Insights from around the world
In a year of many unexpected experiences and privileges, I was fortunate to attend the inaugural SME World Forum in Macau in December 2019. There were people from every corner of the world bringing with them not only diverse and sometimes unique insights, but also showing that a common thread of challenges exists for many SMEs in developed and developing countries.
One of the main benefits of attending these types of events is being able to bring all of this back to Australia, to enrich our own perspectives and to inform our work, from policy development through to commercial opportunities. As the accounting profession becomes more global in its reach and influence, it is also necessary for the IPA, and all organisations, to keep reaching beyond our borders and to assimilate and integrate with the world around us. We can never stand still.
At the SME World Forum, I was honoured to chair two panels, one on humane entrepreneurship and its impact on female entrepreneurship; and the other on the role of education on the prosperity of SMEs.
Both of these topics struck a chord with the work of the IPA, as we have launched our sustainability strategy, with a lot more to follow; we have undertaken an extensive amount of work on gender equality; and education is part of our core business, including the development of human capital through training and education.
Humane entrepreneurship is a relatively new theory, which integrates the sustainable use of natural resources, better use of produced capital and further investment in human capital. In other words, it brings together entrepreneurship, leadership and human resource management. It has ethical and human drivers and is therefore characterised by empathy, social values, caring and ‘soft’ or interpersonal skills.
Many useful and interesting insights emerged from the forum, most of which can be translated into the Australian context, including:
From France – raising awareness, especially among the younger generations, that working in an SME is a viable, worthwhile and rewarding career path. For this reason, there has been an extensive mentoring program developed. Part of this includes building social capital and knowledge capital, which can be developed over time and can bring benefits to both the employee and to the SME owners.
From Egypt – there is very high youth unemployment so innovative measures and programs are needed to address this serious problem. There has been the introduction of an entrepreneurship education program that embeds innovation and entrepreneurship into the high school curriculum. There is a focus on life skills and ensuring that students finish their education being employment ready or ready to start their own business equipped with skills to ensure their success. Another part of the education system and curriculum is to keep linking back to specific problems that students can then try to solve. While there has been some criticism of this, it has been very successful and has become part of the continuum of the learning process. This is not the traditional path of universities.
From Indonesia – youth entrepreneurship is a major focus of both government and the private sector. However, there is also a focus on choosing participants for programs who want to learn and are open and receptive to the value of education and who appreciate the role that education plays in their future success. At the same time there is a focus on sustainability, that is, ensuring that the programs and outcomes can be replicated and continued over the longer term. Accelerators and incubators are also featured as part of the education process, with practical business coaching playing a major role in developing an entrepreneurial culture and economy.
From Hong Kong and the US – female entrepreneurs should forge their own path and not feel compelled to follow the expected path laid down by family or peers. However, it is important for female entrepreneurs to talk and listen to their families. The conversations should not just be about getting to the C-suite, there is a lot more to being a successful business leader than the mechanics and trappings of success.
From Macau and China – in a family business you can have a great mentor and teacher, which is a useful advantage and may not necessarily be found outside family businesses. The statistics show that women are better business leaders across most indicators but don’t get the same opportunities as men. We need more women as decision makers.
From the Middle East region – there is a focus on low hanging fruit in bridging the gender gap. In many developing countries the small successes can make a big difference. We should focus on financial and economic empowerment; education; and social policies to help bridge the gender gap.
From Italy – there is always a place for humane entrepreneurship, which creates a virtuous circle and is acknowledged as a good approach in many contexts.
From Vietnam – according to data and analysis presented at the SME World Forum, the country that has benefited the most from the US-China trade war is Vietnam. We were told by private sector business people and by government officials that there is a huge need and appetite for education and training across many sectors of the economy. The opportunities for the IPA are obvious.
I asked my panellists for some parting words of advice that they would tell their younger selves or to any young person. The advice they gave: be real, be confident, work hard, don’t be afraid to ask, and be happy. To all of this great advice, I would add – believe in yourself.
Vicki Stylianou, group executive, advocacy & technical at the IPA