A woman with a mask and detergents
Martha Maocha runs a detergent manufacturing company but has recently started making hand sanitising gel which protects against COVID-19. Bulawayo, April 2020.
Photo:KB Mpofu / ILO

Supporting small businesses through the COVID-19 crisis

Small businesses, including those run by women and young entrepreneurs, are being hit hardest by the economic fall-out of the pandemic. Unprecedented lockdown measures enacted to contain the spread of the coronavirus have resulted in supply chain disruptions and a massive drop in demand in most sectors.

To continue playing their crucial role in creating decent jobs and improving livelihoods, small businesses depend more than ever on an enabling business environment, including support for access to finance, information, and markets.

Let's not forget that these enterprises, which generally employ fewer than 250 persons, are the backbone of most economies worldwide and play a key role in developing countries.

According to the data provided by the International Council for Small Business (ICSB), formal and informal Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) make up over 90% of all firms and account, on average, for 70% of total employment and 50% of GDP.

That is why the General Assembly declared 27 June Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day, to raise public awareness of their contribution to sustainable development and the global economy.

Small matters infography


Explore this infostory to discover the full potential of the MSMEs in securing a better future of work of everyone.

MSME Day 2020 - COVID-19: The Great Lockdown and its impact on Small Business

These types of enterprises are responsible for significant employment and income generation opportunities across the world and have been identified as a major driver of poverty alleviation and development.

MSMEs tend to employ a larger share of the vulnerable sectors of the workforce, such as women, youth, and people from poorer households - populations with high vulnerability in times of COVID-19. MSMEs can sometimes be the only source of employment in rural areas. As such, MSMEs as a group are the main income provider for income distribution at the “base of the pyramid”.


2020 UN Events

Smaller businesses can be agile in response to a changing world. We have seen multiple examples during the pandemic, but their size also makes them vulnerable. Access to finance is a primary obstacle. Identifying international market opportunities and navigating trade-related procedures can be harder for small businesses than for their larger competitors.

In order to find inspiration in these difficult times, the United Nations hosted three special events:

Banner of the event

24 June 14:00-15:30 CET

The International Trade Center held a special WebTV programme to hear from entrepreneurs from across the world, as well as from those who support small-business responses to COVID-19. The event launched the flagship "SME Competitiveness Report COVID-19: The Great Lockdown and its Impact on Small Business,"  a new report packed with brand-new business impact data and unique cutting-edge analysis.

Banner of the event

June 27 MSMEs Day Report

"First Responders to Societal Needs", organized by UNCTAD, DESA, UNIDO, the Permanent Mission of Argentina, and ICSB gave the chance to meet real MSMEs. We must not only recognize the necessity and power of MSMEs worldwide, but we should also take this opportunity to really listen to them. This event included sitting with their struggles, successes, stories, experiences, and opportunities. Click here to access the key messages.  

Flyer for MSMES, COVID-19 and Africa recovery event

25 June 12:00pm – 14:00pm EAT

MSMEs have the potential to play an integral part in Africa’s post COVID-19 economic and social recovery. This session brought together forward-looking entrepreneurs and business people to explore how we can build back better with MSMEs at the forefront and create a resilient, prosperous future for all.


Did you know?

  • 600 million jobs will be needed by 2030 to absorb the growing global workforce, which makes SME development a high priority for many governments around the world.
  • In emerging markets, most formal jobs are generated by SMEs, which create 7 out of 10 jobs.
  • Increasing annual investments in small and medium-sized enterprises by $1 trillion would yield disproportionate dividends in terms of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

What do SMEs need to help them survive?

A woman working in her business

The International Trade Centre, leading agency of this Observance, is closely following how the pandemic is affecting MSMEs, with a particular focus on those small businesses in developing countries. This dedicated section provides insights, guidance and resources for small businesses, and supports organizations and policymakers. Along with it, the International Labour Organization, UNIDO, and the World Bank, among others, join the fight to help these enterprises to cope with the coronavirus' effects.

Goal 8 logo Decent Work and Economic Growth

Micro-, small and medium sized enterprises are vital in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Efforts to enhance access to finance for SMEs across key sectors of national economies are an important element of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They are an important element in the implementation of SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure.)

A crowd of women sitting and laughing

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.