An online marketplace called Anandomela for SME (small and medium enterprise) products has come into being thanks to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The UN body with assistance from Ekshop of a2i launched this virtual market through a video conference on Tuesday last, creating an opportunity for SME units to market their products. Anandomela will be the virtual platform where buyers and sellers will meet online to make Eid shopping happen without risking social distancing.
Clearly, this is an ingenious initiative but it has come a bit late. Although 1,045 SME units have hosted their products online, the transaction time they will get is very short. They have only a week's time to dispose of their products in which they invest throughout the year for readying before festivals like the Pahela Baishakh, the two Eids and the Durga Puja. But they mainly target the Pahela Baishakh and the Eid-ul-Fitr for bonanza sale. The entrepreneurs missed the Baishakhi sale and now the one week left before Eid-ul-Fitr would not be enough time for the online sale.
The fact is that many potential customers will not even come to know about this virtual outlet simply because it is now too late. Others will refrain from placing order thinking that the articles or products they order for may not reach them in time at this fag end. However, there is no doubt that such a platform can be an answer to the problems facing both growers/manufacturers and consumers. The system can be effective for marketing of items from vegetables to fruits like mangoes and lichis.
Admittedly, people here are yet to be accustomed to online shopping but a crisis time like this pandemic demands innovative measures in order to overcome the constraints of both marketing and retail shopping.
With about 7.0 million SMEs involving nearly 25 million people, here was a vibrant sector with potential for steady growth because such enterprises produce commodities of day-to-day and household use along with some artistic and creative things of aesthetic value. At this time of income erosion for many and home confinement with no scope for partying, this Eid will naturally trigger a slump in sale of a number of articles that are in high demand on the occasion every year. But then the celebration of Eid cannot be complete without a lot more SME products.
True, not many people are in a celebratory mood but still there is a moneyed class of people, who need to spend on such occasions. Many members of the saner sections will definitely try to divert the unspent allocations to charity but their numbers are limited. The majority of the nouveau riche are compulsive spenders. Such an online platform could draw them for big spending if the initiative had wide publicity with enough time before the Eid.
This crisis should serve a lesson not only for the SMEs but also for other sectors -both most essential and not so essential. In this connection Chinese examples are most illuminating. Operating and opening SMEs after the coronavirus pandemic have proved less challenging than giant plants. In China industrial villages specialising in production of exclusive items were the mainstay of economy during its early years of industrial restructuring. In Bangladesh where population density is high, diversity and specialisation under a comprehensive plan is key to sustainability of economy and more rational income distribution.
Stimulus packages are swallowed up by large companies. Even in the USA, right at this moment heated debates are going on over the expenditure of such packages. The New York governor was against offering such stimulus packages to the corporate sector. Others argue that those who have received such funds should employ as many employees as they have terminated. This should not be different here in Bangladesh.
The SME sector, on the other hand, can tide over the crisis if the Tk 200 billion stimulus package announced for it is timely disbursed and made good use of. This pandemic has brought to the fore the hard truth that market economy is not all. There is need for government rescue programme to keep even the big players in the private sector afloat. Yet the corporate vulnerability and the day labourers' or for that matter, in the informal sector, fixed income earners' helplessness cannot be judged on the same scale. For one, it is just to hold on to the apex or any other slot on the business ranking but for the other it is mere survival. Had there been the minimum rational distribution of wealth creation, the working hands should not be exposed to the initial onslaught of economic impasse.
With its unprecedented rampage, coronavirus has driven home a message that not all is well on the corporate front of the world. There is a need for a review of relations in the productive sector of economy in order to ensure a just and fair share of working people. Some people have amassed too much filthy wealth, part of which is spent for frivolous purposes. The rush for opening up economies the world over shows that the overriding urgency everywhere is to prioritise commerce over life. After all the state has the obligation to feed its citizens. Governments are wobbling to play this fundamental role within months.