The outbreak of COVID-19 has disrupted the global economy and reshaped businesses in unprecedented ways in such a short period. It won’t be business as usual as most businesses come to terms with the new business reality. Some businesses have closed, some are at the brink of closing, and others are yet to resume operations.
It is pertinent that SMEs re-adjust to the current business trend to have a fighting chance at survival. In that regard, Private Sector Foundation Uganda hosted the first ever E-conference aimed towards skilling and forging a way for SMEs to thrive in these turbulent times.
The conference featured some of the finest Business minds in the industry which included; Mathias Katamba – CEO dfcu Bank, Dr. Gudula Naiga Basaaza – Managing Director Guide Leisure farm also Chairperson dfcu Women Business Advisory Council, Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo – Ag. Executive Director UCC, Hon. Elly Karuhanga – Chairman PSFU, John Musinguzi Rujoki – Commissioner General URA, Dr. Diana Nambatya Nsubuga – Kwagala farm, and Apollo Segawa -Executive Director Curad Agribusiness incubator.
The big question was and is still is: What are you doing to prepare your business or what have you done to prepare your business?
In his opening remarks Dr. Elly Karuhanga, Chairman PSFU noted that Micro and medium enterprises employ maximumly 90 per cent (90%) of the entire private sector workforce in Uganda and contribute 8 per cent (8%) of manufactured output. He further mentioned that SMEs contribute 20 per cent (20%) to the Gross Domestic Product of Uganda (GDP).
“Micro and Medium enterprises are the heartbeat of this economy. When they prosper, we all prosper and when they collapse, we all collapse economically. We shouldn’t take SMEs for granted,” he implored.
Mathias Katamba, CEO dfcu bank reaffirmed the role SMEs play in the economic development of the country and shared the Bank’s resolve and long-term commitment to supporting SMEs.
Given its background as a development finance company, SMEs are dfcu Bank’s forte. The Bank has developed tailor-made solutions for SMEs in trade, business, import, and export.
“We have very many products that can be useful at a time like this. Long term finance products like leasing should be considered depending on the nature of your business during this time. It all has to begin with prioritizing how to best allocate capital based on the business needs in the short and long term,” he noted.
He went ahead to caution SMEs on rationing their staff given the current circumstances.
“As you think about reopening your business, you have to put into consideration your workforce. What’s happening to them, many of them have dispersed, some are in the village and don’t have transport to come back, they are distressed, they are traumatized and you are going through a difficult time as a business. The first thing you are probably thinking about is to rationalize your human capital. The reality is people will remember how businesses treated them in this period. Every SME needs to think about how they treat their employees in this period as you are planning to manage your liquidity to reallocate your capital. This is the time to build loyalty, this is the time for you to think creatively of how you transition from this hardship into a thriving one. Your people will be central to this decision,” he advised.
The Bank has had a long commitment to supporting different business segments from women entrepreneurs, agriculture, and investment clubs. As Mathias puts it; “A bank is as good as the business of its customers.”
In the agricultural space, it has been supporting the Best Farmers Competition alongside New Vision, Dutch Embassy and Uganda Investment Authority. The bank also has a long-standing partnership with Rabo Bank Foundation which gives direct technical support to farmers through the Agri Business Development Centre (ADC). Training is a key aspect of the support given to the Farmer based organisations that have potential to contribute to the agricultural value chain. The training is intended to transform Farmer Based Organisations and Cooperatives and make them bankable to work as vehicles for delivery of financing to smallholder farmers in an economically viable model. To date, at least 7,500 farmers, of which 3,700 are women, have benefited from this program.
“Additionally, we will be reaching out to other partners around the world to see how they have navigated their agricultural businesses during this period and see how we can pass on that information to our local farmers and SMEs,” revealed Mathias.
The Bank has further invested in women through their Women in Business program that has reached out to over 260,000 women entrepreneurs across the country. This is being amplified during this season.
On the investment clubs, Mathias said that; “dfcu Bank is very active in the investment club space with over 40,000 groups supported in training and capacity building. We are carrying out a very targeted approach during this period.” The Bank has been running weekly online seminars on subjects ranging from effective governance, funds management to investment opportunities, all aimed at supporting the clubs to run better.