BY Donald Chidoori
Old Mutual is constructing what will probably be Africa’s biggest SME centre.
The SME centre will have modern facilities; will be secure and business friendly. The Centre is expected to transform Zimbabwean business owners from being informal to business entrepreneurs.
“At the moment our new baby is the SME Centre which is under construction in Harare, just close to east gate we feel it is going to be the talk of town, it is going to be the talk of the country, it is going to be talk of the region and perhaps it is going to be the talk of Africa my understanding is that it will be one of its kind by the time it is completed,” said the General Manager – Corporate and Strategic Development at Old Mutual Insurance Company (Omico), Mr David Muchakagara.
The government of Zimbabwe have been making frantic effort but failing to formalise the informal sector in the country. The SME centre is supposed to help the government achieve this endeavour.
Current buildings and hubs for SMEs are a chaos and are dens for pick pockets and illicit deals.
“You know the government has a headache to say how do we organise our SMEs, have you been to Magaba or to Gazaland there is a lot of chaos there. As you also are aware the government tried to move people they built structures along Simon Mazorodze just close Nazareth Hospital to try to put people in an organised way, that’s one thing we would want to achieve.
“We would want our informal sector to operate in a structure that tries to formalise them,” Muchakagara said.
Old Mutual is planning to use the SME Centre to augment its current financial training program which it is providing to SMEs to help them transform their informal businesses into entrepreneurial enterprises.
“I think that you are aware that Old Mutual is doing a lot of financial education where we would like to transform your person who is selling airtime by the corner of the road, take his business seriously, take it as a real business and understand the business principles.
“What we are trying to say is if we put people in a grouped area that financial education that we want to give becomes easier and will also become very evident and from a government point of view that is also a source of revenue,” said Muchakagara.
Kudakwashe Sithole, a senior Lecturer in the Department of Commerce, at the Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU) said that while this was a welcome thing for the country Old Mutual should take measures to protect the centre from pollution, chaos touting and many other things, which are synonymous with other SME centres like the Gulf Complex in Harare.
“The SME centre should attract organised SMEs not to be the second Gulf Complex which has cross borders and vendors and there is chaos. Most SME centres are popular for harbouring criminals and drug peddlers and are not safe places to do business,” Sithole said.
According to Muchakagara the centre will not only adopt standards of hygiene and security at the East Gate complex but will transform SMEs into world class business entities.
Elvis Tazvivinga a Human Resources Consultant said that the centre could indeed transform the informal SMEs into entrepreneurial businesses since, “Old Mutual has certain standards they don’t attract opportunistic business.”
Zimbabwe’s economy is mainly driven by the Small to medium enterprises and they do not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. And formalising these SMEs will be good for the growth of the economy and revenue collection. And for the Managing Director of Zimselector.com, Mr Luke Ngwerume the SME centre is coming at a time when it is needed most.
“Personally I think it’s a good thing, because these small traders are here to stay, don’t ever allow anybody to tell you that they are going to go away, they will never go away even if the country takes off they will never go away they will always be there and in fact in most places around the world you will find small traders so why not build them decent orderly facilities, which can help them attract customers, said Ngwerume.
Old Mutual has for a long time been funding infrastructure developments in Zimbabwe including; housing, office parks, offices, shopping malls, Kupinga Energy Project, and the current ‘Africa’s biggest SME Centre.’
The SME centre is expected to be completed by late 2018 or early 2019.