2023 Reflections: Bottling the Resilience of Small Business Leaders - Building Markets

2023 Reflections: Bottling the Resilience of Small Business Leaders

by Radha Rajkotia
December 29, 2023

A few days ago, I was looking at photos from February when Building Markets’ teams gathered in Türkiye for a global staff retreat. It was the first time many colleagues had the opportunity to meet one another in-person and visit Syrian small business leaders in our network. The collective learning, connection, and planning felt like electricity running through the week.

But what I didn’t know when those pictures were being taken was the scale of destruction that was about to impact our team and the business leaders we serve. The day after I returned home, Türkiye was struck by a series of earthquakes that decimated large parts of the southeast, causing over 50,000 deaths, with over 3 million people displaced. The areas hardest hit were also where nearly half, or around 1,400, of the Syrian business leaders in our network are based.

The loss and trauma were immense. This was an event that was indiscriminate in its impact on Turkish and Syrian families, but for the Syrians, it was not the first time they were forced to leave their homes. As one Syrian colleague later said to me in his usual dry humor, ‘First we fled from the war at home, then we had to deal with COVID, and now we leave our homes again because of the earthquake. We’re not sure what else to expect – is it goblins emerging from the ground?’ I can see why humor is a necessary coping mechanism.

In Türkiye, Myanmar, and Colombia where we work, business leaders in our network and their employees face enormous adversity. The combination of stifling economic conditionspolitical insecurity, and rising xenophobia creates an environment where it is difficult to thrive, especially as a refugee or migrant. Yet despite all of these challenges, the business leaders we work with are resilient, proving they can secure not only their own livelihoods, but also create social, environmental, and economic impact for the communities in which they live.

Despite being impacted by the earthquake, Syrian restaurant owners in our network mobilized to deliver over 180,000 meals to earthquake-affected people. Despite being steeped in a repressive and insecure political environment, small business leaders in Myanmar have diverted more than 340,900 tons of plastic from landfills because they dare to fight for a future that is peaceful and sustainable. And despite enduring armed conflict for five decades that has triggered displacement and migration, over a thousand small businesses in Colombia led by or hiring vulnerable individuals, including women, migrants, and people with disabilities, responded to a call to join the Building Markets network and engage in higher value market opportunities domestically, and in export markets.

These business leaders are clear in their message: they are ready to do more. 

So while we carry the profound weight of conflict, natural disasters, and human suffering into 2024, I am fueled by the resilience of the small business leaders we work with, and know that there are others across the globe, waiting for the opportunity to step into their fullest potential. I am confident that our partnerships with government, private sector, civil society, and funders will drive us closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, for a more peaceful, sustainable, and prosperous world.

Wishing you peace and health for 2024.

Best wishes,

Radha Rajkotia
Chief Executive Officer

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