Thinking big: Helping small businesses thrive in the face of disruptions

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Lacking the deep cash reserves and diversified portfolios of large conglomerates, micro, small, and medium enterprises were among the hardest hit amid the Covid-19 lockdowns around the world. With majority of Philippine businesses classified as MSMEs, the economic repercussions of the pandemic were deeply felt throughout the country.

Out of a total 1,003,111 business enterprises operating in the country, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), 99.52% (998,342) of these are MSMEs, while the remaining 0.48% (4,769) are large enterprises. 

To help underserved sectors, including MSMEs, adapt to the new normal, BPI Foundation, the social development arm of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), has pivoted to digital platforms to implement its programs to create opportunities for financial inclusivity and resilience for more Filipinos.

Digital response 

BPI Foundation has consistently supported the MSME sector, particularly the micro and small enterprises, through its Show Me, Teach Me (SMTM) and BPI Sinag programs.

Show Me Teach Me is a capacity-building program for micro and small enterprises that BPI Foundation has been holding in close partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry – Philippine Trade Training Center (DTI-PTTC) since 2010. When the pandemic hit, the Show Me Teach Me team had to adapt quickly and come up with the 10-part “Show Me, Teach Me Goes New Normal” webinar series to provide a digital learning platform for MSMEs. Through this, they are able to continue learning new and practical knowledge on business resiliency and sustainability while continuing to grow their enterprises amid these trying times.

Launched in 2015, BPI Sinag aims to contribute to sustainable economic growth by helping businesses achieve the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit, together with its partner, the pioneering social enterprise incubator, Bayan Academy. 

BPI Foundation executive director Owen Cammayo said: “We remain committed to supporting the MSME sector. The need to enable and empower micro and small enterprises has simply become more urgent as we continue to deal with the effects of the ongoing health and economic crisis. Physical limitations did not prevent us from providing relevant assistance as we embraced and shifted to digital opportunities – both for content and platform.”

Learning curve

Holding the SMTM and Sinag sessions had its own set of challenges. 

For SMTM, reaching more MSMEs proved challenging, especially the micro entrepreneurs. “There were still some who had connectivity issues and some who struggled to learn through the digital space,” explained Cammayo. “This was especially true for those from rural areas. Remaining engaged proved difficult for some because they are used to face-to-face interactions. Forming social bonds is something that we hope to establish even with virtual meetings.”

Aside from the challenge of operating in the new normal, businesses also have to think of the welfare of their employees. The pandemic also heightened concerns for the health and safety of their teams so they can continue their operations. 

The programs of BPI Foundation have shown that while it may not be easy, it is possible to thrive with the help of other organizations and government agencies.

The formula for post-pandemic survival

Based on the learnings from the SMTM and Sinag programs, BPI advises MSMEs to cultivate the following:

Innovation and knowledge. MSMEs must embrace the opportunities that new solutions can bring to their business. Given the change in the economic, social, and even political environment because of the pandemic, challenges can turn into opportunities if MSMEs are well-equipped with the knowledge, skills, and willingness to innovate their products, services, and operations.

Purpose and consumer base. Businesses should make themselves relevant to a target consumer base. This is fundamental in any business. For MSMEs to survive and thrive, it is a good practice to re-evaluate the business’ purpose and how it can serve its consumers especially in the new normal. 

Sound financial management. Adopting good financial practices can help businesses become more resilient. To ensure stability, especially amid industry fluctuations, MSMEs should stay on top of their finances through efficient planning, organizing, controlling, and monitoring of resources.

Beyond profit

This year, SMTM and BPI Sinag will continue to help MSMEs in capacity building, knowledge transfer, as well as making growth and expansion opportunities more accessible to them. 

“Being connected with our partners and stakeholders helped us to keep these programs running,” said Cammayo. “For BPI and BPI Foundation, keeping these connections shows that it’s not just about profit. We provide learning opportunities for MSMEs because we believe that knowledge and effective action will help them thrive in this pandemic.” 

Through BPI Sinag, BPI Foundation has given opportunities for its alumni social entrepreneurs (SEs) to pivot their business by offering financial support and creating opportunities to obtain expert advice from mentors. Ten SEs emerged as winners at the BPI Sinag Reignite 2020 Awards in October. SEs Accents and Petals, Down to Earth, Lola Sayong Eco-Surf Camp, Organic Growth, and Rajah Animal Feeds (Halal Organics Crops Production) were awarded the top five spots; while BalaiKamay Handcrafts, CalaBoo Dairyard Inc., Mavil’s House of Mushrooms, Mori Notes, and Virtualahan Inc. took the sixth to 10th spots, respectively.      

The top five winners each received P500,000 in cash grants, while the 6th to 10th placers won P200,000 each. They will also undergo a six-month mentorship program from Bayan Academy.     

Looking ahead

The outlook for SMTM and BPI Sinag remains hopeful and optimistic. 

As Cammayo stated: “Recovering from this crisis will not be easy, but if we reach out and work together with the public and private sectors, I know that we’ll be able to come out of this stronger and help more MSMEs and the economy at large thrive.”

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