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Digitalization of MSMEs needs broad support package

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Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Europe and Central Asia need an integrated package of financial and non-financial instruments to help them adapt to the  twin challenges of COVID-19 and accelerated digitalization, according to the panel for the recent GMIS Digital Series webinar, “Industrial Recovery in Europe and Central Asia: Accelerating Digital Transformation for MSMEs”

Taras Kachka, Deputy Minister for Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture – Trade Representative of Ukraine, stressed the need for “better balance” in mitigating the pandemic while preserving the economy, particularly the MSME sector. He  noted the need to improve skills, and the certification of products and services, and to increase transparency. “MSMEs are the key drivers of regional economic growth but the lockdown measures put in place in every country have impacted their ability to produce, trade and serve their communities as supply chains were disrupted,” lamented Kachka.

Naira Margaryan, Armenia’s Deputy Minister of Economy, noted the imperative of building capacity for women and youth, given the paucity of leadership positions they occupy. She said, “Although the crisis has been devastating for some, for other businesses it creates new employment and self-employment opportunities. In Armenia, we are seeing women embrace this as an opportunity to step up, so, to support their efforts, we in the government are working to provide better access for women to enter business networks and are supporting capacity and skill-building, particularly in the manufacturing sector.”

Milena Angelova, Vice-President of the EU’s European Economic and Social Committee, focused on the need for targeted investments to specific sectors, for digitalization of MSMEs, digital skills and financial support to MSMEs, particularly through enhanced partnerships. “The main challenge is to prevent any loss of industrial production but to do this, we need to map out the impact of the pandemic on individual sectors and countries to identify where support is needed the most. Until now, much of the business community’s response to the crisis has been on a local level. This approach will not deliver a sustainable recovery. To do so, we need to draw these efforts together, to form a network across Europe and Asia to build cohesion and a multiplier effect,” said Angelova.

Maja Tomanic-Vidovic, Director, Slovene Enterprise Fund, noted that since the outbreak of COVID-19, 75 per cent of MSMEs had lost employees, 70 per cent had falling revenues, while 40 per cent suffer from liquidity issues. In the long-run, she noted, MSEMs will have to adapt to the accelerated paradigm of digitalization. She warned, “We have to accept that nothing will be the same as before…companies that don’t accept this will have problems in the future.” Concluding, Jacek Cukrowski, Chief of UNIDO’s Regional Programme, Europe and Central Asia, noted that the MSME sector is the backbone of any national economy, and that innovation is “at the core of modern business”. He listed UNIDO’s interventions in this area, including tailored programmes for the digitalization of MSMEs, enhancing digital resilience and competitiveness, digital upskilling and training. Cukrowski stressed, “Ensuring [MSMEs’] resilience is key to creating a more inclusive and resilient, human-centered future and a thriving global economy.”

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Innovative finance mechanism to support Uruguay’s energy transition

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A joint UN proposal in Uruguay, with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) acting as lead agency, seconded by UNDP and UN Women, has been approved by the United Nations Joint Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Fund. This was announced today as part of a Joint SDG Fund US$41m portfolio to catalyze strategic financing to accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals.

Uruguay is one of four countries, and the only one in Latin America, to be selected for funding. The UNIDO-led proposal for Uruguay, along with ones from Fiji, Indonesia and Malawi, was selected from 155 proposals from over 100 country applicants across the globe.

The programme will establish a Renewable Energy Innovation Fund (REIF) to support Uruguay´s second energy transition, with the objectives of decarbonizing the economy and boosting competitiveness. The REIF will combat climate change by helping transition Uruguay’s transportation and industry sectors to green energy and by providing affordable access to innovative clean technologies.

The Joint SDG Fund will provide a grant of US$10m, leveraging around US$70m of co-financing from regional development banks and private commercial banks. The REIF will support cleantech financing in energy storage, smart grid, green hydrogen, electro-mobility and waste management/treatment technologies. 

Manuel Albaladejo, UNIDO Representative and the UN team leader designing the Uruguay proposal, stated, “This programme sets a precedent on how UNIDO should approach development cooperation in middle-income countries. Besides UNIDO´s well-known technical expertise, understanding and deploying innovative financing mechanisms to leverage co-funding from development finance institutions and even commercial banks will be key to UNIDO´s work. Indeed, the UN reform and the multilateral funds such as GEF and GCF emphasize the need to shift to impact investments that tap into private sector financing.”

Mireia Villar Forner, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Uruguay, said, “Thanks to the support of the Joint SDG Fund, the UN team is better equipped to support the alignment of private investments to the SDGs through the establishment of a national ecosystem for impact investment. Without a doubt, it changes the way we work.”

Omar Paganini, Uruguay’s Minister of Industry, Energy and Mining, said, “On behalf of the Ministry, we are very enthusiastic about the support received from the SDG Fund, which will be a great contribution to promote Uruguay´s second energy transition. The REIF is an innovative instrument that powers and deepens the impact of our public policies. We believe it will boost Uruguay´s efforts to achieve the SDGs.”

