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Connecitivity

Big vs. small firms: one size does not fit all

Jacques Morisset's picture



Is bigger always better? Economists have long debated what size firms are more likely to drive business expansion and job creation. In industrial countries like the United States, small (young) firms contribute up to two-thirds of all net job creation and account for a predominant share of innovation. (Source: McKinsey, Restarting the US small-business growth engine, November 2012). In developing countries, evidence from Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar shows that the vast majority of small operators remain small, and so are unlikely to create many decent jobs over time [Source: World Bank, Youth Employment, 2014]. By contrast, ‘big’ enterprises are seen as the best providers of employment opportunities and new technologies.

The difference in role and performance of small firms in developing and industrial countries reflects to a large extent their owners’ characteristics. In the US, small firm owners are generally more educated and wealthier than the average worker, while the opposite is true in most developing countries. This point was emphasized by E. Duflo and A. Banerjee in their famous book ‘Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty’ (Penguin, 2011). Most business owners in developing countries are considered to be ‘reluctant’ entrepreneurs; essentially unskilled workers that are pushed into entrepreneurship for lack of other feasible options for employment.

This is also very much a reality in Tanzania where small business owners have few skills and limited financial and physical assets. Of the three million non-farm businesses operating in the country, almost 90% of business owners are confined in self-employment. Only 3% of business owners possess post-secondary level education. As a result, their businesses are generally small, informal, unspecialized, young and unproductive. They also tend to be extremely fragile with high exit rates, and operate sporadically during the year. Put simply, most small businesses are not well equipped to expand and become competitive.

Connecting Sri Lankans to Prosperity

Eliana Cardoso's picture

The presidential election in Sri Lanka this January resulted in an easy win for the incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse. The end of the long lasting civil conflict with Tamil separatists, strong remittances and an IMF agreement boosted investors’ confidence. Foreign exchange reserves recovered from about one month of imports in the first half of 2009 to six months of imports by January 2010.

Now that the war is over and the global economy recovering, the government needs to grasp the opportunity to do the right things and avoid hurting confidence in the country’s stability, which is key to the rise in foreign investment and tourism.

The bad news is that the withdrawal of GSP Plus by the European Union countries can hurt industrial exports. The EU decision is worrisome. Thanks to the increase in manufacture exports from 6 percent of total exports in 1975 to 60 percent in 2005, firms began to lead Sri Lanka‘s connectivity with the rest of the world.