WBG Management should institute a tailored research agenda to support and assist the clarification and refinement of its SME support approach.
Utilizing the best qualified researchers (for example, a great deal of qualified expertise focused on this agenda resides in DEC), this should produce more policy- and contextually-relevant distinctions of the definition of SME; a better understanding of the dynamic contributions of SMEs to economic growth, employment and poverty alleviation; deeper knowledge about how the design of interventions should vary contingent upon country conditions; a project-relevant definition of the "frontier"; a clearer view of the correct sequencing and combinations of systemic and targeted; and more rigorous analysis of the actual performance and impact of key types, combinations and sequences of WBG and other donor interventions. Enterprise surveys should be refined to better identify market failures and unmet demand for financial and other services; and to generate more panel data that better account for firm dynamics and allows more confident relating of explanatory factors to firm growth and employment.
Targeted support for SMEs needs to be firmly rooted in a clear, evidence-based understanding of what distinguishes an SME and how the proposed support will sustainably remove the problems that constrain SME growth. An appropriate and correct definition of SME is important to guide selectivity in projects. The definition of SMEs (both the "ceiling" and the "floor") establishes projects' relevance to development objectives and differentiates some firms from others based on criteria of employment, sales and assets. Selectivity affects both efficacy and efficiency of targeting directing benefits to those who need it and controlling costs.
There is surprisingly little guidance from research on the actual efficacy of the most common forms of targeted SME (TSME) support either for direct beneficiaries or, more broadly, for markets and economies, much less the appropriate sequencing and complementarities of interventions.
WBG: Agree. Overall, Management agrees with this recommendation with some caveats described below.
We agree that underpinning WBG support to SMEs with sound research and evidence-based knowledge is imperative. Decisions on how to further improve this area going forwardincluding availability of resourceswill have to be made under the new governance structure of the Global Practices. A research agenda would need to bring different WBG units to work together on deepening the understanding of inter alia SMEs role on growth, job creation, and poverty alleviation, sequencing of interventions, and more rigorous analysis of the actual impact of interventions.
Further analysis of the Enterprise Surveys panel research will be conducted to gain more insights into the link between SMEs and jobs. IFC will also continue to conduct and strengthen its micro-case analysis of the link between IFC financial institution financing and SME reach and impact.
Management acknowledges the suggestion to rethink the approach to defining SMEs within the WBG. The existing definitions were developed to meet the specific operational needs of each institution, having important benefits. As the report suggests, there is no consensus on what the best way to approach relative definitions is, and external researchers have not been able to achieve consensus on common definitions. This complex issue would benefit from further research and should be considered in the research agenda if funds are available for that activity.
There are many attributes that could be relevant in designing a TSME project that a size-specific definition will not address (for example, gender of owner, sector or type of activity, level of formality, etc.). These can vary from country to country and project to project and can therefore be considered as part of the framework for country diagnostics and in project design.
It should be noted that if changes to the definition are to be considered, implementation may be a multi-year process as there are significant operational ramifications for both IFC staff and clients.
Action 3A: Implement a research agenda to better understand the links between SMEs, job creation and productivity and factors affecting SME performance.
Indicator: A coordinated research agenda
Baseline: Lack of comprehensive research agenda.
Target: 5-6 research papers developed.
IEG notes a limited literature review reflected in the Summary Report of the WBG Working Group on Small and Medium Enterprises, conducted by the SME Working Group; and an identification of gaps, suggestive of a research agenda. IEG welcomes evidence as this draft propoed research agenda attains formal status and commitment and is implemented. IEG notes two absences in the research agenda, although the literature review does not shed light on them: a) As indicated in the evaluation, there are no impact evaluations of the WBG's own major instruments for providing financial services to SMEs. b) As indicated in the evaluation, research could shed light on what criteria might meaningfully distinguish SMEs from micro- and large enterprises in particular country contexts, given the continued commitment of WBG to single out SMEs for targeted assistance..
The WBG SME Working Group conducted a comprehensive literature review of all relevant existing research on the link between SMEs and job creation, SMEs and poverty reduction, and other research on related topics. The SME Working Group identified knowledge gaps and research priorities and is discussions with DEC over taking this research program forward. A well developed and coordinated research agenda is almost finalized, with some of the research activities already underway by DEC. Other new ideas will need champions and secured funding to pursue further.