The Joint Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Fund is an innovative instrument to incentivize transformative policy shifts and stimulate the strategic investments required to get the world back on track to meet the SDGs. The UN Secretary-General sees the Joint SDG Fund as a key part of the reform of the UN’s development work by providing the “muscle” for a new generation of Resident Coordinators (RCs) and UN Country Teams (UNCTs) to really accelerate SDG implementation.

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Estonia provides good support to jobseekers, but does not reach everybody

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The Estonian labour market has outperformed most EU countries after the global financial crisis. The employment rate of people in working age stood at 73% in the third quarter of 2020, up from 61.3% in 2010 and above the OECD average of 66.7%. Estonia provides comprehensive and targeted support to jobseekers, workers and employers. The Public Employment Service provides effective policies addressing the individual needs of the clients and cooperates pro-actively with a wide range of stakeholders. However, many people still lack stable jobs and incomes and are not in touch with the Public Employment Service to get the support they need, according to a new OECD report.

Connecting people with jobs: Improving the provision of active labour market policies in Estonia says that despite good labour market outcomes, about one quarter (26%) of the working age population could achieve better labour market outcomes through targeted support. Many of them face challenges related to their skills (68%) and family-related challenges (64%), such as care obligations. In many cases, they face several obstacles simultaneously and require an integrated approach.

Estonia’s active labour market policies (ALMPs) are responsive to labour market needs. However, ALMPs reach only 39% of people who are weakly attached to the labour market, and only 33% of people who are out of employment for more than one year.

“Reinforcing outreach to vulnerable groups far from the labour market is crucial to ensure that more people in Estonia get the support they need,” said Stefano Scarpetta, OECD Director for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs.

Improved cooperation between the Public Employment Service and other relevant institutions providing social, health and education services would help reduce gaps in support to vulnerable groups. Notably, municipalities should be the “first respondents”, supporting vulnerable groups with social welfare services, and cooperating with other institutions when needed. 

Further improvements in the provision of ALMPs could be supported by a leaner regulatory framework. The current legal regulations support flexible and effective policy responses but are complex, which leads to administrative inefficiencies. A leaner regulatory framework would enable Estonia to support flexibility in policy design while maintaining the capacity to respond to labour market changes.

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UNIDO works to scale up the ICT start-up ecosystem in Iran

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photo: UNIDO

Together with its national counterparts from the Information Technology Organization of Iran’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies and in partnership with the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is taking the next step to implement the project, “Promoting and upscaling innovative SMEs in the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

The project aims to nurture the entrepreneurial ecosystem for ICT start-ups and scale-ups through international exposure and fostering technology and know-how exchange. In this context, a comprehensive dialogue between governmental institutions and leaders in the private sector has been launched, thereby providing a mechanism for Iranian startups to connect with institutional actors and successfully start scaling up.

An ICT ecosystem mapping exercise has revealed that Iran already possesses extensive scientific, technological, financial and highly qualified human capital to boost its SME sector. However, it is currently not living up to its potential and there is a need to provide a mechanism for establishing linkages with key stakeholders, including access to finance and relevant advisory support. This way the project builds competitiveness and supports the development of innovative enterprises.

Amir Nazemi, Deputy Minister at Iran’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, said, “Aiming to diversify its economy and attract foreign investment, Iran has made a considerable effort to develop a dynamic national innovation system and is moving steadily towards a knowledge- and innovation-based economy. As a result, our human capital is now comprises highly educated and motivated workforce, including scientists, entrepreneurs and business people. Knowledge-based entrepreneurship is a key tool in Iran for employment generation, providing new opportunities for labour market integration of young professionals and serving as a powerful impetus for knowledge-based development of the country’s economy as a whole.”

Based on the findings regarding the existing constraints and opportunities of the ICT sector, the UNIDO project team has proposed a roadmap that envisages short-, medium- and long-term interventions in both public and private sectors, addressing several problem areas, such as knowledge generation and transfer; access to finance; nurturing of entrepreneurial talent and skills, as well as stimulating interaction and collaboration within the ICT ecosystem.

“The level of engagement from prominent public and private sector representatives related to the ICT sector has demonstrated the importance such initiatives have in making the ecosystem for ICT startups more vibrant and sustainable,” said Maryam Javan Shahraki, UNIDO representative in Iran.

She added, “UNIDO looks forward to further extending our support to the government of Iran in its efforts to promote internationalization of ICT-related entrepreneurs through the virtual entrepreneurship hub that will become a major platform for knowledge exchange and support services for ICT startups, as well as facilitating partnerships with domestic and foreign partners and inter-institutional networking.”

As part of the public-private initiative, in cooperation with its national and international partners, UNIDO conducted a two-day workshop for major ICT sector stakeholders, including government entities, entrepreneurs and other key players, to present key findings of the initial phase of the project and the forthcoming action plan, while also providing an opportunity for a thorough exchange on how to reduce the existing  development gaps between science and industry thereby raising Iran’s profile as a knowledge-driven economy.

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