NOTE: This is an article I wrote in 2003 while I was in the midst of Sri Lanka’s SME scene as an SME and the Managing Editor of Athwela Business Journal, the Sinhala magazine for small and medium enterprises and startups.
I am reproducing this because, as ridiculous as it seems, today, 15 years later, nothing much seems to have changed. Read and see what I mean.
Anyone who disputes these commentary, especially in the Government of Sri Lanka, please feel free to comment in the blog, and I will get back to you.
Everybody loves small or medium size businesses (SMEs).
SMEs are a very large group. By number, they far outweigh big businesses. They are so large and powerful in some ways. Many multinationals will have to close if all the little grocery shops went on strike because supermarkets and large retailers sell only 5% of retailed goods in Sri Lanka. The rest is sold at little shops that are SMEs.
Yet, SMEs are so helpless in other ways. If you happen to own a SME, you would be painfully aware that nobody cares about you.
If everyone did not love SMEs, then why do they say SMEs are the backbone of the nation? Why then is the word SMEs is occurring everywhere and in relation to everything?
I may be wrong. But, I believe that when you love someone—especially passionately—that you feel joy in uttering their name. So, I assumed that everyone must love SMEs; policy makers, politicians, bankers, chambers of commerce, NGOs, the international financial community, web developers and consultants.
Of course, nobody really loves SMEs.
How do I know? Why, I am a SME operator myself. And you thought I was a mere writer or worse, a consultant. I also come into contact with my readers—I write in both Sinhala and English, by the way—and many of them are already SMEs or are dreaming of their own business. We all agree on one thing: nobody cares. If they do care—as they claim—they definitely do not show it; or have peculiar ways of showing it.
Ask any SME and they will tell you that this fact is as clear to him as the nose on your face. But, the nose on your face is not at all clear to you. Is it?
Ask your butcher, baker or your grocery shop. You only shop at super stores, you say? Then, you will never know unless you have super compassion, have ESP or have been there yourself. Most people I mentioned above have none of that.
Fortunately for us, SMEs, things are looking up. Everyone is waking up to the fact that developing SMEs is one sure way of developing the economy. The international financial community is pledging funds for SME development. Policy makers are making policy.
Sri Lanka—which does not even have an agreed definition for SMEs—now has a SME policy in draft form. The White Paper, “National Strategy for Small & Medium Sector Development in Sri Lanka,” proposes a definition for SMEs and recommends setting up a SME Authority. It also speaks of many interesting things such as initiating low cost advertising and sales promotion programmes, introducing a simplified tax system, creating industrial parks for SMEs and a SME website. The White Paper was presented to the Minister of Enterprise Development, Industrial Policy and Investment Promotion in December 2002.
I am also directly involved in providing content for a television programme for SMEs and start-ups which is sponsored by the Registrar of Companies and the Ministry of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Please watch the “Vyaparayak Arambamu” (Let Us Start a Business) in the Business Network—it is in Sinhala—on Rupavahini on the 23rd of this month. Send us your comments and help us address your concerns.
Through print and electronic media we can do only so much. We can provide the inspiration to spur you on. We can keep you from giving up in frustration. We can share with you the attitudes, knowledge and skills to start, manage and develop your business; and we do. But, that is not enough.
A whole lot more is needed. There are several other initiatives to help SMEs in the pipeline. As a publisher, editor and writer specializing on SME content, and as a SME operator, I am pretty exited about all this. Since news in the future tense is often useless—forgive my cynicism—we will keep you informed as things that really matter to SMEs keep happening.
Please send in your views.
The writer is the Managing Editor of Athwela Vyaparika Sangarawa (Athwela Business Journal), the only Sinhala management monthly targeting the small and medium sized business operators and its English version, Small Business International magazine.
Please note that this article was originally published in the Sunday Times FT in the Business@Home column (2003)