How Can We Achieve Greater Scale and Impact Supporting Small Businesses?

Photo: SABMiller.  4e participant and her mentor, Peru.

To mark Global Partnership Week (, join us for a live, online discussion of ways to achieve greater scale and impact in our efforts to strengthen small businesses.


The CSR Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School and Business Fights Poverty recently completed a report on SABMiller’s new 4e Path to Progress program in Latin America—a partnership with FUNDES and the Multilateral Investment Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank that aims to empower nearly 200,000 small retailers at the base of the pyramid by 2020.


The report identifies emerging lessons and key strategic questions facing 4e on the journey to scale. Many of these are common to enterprise development programs across regions and industry sectors, and we know that other organizations, in addition to ourselves, have some of the same questions—and their own valuable experience and insight to share.


Please join us on Tuesday, March 10, 10:30-11:30am Eastern Time / 2:30-3:30pm GMT to explore the following questions, exchange your insights, and help spark some new ideas:


  1. What is the business case for companies to help strengthen the small businesses in their value chains?
  2. How can technology be employed to increase scale and impact at a reduced cost per participant?
  3. Where do policy drivers most need to change to enable small businesses to succeed, and how can companies and their development partners influence these drivers?
  4. What is the scope for broader alliances of companies, donors, governments, and civil society organizations to work together to strengthen small businesses?


This event is part of a one-week special with SABMiller on helping small businesses thrive.  Click here to read the blogs in the series.


Editor's Note:

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Hello! I am looking forward to the conversation today.

Jim Thompson said:

Hello! I am looking forward to the conversation today.

Hello everyone! Let's give another two minutes for Andres and Catalina to connect.

Great - am ready to contribute to this interesting conversation.

Hello everyone and welcome to today's discussion: how to achieve scale and impact supporting small businesses! 

Thanks so much to our panelists, Andres, Catalina, Elfid, Jim, Justin, and Estrella.

Let's get started with our first question. What is the business case for companies to help strengthen the small businesses in their value chains?

Many large businesses rely upon small businesses in their value chains. From aid donor prospective we see the development potential of increasing the small businesses capacity and quality of product to support larger businesses. Value chain partnerships are some of the best "shared value" partnerships.

Hello, I'm Lina, from Opportunities for the Majority at the Inter-American Development Bank

Take for instance USAID's work with Walmart. Many years ago the company wanted to start to sell Fair Trade coffee in their stores, but they couldn't get the quantity that they needed to supply their consumers. In partnership with USAID and Trans Fare, Walmart invested in the value chain to have more farmers certified as growing Fair Trade Coffee. This worked well with USAIDs interest in getting farmers higher incomes and by linking to the market the farms became more profitable and sustainable businesses.

The “virtuous cycle” at play here is about how social and business value creation are linked.  By improving the performance of small businesses, SAB Miller should understand the connection to and improvement in its own business – it could be in improved sales, improved margin, brand image, etc.  Importantly, this business-social value connection link should be understood and measured as this is what helps establish goals and an understanding of success.  This then compels the business to increase, diminish or shift its investment.

My view is that the small businesses in large companies’ value chains need to perform well for those companies to perform well. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the benefits will outweigh the costs of any given small business development program. Often companies have to look at the long term strategic benefits of helping to build increasingly stable, prosperous communities that can afford to buy their products and services into the future. They also have to factor in the reputational and relationship benefits, for example with governments, and the value of engaging their employees and giving them a sense of purpose – enhance turnover, greater productivity, and so on. The other possibility is to share the cost with donors who care about the job creation and development multiplier effects, and with other companies that depend on the same small businesses to succeed and grow.

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