Why Rwandan SMEs should harness the power of digital communication and e-Commerce

This article was written by Magnifique Migisha, a Strategic Communications Professional based in Kigali


The Rwandan small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) ecosystem is the most important actor in the
economic activities of the country through delivering goods and services, in addition to job creation.

As innovators from across all sectors are embracing technology to support productive activities, there is still a gap in fully embracing e-Commerce to serve their local customers. Since customers no longer need to queue in shops to buy what they need, it is important to digitise stores so that customers do their shopping with ease.

Digital communication is also a critical pillar for local SMEs to be able to reach out to their customers and promote their brands even globally. It presents unique opportunities for inclusive sustainable growth. Locally, internet penetration is high and this will help businesses create content to promote their activities and be able to regularly engage customers.

Small and medium enterprises play major roles in the economies of most developing countries. They impact significantly on employment creation, income distribution, and dispersion of industries. According to the Rwandan Ministry of Trade and Industry, 98 per cent of businesses are considered to be SMEs, contributing 41 per cent of all private-sector jobs in the nation. To support and speed up the growth of the private sector, Rwanda’s government created a supportive and enabling environment for SMEs to thrive through strengthening their innovation capabilities to create, adopt, adapt and use technological innovations.

The December 31, 2018 Integrated Business Enterprise Survey (IBES) by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) shows that the estimated total number of workers employed by enterprises in the formal sector, in 2017, was 223,043 working in an estimated 13,244 enterprises.

The operations of SMEs provide the ability to rapidly recognise and adapt to new changes in the external
environment and afford a fast response to internal reorganization to be competitive and be able to deliver effectively.

Photo Credit – African Business Communities

SMEs also have a large role to play in informal cross-border trade within the region. However, as some
have embraced the use of digital communication to reach out to their massive customers all over the globe, there is still a journey for the whole ecosystem to harness the power of digital communication to contribute to their growth and work more efficiently to enhance SME competitiveness.

Technology has already fundamentally altered the way we purchase and consume goods and services.
Currently, it is more evident that SMEs should embrace e-Commerce to sell their goods and services to
customers all over the globe.

SMEs should embrace the use of modern digital communication channels to regularly seek feedback from customers so as to add value to their goods and services. The digital transformation in SMEs will help them to build the capacity to compete internationally. In addition, embracing the use of popular social media networks will boost the visibility of their brands.

Very recently, a local brand was criticized on Twitter and it took long for them to respond. When they responded the public understood the matter. This should be a lesson to other brands to engage customers, regularly. Such interaction will, in the long run, give returns to SMEs as they gain more confidence from existing and potential clients.

The June 2022 report by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) shows that the total number of active mobile-cellular telephone subscriptions in Rwanda stands at 10,575,038. These numbers demonstrate that the SMEs ecosystem has a responsibility to create regularly appealing content to market their products or services so that the public can easily know what is being produced by local companies.

Following the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement (AfCFTA), SMEs should position themselves to tap into the continental market by fully embracing e-commerce as a key driver of facilitating access to the continental market.

In this case, local SMEs should look into digitizing their stores so that potential clients can easily identify them. This goes hand in hand with automating services as they will be having a bigger market to serve.

They should as well consider customer service as one of the many vital elements for growth and sustaining the businesses of local SMEs irrespective of their size. This is a great way to reconnect with their customers and ensure that they are satisfied with the service they are receiving. In this case, digital media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, or live webchats, can boost customer trust and build a closer and more personal relationship with them.

As Rwanda’s tech space is booming through creating long-lasting solutions, it will as well help local SMEs craft solutions like developing user-friendly mobile applications to streamline their e-Commerce.

Embracing the use of digital communication platforms will also help them to pursue growth through exporting to the continent and beyond. The world has become a global village and, as such, Rwandan SMEs can reach millions of consumers easily by using available digital tools.


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