such as the infrastructure for digital trade and finance – “has a direct and important impact on their ability to thrive.”

It is, therefore, key for policy-makers, investors, and other stakeholders “to do what is in their capabilities to contribute to building the future readiness of this segment of the economy.”

Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, said:

“The business community is stepping up to tackle the biggest issues facing the world. SMEs and mid-sized companies are key enablers in this pursuit. This report sheds light on some key opportunity spaces for SMEs and mid-sized to do exactly that.”

Rashimah Rajah, Professor at the National University of Singapore and co-lead author of the report, added:

“SMEs and mid-sized companies have unique strengths in their ability to pivot their business models to be more future ready and, by hiring and developing the right talent, they can mobilize positive internal and external change faster than larger companies. However, to fully realize their potential, they also need the support of policy-makers in recognizing their credentials as well as in rewarding sustainability initiatives.”

The report was “developed in collaboration with the National University of Singapore Business School, as well as with expert contributions from UnternehmerTUM, Aston Business School, TBS Education, the Aspen Institute, Asia Global Institute and the International Chamber of Commerce.”

The World Economic Forum will be “leveraging the insights generated in this report to further support SMEs and mid-sized companies in their future-readiness journey.”

This will be “done through the creation of additional resources including the continuous development of the Forum’s self-assessment and benchmarking tool on future readiness, as well as the creation of a space for informal peer-to-peer learning between companies as well as meet-ups with key experts.”

With some of the key insights of the report coming from the New Champions Community, the Forum aims “to amplify the voices of purpose-driven mid-sized businesses.”

This community and its more than 100 members “share and learn from best practices, proven innovations and support new partnerships for the common good in the mid-sized landscape.”

The Forum is now “accepting applications from forward-looking mid-sized companies that are pioneering new business models, emerging technologies and sustainable growth strategies.”

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