SMEs Need More than Cash

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK Finance Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila says the government has learnt the very important lesson that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) need more than money to succeed. The government, she said, charted a course to advance entrepreneurship through support to SMEs immediately after independence. There have been extraordinary successes and spectacular failures since the first attempts, but in the process government has learnt valuable lessons. She noted that while great efforts went into making finance available, not as much effort was invested in providing business support, which is an equally important ingredient for success. Many SMEs failed because they were suddenly presented with the new challenge of sizeable loans to repay, coupled with limited experience in business. “So while improved access to finance remains vitally important to SMEs, and we have to take deliberate steps to redress such imbalances, we also have to address the other shortcomings in our offering to SMEs with equal vigour,” she said. Kuugongelwa-Amadhila made these remarks at a function held last week to commemorate the first anniversary of a partnership between Bank Windhoek and the Development Bank of Namibia. Bank Windhoek and the Development Bank teamed up a year ago to make affordable financing available to SMEs. Bank Windhoek says the joint venture has so far produced 29 SME beneficiaries and created jobs for 212 people from six regions. The SMEs that have benefited include businesses in a wide variety of sectors ranging from steel manufacturing to medical services, coffee shops and bicycle stores. As part of the SME loan scheme Bank Windhoek also provides mentorship to a selected group of emerging SMEs. Bank Windhoek’s Social Investment Fund supports the mentoring programme, together with its partners the German development agencies DED and GTZ. The Bank Windhoek specialist ESME branch presents monthly mentoring sessions with the aim of providing knowledge and insight into successfully running a business. Fifty-five of the bank’s ESME clients are voluntarily participating in the programme, while 13 have successfully completed it. Kuugongelwa-Amadhila praised the mentorship programme saying it will forever change the way service providers relate to small business. “It will never again be acceptable to write a cheque, step back and wait for your money to come back to you with interest. SMEs need guidance and practical support from service providers,” she stated. The minister also presented several SME owners who have successfully completed the mentorship programme with certificates. To coincide with the first anniversary of the Bank Windhoek/Development Partnership, the two banks jointly presented the 2006 SME Expo. The exhibitors at the expo were clients of bank Windhoek and participants in the mentorship programme. Bank Windhoek Chairman Koos Brandt said the expo was tacit proof of the success ESME clients have achieved since the launch of the ESME branch in 2005.