Letter from the CEO: End of Year Reflections - Building Markets

Letter from the CEO: End of Year Reflections

by Radha Rajkotia
December 29th, 2022

Dear friends, 

The past couple of years have been an extraordinary test of people’s resilience, and especially cruel to the world’s most vulnerable. We have seen the distress caused by the pandemic, wars and political unrest, and food and fuel price shocks across the globe. For example:

– In Myanmar, the military coup of February 2021 has led to a brutal crackdown on protestors and the general public, with an ever-lowering bar of what might be considered by the junta as ‘dissent’. People lack the personal safety and security to congregate, while at the same time contraction in the economy has led to increased food insecurity. 

– In Türkiye, which has absorbed 4 million refugees from the Syrian war, inflation reached over 85% in October 2022 – a whopping 60% increase from the same time in 2021 – and was most acutely felt in housing, transportation, and food prices. In the news and from our staff, we hear the challenges of rising costs and anti-refugee sentiment and the worry that many are carrying as they navigate their financial commitments while trying to provide for themselves and their families.

In these and many other cases around the world, access to economic opportunity is essential to the well-being of people navigating these circumstances.  And small business is an essential engine to drive that opportunity.  Yet small business owners are no exception to these challenges. As business owners face increasing costs, they face the painful choice between prioritizing immediate survival or pursuing business investments or opportunities that may pay off in the longer term.    

It is easy to feel overwhelmed. But we don’t, and here’s why. 

First, in the past year, and despite these circumstances, we have been able to achieve tremendous results with the businesses in our network. In 2022, we helped small businesses in our network (ten percent of which are led by women) secure $13 million in new contacts, directly leading to the creation of 1430 full-time equivalent jobs. Each one of these contracts, and every job that we count, is not just a number. It represents a tangible improvement in someone’s life and creates a pathway to greater economic security. And with economic security comes hope, choice, and opportunity for families and local communities

Second, we see that there is more scope, rather than less to apply our ‘Find-Build-Connect’ model

Black people make up 14.2% of the US population, but black-owned businesses make up only 2.2% of the country’s 5.7 million employer businesses (businesses with more than one employee). 

– Women represent just a fraction of the decision-makers involved in national and global economic leadership positions and in emerging markets, only 7% of private equity and venture capital funding goes to women-led businesses

– Data for rural firms, as well as those led by people with disabilities or minoritized groups such as refugees, migrants, or LGBTQ, is equally concerning. 

All of this might seem like a strange reason to feel optimistic – a growing list of problems not less. But based on the results that we have to date, we have reason to believe that our approach can be applied to issues of economic exclusion, not just in fragile and conflict-affected states where much of our historical experience is based, but also with under-represented communities in developed and developing countries. Our challenge and motivation, then, is to learn through rigorous data and evidence how our model can best be adapted and expanded. 

Lastly, we are optimistic because we have a team that is open and committed to using data and learning from it. Having spent much of my career in evidence-based and evidence-informed decision making, it is a gift to work with a team of passionate and thoughtful problem-solvers, willing to innovate, iterate and improve to drive the greatest impact. One example that caught my attention recently was the decision to increase our focus on supporting small businesses with digital transformation – helping them to increase their online presence and marketing capabilities so that they can be more resilient to the local shocks that they are facing on a daily basis. 

2022 has been a year of reflection at Building Markets – where we have grown and where we have the opportunity to refine our programs for greater impact – and we are walking into the future with great optimism. And with this, I want to extend a huge thank you to our team, partners, supporters, and our network of incredible businesses for their commitment to creating such meaningful impact this year and in years ahead.

Wishing you all health, happiness, and good fortune in 2023.

Warmly,

Dr. Radha Rajkotia

Chief Executive Officer

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