How businesses can support SMEs during the Covid-19 crisis

Setting aside budgets to spend with smaller firms or even highlighting their work can help companies which may be struggling due to lower demand

Setting aside budgets to spend with smaller firms can help them to get through a difficult economic climate due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Getty Images
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In recent weeks, we have witnessed how the Covid-19 crisis worsened around the globe. On the economic front, millions of people lost their jobs. Some 3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance in the week of March 21, followed by a further 6.65 million claims for the following week, according to the US Labour Department

The negative impact of the crisis extended to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as well as freelancers in certain industries such as travel and entertainment. It is estimated that 75 million travel and tourism sector jobs are at risk, as highlighted by the World Travel & Tourism Council chief executive Gloria Guevara last month. She further stated how the sector that contributes 10.4 per cent to global GDP and provides 320 million jobs is in a "fight for survival".

Governments around the world have announced economic stimulus packages to help ease the burden of this crisis. Dubai’s Freezone Council announced that it is postponing rent payments for six months. Kuwait’s economic stimulus package directs government agencies to pay financial obligations to the private sector as soon as possible.

While these are all valuable and appreciated efforts on the governments’ fronts, it is important for businesses to support and sustain the economy, especially by helping small and medium enterprises. SMEs account for 90 per cent of businesses around the world, and represent more than 50 per cent of global employment.

So how could businesses help small and medium and enterprises and freelancers during these times?

Companies can offer grants to small and medium enterprise or freelance professionals. If you operate a relatively large organisation with enough budget set aside, there’s no time like the present to dedicate funds to support freelancers and SMEs as part of your corporate social responsibility efforts.

Art Jameel, the Saudi Arabian foundation, that operates the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai, announced that it will be allocating Dh550,000 to support artists, writers, and curators in the Middle East during these tough times. The micro-funding programme launched by Art Jameel will help to fund new and existing projects with grants up to $3,000 (Dh11,018) per professional applicant.

Sundar Pinchai, Google’s chief executive, announced last week that the tech giant had dedicated $200 million to an investment fund that will support financial organisations and NGOs around the world providing small businesses with access to funds.

Support could also take place by working with freelancers. If you run an organisation that produces content, then commission freelance writers, artists, and graphic designers to help you in the production of your content.

Provide access to educational information for free. Many freelancers resort to learning skills on their own, because they can't afford to pay for training courses or certificates. If you head an educational institution, now is an ideal time to provide some courses for free as a service to the public and to support freelancers, who may have more time on their hands if the businesses they work with rein in spending. This can help them to dedicate time to develop skills. Virtual online classes can be provided with certificates of attendance. Different libraries such as New York University Abu Dhabi and Sharjah's public libraries are providing free access to millions of books online.

If you are a training professional, or a sought-out speaker, then you could hold free sessions online to benefit the public and help them acquire knowledge.

Companies can also help by raising awareness through public relations. If setting budgets aside to support freelancers or small businesses is not possible, you could do your part by raising awareness about their work to your network. If you run a media company, for instance, you could shed light on the work of creative freelancers. Not only will it raise their media profile, it could also provide them with access to clients. If you manage a bank then you could design a special newsletter to clients that could highlight promising small businesses in town. This might introduce these owners to investors or people who could help their business grow.

Supporting SMEs and freelancers is a collective effort that businesses should take part in to support their economy and community.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi