In the vast arena of global economic activity, it’s the little guys that often find themselves in a David vs. Goliath war. In the realm of sustainable progress, good intentions and noble aspirations pave the road to achievement. But what about the littler guys left in the shadows when the guideposts are meant for industry giants? Enter Small and Growing Businesses (SGBs), the determined trailblazers who won’t be confined by their size.
World governments have agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), yet their success relies on collaboration by all actors. Businesses have to face the challenge of helping solve seemingly intractable development challenges. To help them navigate the hefty goals and measure their progress, the GRI, the UN Global Compact, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development devised the SDG Compass guide. But guess what? While they encourage small and medium enterprises to use the compass as “a source of inspiration,” they warned that it was crafted with large enterprises and corporate behemoths in mind.
There is an implicit assumption that the little guys can achieve close to nothing deserving of serious measurement in the realm of progress. Their inspired contributions are desired but not expected. On the contrary, backed by data and its robust research, the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) sustains that the little guys have a critical role in sustainable development despite lacking an abundance of resources or governmental clout. SGBs defy the odds, propelled by their own experience on the ground, and have been weaving tailored solutions to overcome adversity and surpass imposed limitations.
It is no secret that small and growing businesses embody the spirit of entrepreneurship. There is a consensus among experts that Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) have a substantial influence on the private sector in both developed and developing countries. They are the foundation of economies worldwide. According to the World Trade Organization, SMEs represent over 90% of the business population, 60-70% of employment, and 55% of GDP in developed economies. Small and medium businesses play a critical role in promoting economic growth and together employ most of the global workforce.
The small and growing businesses type of company has also been responsible for disrupting systems and producing highly innovative technological solutions. Alas, it is a shame that evaluating their impact on the SDGs remains a woefully uncharted territory.
As the small guys steer over the complex terrain of global goals, it’s crucial to realize that strategies made for big corporations may not fit the bill for these nimble entrepreneurs. So the SGB Compass may benefit from an intentional adaptation to shed light on the path for these smaller giants. They yearn for a compass guiding them through the tricky waters of sustainable progress. Many of them are inspired by an intimate intuition: their drive and ambition are the crux of development.
The absence of well-defined programs and metrics to gauge the outcomes of their noble endeavors threatens to deprive us of the potential positivity they could bring. From the worldwide blindness to such impact comes the spectacle of a Global Compact stumbling upon an unfulfilled destiny—leaving us pondering the urgent need for other organizations laser-focused on remedying this pressing predicament.
Just as artisans of old adjusted their craft for discerning patrons, SGBs and the entrepreneur support organizations (ESOs) that help them also must adapt their tools. ANDE’s Annual Conference next September in Ghana, while celebrating their contributions to the global mission of defeating “the tyranny of poverty,” will address the sector’s unique challenges.
ANDE members are called to forge a new compass recognizing those smaller entrepreneurs’ resourcefulness and adaptability. Many ESOs—which are at the core of ANDE’s membership— are fueled by a passion for sustainable growth, and tapping into their creativity, they seek to offer bespoke guidance and insight to these smaller giants. A symphony of transformative change emerges in this collaboration between visionaries and trailblazers.
They might be idealists but not naïve. Even with cutting-edge instruments designed for interstellar travels, the journey won’t be smooth sailing for the little guys. However, infused with the nuanced understanding of entrepreneurs, it is imperative for the intermediaries that support them to embrace the wisdom of adaptation on the development frontlines of the Global South.
Let’s help these small but mighty innovators and watch them rise to the challenge, accelerating action toward the SDGs. Through their aggregate efforts, sustainable development moves forward, illuminating a future where impact isn’t determined by size.