Monday, June 20, 2011

The Value of Leadership and the Role of SME’s in Nation Building

By Dr. Robin Renee Sanders

Good Afternoon

It is a pleasure to be here this morning for two reasons: first to be back in Nigeria at a time when you at a turning point for great advancement in your development, and secondly to have the opportunity to speak to all of you today about the role you play in the future of your country.
My task this morning from the Foundation for Skills Development is to set the framework for not only what leadership is, but also to talk to you about your role as SMEs in nation building, in nation advancement and in national development.

Your country has just had an election that has set the stage for the next few years to be growth and change years for Nigeria, based on developing key critical sectors – especially agriculture, manufacturing, infrastructure development (e.g. power and transport sectors), and information technology.

You as SMEs, however, have a special role to play during this period -- to capitalize on this turning point and make things happen for your nation particularly for the next generation, and especially for women.

Today, Nigeria has some 68 million young people under the age of 30, and 74 million women – these figures will grown over the coming years with the potential of having nearly 72 million youth in country by 2025, and nearly 78 million women. So, SMEs like you will play a fundamental role in how the lives of both youth and women play out in the next decades.

I know that SME stands for Small and Medium Size Enterprises, but today let’s change that acronym to reflect the development enterprise space that your businesses represents, not only for you, but also for those you employ even if it is just you and 10 people or less.

The fact that you are producing, designing, employing, and innovating represents the leadership role that SMEs play in the development of any nation particularly in Nigeria given the creativity, ingenuity, and dynamism that exists in every part of society here.

You are or will be this country’s middle class, and with that comes certain responsibilities -- not only do you fill the development enterprise space in the world of the private sector, but more importantly as a country develops a strong middle class other social sector changes take place as well. You can demand better transparency, and improved regulatory frameworks (such as access to credit, market access, and incentives, etc).

According to Global Finance, Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) has about 331 million people in the middle class, and this is with record GDP growth rates of 5 percent or more, in about 18 SSA countries.

So, is there something wrong with this picture? Yes, a lot. This means these record growth rates are not changing the paradigm of people lives at all tiers of society. If Sub Saharan Africa has 30 million SMEs, then there is no reason with this kind of growth rate, and again Nigeria is reportedly at 8 per cent, that SMEs should be struggling. And, you alone as a country should have a larger SME percentage in the formal sector.

Thus, for me, I believe that you need to think about the S and the M in SME as representing the Strong, but the Maverick Role you play in society and in transforming not only key development sectors, but also changing other paradigms in Nigeria. This means transforming both agriculture and manufacturing; this mean transforming from simply surviving to sustainability; this mean transforming from just producing to productivity, and finally this mean moving from just training to long term market trade capabilities domestically, regionally, and internationally.

Whether you are an urban entrepreneur, or a rural entrepreneur your roles are the same for you in your communities. And, I am talking about communities with a big “C,” meaning not just having an impact on where you work, but also on where you live and on your nation.

One of the organizations that I am affiliated with in the U.S. is called Operation Hope. It was just a leading partner in a Summit on Urban Entrepreneurship ( at Rutgers University in New Jersey. What this summit focused on was how those in urban areas find ways to create their own jobs; to create their own futures; and to create their own sustainability. But how you say? What does it take? What are the tools?

Remember, all of you are here today because you either started with an idea, you saw a need, and you had a vision.[We have wonderful examples of this kind of leadership here today such as my dear friend Father Nzamonjo of the Songhai Centers in Benin, and also here in Nigeria, such as FSD whom you all know, and my young friend Taiwo who will discuss the environmental responsibilities you have as SME leaders as you develop and expand your companies. I also saw great leadership yesterday as I visited a Lagos State Job Opportunities Center in Igando and their work with Generation Enterprise.

They all started because of an idea, a vision, and a leadership commitment to fulfill a need they saw in the communities around them.

According to Nigeria World (, in 2003, SMEs employed about 60 per cent of the informal and formal labor force in Nigeria. Taking into account current population growth rates this percentage now is probably closer to 70 percent. With your population reportedly today anywhere between 150-152 million, and in ten years could reach 170 million – if your growth rates remain the same . . . your role will not get smaller but larger, and more comprehensive as community change-agents. We too, in the U.S., are returning our efforts to focusing on the importance of SMEs, and their role in rebuilding America’s future. Your role in Nigeria is no different. Your challenges maybe different, but your role is no different.

So let’s look at the tools, the drivers you will need to further advance that business idea, that vision, that has made you an SME today. Certainly I would have on that checklist:

• Financing, and access to credit ( I am aware of the challenges here in getting access to credit, but also know that institutions like the Central Bank, Bank of Industry, some development partners and others are very much focusing on these issues for SMEs);

• Training and retraining – remember things change and you too may need to retool, upgrade, or reinvent yourself and your business. There is no shame in having to do that. It is the street smart thing to do so;

• Let your voice be heard regarding shaping the regulatory environment that allows you to be successful, competitive and in some cases have a comparative advantage;

• Have at least a sound business outline, or better yet a business plan with goals of where you want to be in 3-to-5 years;

• Have good accounting practices; and,

• Work with institutions like FSD that can help you turn and conceptualize your business from vocational training to entrepreneurship.

I know that you know all these things, but sometimes it is good just to hear them again. Getting these tools and drivers right is also part of the leadership end of the ledger along with your passion for what you do as SME leaders as a development entrepreneur.

I care about issues of food security, education (particularly in entrepreneurial training), environment-energy, economics, development-democracy, and self help (The FEEEDS® issues) as these are the issues that I am passionate about and that I have chosen are important to me at this stage of my life.

You have to have that same sort of passion for what you do (Yes, I know the financing, market issues, and profits are the real-politick of surviving), but having passion for your business is that intangible leadership tool that can help you survive, and your business to have longevity.

There are a few other leadership things I also want you to keep in mind:

• The importance of the respect for diversity of thought, and new ideas;

• Remember that as you change, markets change, and your product may need to change along with it;

• Pay attention to what is happening in your communities and in your nation so that you can always play a role in the advancement of your nation as an SME, as a Strong and Maverick Enterprise; and,

• Set goals for your companies, but not in concrete, have some flexibility built in so that if unexpected opportunities arise, you can take advantage of them.

I have intentionally used charged word-phrases like community change-agent when describing your leadership role as an SME because I want you to leave here embolden, energized, and emotive not only about your business, but also about your role in your country’s development as a development entrepreneur especially given the opportunities that lie ahead in this transformative era for Nigeria. You are Strong, You are Mavericks, and you are SME’s! And, you are Nigeria’s future!

Thank You!