United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

UNCTAD is the global body within the UN System dealing with trade, investment, finance, technology and sustainable development issues in an integrated manner, as stated in the Nairobi Maafikiano. The mandate derives from the priorities established in relevant General Assembly resolutions and decisions, including the quadrennial sessions of UNCTAD, in particular the principal functions of the Conference outlined in section II, paragraph 3 of General Assembly resolution 1995 (XIX). Accordingly, the agency has a long-standing experience in research and analysis, intergovernmental consensus-building and providing technical assistance and capacity building on trade facilitation, transport, port management, transparency, and commercial law in developing and least-developed countries, with particular emphasis on developing countries, SIDS, LLDCs and LDCs.

In the framework of the SME Surge project, during phase 1 and 2, UNCTAD leveraged its Entrepreneurship Policy Framework (EPF) to incorporate policy responses related to the resurgence of MSME sector post COVID-19. In partnership with UNITAR, UNCTAD developed an e-learning course aimed at enhancing capacity of policy makers to provide adequate policy response and support measures for the resurgence of a resilient and competitive MSME sector. The course will be available in 3 languages and 3 events to create awareness among policy makers will take place in phase 3.

Activities under cluster 1 on Entrepreneurship Policies and skills facilitation were implemented in partnership with Empretec national centres and international master trainers. These included capacity building for 200 trainers from 25 countries through a total of 120 hours of online sessions. Participants, who were Empretec certified trainers from the network of Empretec centers — received tools to further train their peers on areas such as Farming as a Business, the updated 6-day Empretec Training Workshop, as well as tools to develop entrepreneurial skills of people with low literacy. Online sessions were conducted in the three most widely spoken languages across the Empretec network: English, French and Spanish. Training material on the new areas was also revised and translated in the three languages.

At the request of the Empretec centers, UNCTAD is currently designing an online version of its Entrepreneurship Training Workshop (ETW), as a readily available platform to assist entrepreneurs, especially from vulnerable backgrounds, and MSMEs that are at the forefront of an almost certain post-COVID-19 recession. Experienced trainers helped UNCTAD develop video material on the Empretec competencies framework, where the application of entrepreneurial competencies and associated behaviours – including in the pandemic context – is illustrated through the action of real entrepreneurs and SME owners from different countries.

Through online sessions, UNCTAD provided a meeting point for 370 entrepreneurs of the Empretec Network in 10 countries to exchange on the challenges faced and actions taken to adapt their business practices to the new context and make profits despite the pandemic. Guest speakers, who were successful entrepreneurs shared their stories and highlighted the key entrepreneurial competencies that they used as resource for action. These competencies had been previously acquired through Empretec training. 

UNCTAD, in partnership with UNITAR hosted 8 online discussions on the impact of the global pandemic on entrepreneurship and MSMEs, showcasing good practices across the world on Fintech, green, agri, blue, inclusive and resilient entrepreneurship. The discussions were attended by more than 2500 participants.

The 2020 Empretec Women in Business Award recognized women entrepreneurs’ contribution to SDGs through circular, sustainable, and inclusive businesses. Award winners increased their visibility, accessed further training, funding, and government contracts.

During phase 2, UNCTAD also supported small-scale and informal traders who have been particularly hit by the pandemic and border restrictions. In Malawi, 131 small-scale and informal cross-border traders, of which over 90% were women, were trained on issues related to trade rules and regulations, traders' rights and obligations, entrepreneurship skills and the new COVID-19 border measures. This allowed informal traders consider trading through formal crossings as a viable option, dispelling their worries about dealing with border authorities.

Access to finance is facilitated by adequate reporting, not only on economic performance but also on sustainability issues. In an effort to improve MSMEs access to finance, an Accounting Training Manual focusing on micro and small companies was developed. The training aims at improving financial literacy for entrepreneurs, including understanding of accounting, financial analysis and common requirements to access financing. With a view to replicate and expand outreach, training of trainer workshops for 382 participants from 39 countries were conducted in Spanish, English and French. Moreover, trainings for MSMEs practitioners are underway. In addition, and based on the “Guidance on core indicators for entity reporting on contribution towards implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (GCI)” and a training manual on its implementation, 6 online workshops were organized, which benefited 429 participants from 26 countries. Under the project umbrella, an e-learning course on core SDG indicators is being developed.

Responding to a request from the Government of El Salvador, UNCTAD, through its Business Facilitation Programme— designed and implemented an eGov solution to support MSMEs and to promote private sector development in the country. The online tool facilitates administrative procedures by providing a single window where MSMEs can register and access digital services, encouraging the formalization of informal businesses. Launched in June 2020, using a platform that can be configured for different countries, Cuentamype.org removes barriers to formalization as it eliminates the previous cumbersome task of having to queue at multiple government offices.  Since its creation, some 12,000 MSMEs have been formalized.

During phase 2, UNCTAD raised awareness at the political and technical levels on the role of competition policy in the Economic recovery of MSMEs by: 1) Highlighting the interphase and positive correlation of implementing effective and timely competition policy measures within and across regions in the wake of Covid 19 and the impact to MSMEs in accessing markets. 2) Promoting regional exposure to the interphase by exchanging experiences among member states of the same region on how competition policy can be a catalyst in key areas where MSMEs are facing challenges in the digital markets, particularly by addressing killer aquisitions in developing countries jurisdictions; and 3) Bringing together a mass of experts, resource persons, inter-state entities on further exploring the positive correlation of competition policy and the recovery of MSMEs in development countries and countries in transition. More than 1800 participants took part of the UNCTAD regional dialogues organized accross the world, in direct and close partnership with the regional Economic Commissions.