The UN General Assembly in its 74th Plenary held on the 6th April, 2017 declared 27th June as Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day, recognizing the importance of Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises in achieving sustainable development goals and in promoting innovation, creativity and sustainable work for all. with this, Economic and Trade policies are becoming alive to the fact that Investing in SMEs is a long-term and smart strategy, with sustainable returns that multiply across societies, as the world over, SMEs are the cornerstone of most economies. They account for about half of global gross domestic product (GDP) and 60 %–70 % of employment. In Africa, they make up the lion’s share of enterprises and hire a large portion of the workforce, mainly the poorer, more vulnerable segments of society, such as youth and women. Investing in them will make them contribute more to GDP growth because of increased SME productivity, and it would mean better jobs and higher pay in the low-wage segments of the economy. Their increased competitiveness and productivity, through Policy reform, development of the trade support ecosystem and capacity building, including better regulatory environment and adopting of the Quality culture, standardisation, can contribute to solving one of Africa’s greatest socio-economic challenges, unemployment, poverty and hunger. It is estimated that Africa’s workforce will increase by a staggering 910 million people between 2010 and 2050, of which 830 million will be in sub-Saharan Africa. The ARSO SMEs Standardisation programme (including, the Made in Africa Expo, the African Day of Standardisation Forum, Simplified outreach Materials, Capacity Building and Training Workshops, and involvement in African Industries in the ARSO Standards Development and Harmonisation projects) seeks to addresses some of the, following barriers highlighted below by Experts (Henk J. de Vries et al. 2013, New opportunities – Improving SME access to standards- https://www.iso.org/news/2013/02/Ref1711.html; SME Competitiveness: Standards and regulations matter http://www.intracen.org/uploadedFiles/intracenorg/Content/Redesign/Projects/SME_Competitiveness/Part%20I.pdf,; UNCTAD/ITE/TEB/2005/1- improving the competitiveness of SMEs through enhancing productive capacity, BSI):
- Barriers Restricting SMEs’ Awareness of Standards
- lack awareness of the importance of standards for their own company or the potential added value of standards
- Barriers Restricting SMEs’ Use of Standards
- Once SMEs know that standards exist that can be useful for their company, they may then face problems in finding and tracing relevant standards Selecting which among the standards require a good measure of market intelligence and contact with buyers as well as experience in assessing the relative demands, costs, and benefits of each—something for which there is almost no data whatsoever;
- Finding the right standard, interpreting the text, implementing the standards and for solving those problems. Education is part of the solution. For Obtaining standards, the process may still not be easy and straight-forward. Even after, obtaining, SMEs may then face problems in understanding the standards as a result of difficult technical content, technical language, non-availability of a version in the national language, too many references to other standards, insufficient information to highlight the differences from the previous version of the standard, or a lack of information about the context of the standard.
- On implementation, SMEs may then have difficulties in implementing standards because of their complexity, a lack of knowledge, skills or resources to do so. Many of the barriers and issues faced here are similar to those mentioned above, in that understanding is a first step to effectively using a standard. Outreach.
- The reason for the implementation of a standard is to achieve business goals, and it is important that SMEs are able to evaluate the implementation of these standards and the impact of their use. However, the management of smaller firms is largely involved in the daily operational practice, and there is little time or money available for activities that are not directly related to this primary process. Further, SMEs may not find the time, or have the ability to assess the implementation of standards, meaning that they will not fully identify or understand the benefits of implementation, learn from the experience or modify their implementation as a result.
- Barriers Restricting SMEs’ Participation in Standards Development
- SMEs may also face a sequence of barriers, each of which may hinder them from benefiting from becoming involved in the process of standardisation (i.e. the development of standards). On the other hand, SMEs may be aware of standards but not realised that they can actively participate and influence the development process. Once SMEs are aware of the fact that they can become actively involved in standardisation, they may not be aware of the importance of participation or its potential benefits. This problem has two sides: low awareness amongst SMEs and employees, and a failure to create awareness through appropriate and sufficient communication activities. Once SMEs are aware and interested in the development of standards, they may face problems in tracing relevant standards development projects. An important reason for non-participation and not becoming involved in standardisation is simply being unaware of the standardisation process. Lack of resources (money, time, skills and knowledge) is another reason, where the costs of participation in terms of the time required, travel expenses and membership fees can be proportionally higher for SMEs.