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In addition to its impact on public health, the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) caused a major economic shock. The global health crisis quickly turned into a worldwide economic crisis, putting the health, jobs and incomes of millions of people around the world at risk. The strict containment measures adopted by many countries at the onset of the pandemic to flatten the rise in contagion put a substantial brake on most economic and social activities. American business magazine, Forbes states that the collapse in total hours worked, and the decline in economic participation triggered on of the worst jobs crises since the Great Depression.

For its part, the United Nation’s Framework for the Immediate Socio-Economic Response to the Covid-19 Crisis warns that, “The Covid-19 pandemic is far more than a health crisis: it is affecting societies and economies at their core. While the impact of the pandemic will vary from country to country, it will most likely increase poverty and widen inequalities at a global scale, making achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) even more urgent. The SDG’s are a collection of interlinked global goals designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”

Locally, the Covid-19 pandemic has invariably created tremendous negative impacts on the livelihood of the marginal population with severe job and income losses. Many people in the micro and small enterprises were the first to suffer the devastating consequences of the economic downturn. Participants in the informal sector lost their jobs and incomes with an increase in poverty among the people in both urban and rural areas. However, notwithstanding the existential threat to small businesses, owing to their vulnerability to economic shocks, the inherent agility and flexibility of small businesses conversely reinforces their resilience to global disruptive crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Senior Policy Advisor at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development who is also former deputy Governor of Bank of Botswana Keith Jeffries says while the overall shock to small and medium businesses has been serious, some have survived, and even thrived. Due to their lean business structure, with fewer layers of red tape and fewer employee small businesses can be more resilient, efficient operations offering unique, individual, distinctive, customer-centric service experience.  

Importantly, more than ever before, small businesses have proved that they are the lifeblood of an economy. They foster local economies, keeping money close to home and supporting neighbourhoods and communities. These outfits also help stimulate economic growth by providing employment opportunities to people who may not be employable by larger corporations. They are said to create two-thirds of net new jobs and drive innovation and competitiveness contributing immensely to a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In the throes of the current pandemic, digitally enabled small enterprises were able to shift delivery and customer services online, re-inventing themselves and pivoting into entirely new business models. As Botswana rebuilds its economy post Covid-19, small businesses will play an integral part in the reconstruction and rejuvenation of the economy by providing robust building blocks for inclusive economic development and reduction of poverty among local communities.

*Tigele Mokobi is an executive member of the Small Business Association of Botswana