Supporting businesses for post Covid recovery

The project addresses a critical need for small and medium scale businesses (MSMEs) to innovate and re-skill in response to the disruptions precipitated by Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic has accentuated the take-up of digital transformation, as businesses are forced to re-invent themselves, rely more on digital platforms to reach customers, create new products and services, and use ICT applications to coordinate workers and business activities, among others. Many businesses are lagging in the recovery path due to limited capacities and capabilities to implement digital transformation strategies. The UK Prime Minister has noted that the “economy has been shaken by COVID, and in the hand-to-mouth scrabbling of the pandemic the shortcomings of our labour market – and our educational system – have been painfully apparent”. Thus, this project aligns with the UK government priority agenda to address critical skill gaps in the UK economy.

While the project’s focus on digital transformation links to the immediate context of the post Covid-19 landscape, it speaks to a wider process that began well before, and has been accelerated by, the pandemic. In a 2018 report, the World Economy Forum noted that “by 2022, at least 54% of all employees will require re-skilling or up-skilling” (World Economic Forum, 2018). As digital technologies increasingly substitute for low-skill, routine tasks at progressively lower cost, workers’ displacement, job polarisation, and wage inequality will ensue, with potentially severe consequences for social cohesion and the economy. The jobs of the future will therefore depend more and more on the ability of humans to use digital technologies as tools, work in partnership automation systems and AI, or carry out non-routine cognitive and affective tasks that are less likely to be undertaken my machines.

Given the foregoing, this proposal addresses the following criteria:

1 – Using knowledge capabilities within the university to addresses social and economic impact in the Midlands: the project aims to draw on a full spectrum of expertise from the CEI African Entrepreneurship Cluster to address critical needs of MSMEs in the Midlands vis-a-vis digital transformation and post Covid-19 recovery. The cluster membership comprises colleagues from BAL and CEM faculties, with expertise cutting across the broad themes of information systems, software engineering, entrepreneurial resilience, corporate governance, strategic management, and entrepreneurial finance, among others. Furthermore, the project is aimed specifically at African and Caribbean business owners, an under-served group at risk of exclusion from business support with high potential to make significant contributions to the national economic recovery.

2 – Drawing upon existing capabilities across faculties to build innovative potentials among MSMEs: As outlined under criteria one, the project draws on interdisciplinary expertise across two faculties to develop MSMEs’ digital and entrepreneurial innovation capabilities across the Midlands.