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:

Welcome to this online written discussion. To post comments you will need to sign insign up to Business Fights Poverty. A list of recent comments is shown in the right-hand side bar and will refresh every 5 minutes. To refresh more often, please click on the refresh icon in your browser.

Views: 7037

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

The short unsatisfying answer to the technology question is ‘it depends’ but I think the key element here is that technology should be fit for purpose – where it makes sense to farmers or small retailers in the value chain, then it can be a helpful supporting mechanism to drive lessons, information and updates during the training or ongoing relationship management process.  But, the deployment of technology and its effectiveness should be measured just like other elements of the program and I imagine roll-out would be effective later on in the program after an experienced implementer like Fundes had a robust sense of the program participants across different countries.

Latin America is a region that loves technology. Among its adults, the market penetration of mobile phones has reached a saturation point, and studies project the active social media user pool to expand to 254 million in 2015, or more than one-third of the region’s population. This increasingly widespread use of technology in LAC is significant for many reasons:

First, ICT are a key vehicle for developing nations to foster economic development. A 10% increase in broadband service penetration alone is associated with an average 3.2% rise in GDP and a 2.6% rise in productivity. More specifically, ICT infrastructure is widely regarded as vital to entrepreneurship and small business development, particularly in emerging economies where access to capital and market information is a persisting obstacle. Addressing these obstacles through technology has the potential to unleash a flurry of growth. 

Second, technology is a vehicle to increased opportunities for individuals. In studying the correlation between access to technology and improved livelihoods, the UNDP found that among women globally, 55 percent earned additional income due to owning a mobile phone, while 41 percent increased their income and professional opportunities for the same reason. Technology is a big enabler that allows, per example, small stores owners not to leave the business place to educate themselves, realize public transactions (tax payments, application forms, etc.), restock inventory or access to banking services, among many others. What is more importantly, because of the high market penetration, most of tenderos feel comfortable and at ease around technologies such as cell phones. But let's not forget that technology is not "the silver bullet", it must be a component of a comprehensive solution.

Jane Nelson said:

Next question: while there is in theory a strong business case, we know that the execution is complex and can be costly depending on the locations of the retailers and the depth of support they require.

How can technology be employed to increase scale and impact at a reduced cost per participant?

Love to hear examples from our audience as well!

Thank you for all this amazing information.  An Thank you to invte me. I am looking foward to find a big support or invest on My swimsuits line, Pitahayaswimsuits, and to increase the hand made work of the Community Ole Tule Kuna, Necocli, Uraba de Antioquia. They made Aplications hand Made named  MOLAS. They have been doing this on my pieces of Lycra since 2006.  And we are now sostenible produtc. 

E-learning in conjuction with some sort of on-site implementation solution can work, as tenderos from the base of the pyramid are not technology savy and may have fear of change. I think that once they overcom this barrier (fear of change), tenderos are much more open to implement new ways to sell more and better themselves.

Yes - Justin and Bernardo have highlighted two key issues. Ensuring that technology meets a need, rather than the other way around, and the need to build comfort and familiarity with technology for it to work.

From Andres Peñate SABMiller: Hi guys, apologies but the gods of technology are not smiling to me today so I am joining via Cata's account. I agree with Justin. In the case of SABMiller our business success is intrinsically linked to the success of a plethora of small business. Upstream for instance, 70% of our supplier in Latam are small business. Downstream, 60% of our sales are via small mom and pop shops.

I think that technology has enormous potential in this regard. But constraints on the user side – in the case of 4e, the small-scale retailer’s side – need to be overcome. Mobile phones are ubiquitous now, even in the poorest communities, but if other devices like computers or tablets are needed to access a course or service, users must have access to any financing necessary to purchase them – and ideally prospects for increased income to pay the lender back. People might need training to learn how to use and get comfortable using technology. They need affordable service options in case something malfunctions. But if the nut can be cracked, the benefits could go beyond any given program. I remember Beth Jenkins, who did the research for our case study on 4e, telling me the story of one 4e participant who obtained a computer. He uses it to keep his accounts, and his kids are getting familiar with technology that is increasingly essential in the workplace.

It's hard to imagine but when the millennium development goals were first prepared, we did not have the ubiquitousness of social media and social media platforms. Technology can be a driver in the development space and the new MDGs eed to account for these incredible tools.

Technology could be the best ally to achieve increase impact and reduce cost, for example, in 4Ecase, google hangouts or radio could be used to train retailers massively.

I have also heard of several new models for using technology to collect results data. Results measurement is another key component of the 4e program. Estrella, perhaps you can comment on that.

In the 4e program, technology can be used to provide training on-line only or a face-to-face combination, depending on the shopkeepers’ access to technology. This will bring the cost of the training down but in order to succeed, we still think that a close follow up by advisors that personally know each case is still very important. This relationship between the shopkeeper and the advisor is key for building trust in the program and engaging the shopkeepers fully. One of the things that we would like to learn is how effective technology is for training as well as for the small shops productivity.  

Jane Nelson said:

Next question: while there is in theory a strong business case, we know that the execution is complex and can be costly depending on the locations of the retailers and the depth of support they require.

How can technology be employed to increase scale and impact at a reduced cost per participant?

Love to hear examples from our audience as well!

I would encourage members of the audience to log in and introduce themselves. Looking forward to answering your questions, too!

Reply to Discussion


Latest Activity

Joanna Bingham is now a member of Business Fights Poverty
Simon Dixon is now a member of Business Fights Poverty
Dec 8
Angela Melodia is now a member of Business Fights Poverty
Dec 7
Tiambi S is now a member of Business Fights Poverty
Dec 5

© 2017   Inspiris. Business Fights Poverty was created and is managed by Inspiris, a Certified B Corp.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service