Enabling Resilience: A spotlight on SMEs

Enabling Resilience: A spotlight on SMEs


As part of the GCNC Webinar Series: Business Continuity Through the Lens of Sustainability, Ayman Chowdhury, Head Secretariat at Global Compact Network Canada, is joined by Stephanie Fontaine, Country Director at WEConnect International Canada, and Emily Rakowski, Chief Marketing Officer at EcoVadis, to engage in a discussion around Enabling Resilience: A Spotlight on SMEs.

Ayman (GCNC)  emphasized the risks being faced by millions of companies, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and women-owned SMEs, due to the pandemic. 99.8% of businesses in Canada are SMEs contributing to 90% of the Canadian economy.

When discussing the impacts on SMEs, Emily (EcoVadis), highlighted that approximately 30 to 40% of companies paused their programs, out of a concern of over-burdening their suppliers and 50 to 60% continued with business as usual, understanding that the response rate from suppliers would be slower. However, many companies have bounced back with even higher response rates than usual. Emily also shared that none of  EcoVadis’ clients have deprioritized sustainable procurement practices, and instead are making additional commitments to sustainability, 76% of the companies surveyed indicated that sustainable and responsible business practices helped them to be more agile and pivot as needed in response to the pandemic.

When elaborating on impacted, women-owned SMEs, Stephanie (WEConnect International) emphasized  WEConnect International’s global survey. Of the 600 respondents to the survey, 82% in Canada were said to be very negatively affected and 90% indicated a decrease in sales. The primary findings in relation to women-owned businesses in Canada are as follows, in order of impact:

  • Anxiety over significant productivity drops because of the inability to focus on their business.
  • Concerns over losing customers due to a loss of face-to-face interaction with customers.
  • Increase in family care demands, having to juggle multiple priorities.
  • The inability to source materials to continue business operations.

When discussing the role of large corporations in aiding SMEs to address their respective challenges. Emily (EcoVadis) indicated the main method by which corporate leaders have been supporting SMEs have primarily been financial in nature, such as supply chain financing. Similarly, Stephanie (WEConnect International) emphasized that corporate leaders are, and should, support SMEs by providing digitization support, capacity building and training, business development services, and continuing to buy from SME suppliers. WEConnect compiled a directory of women-owned SMEs producing in-demand products and services which has helped them get into large supply chains quickly. Many corporations are in fact making resources available for SMEs such as free educational content, reassessing payments, and helping with capital, among others.

Stephanie (WEConnect International) seconds Emily’s (EcoVadis) Touching on the importance of digital transformation, both speakers agreed on the necessity of digital transformation for SMEs to succeed. Despite this, Stephanie (WEConnect International)points out that, in Canada, 83% of SMEs don’t accept online payments, and 70% would not sell online. An SME’s digital presence determines a company’s ability to survive the pandemic, thus, SMEs need to leverage support from all types of organizations to have an online presence through the use of various tools, such as the VDC Maturity Model. Digital infrastructure can play an important role in the growth of SMEs by reducing costs, allowing flexibility, and streamlining communication.

When asked what areas SMEs should focus on, Stephanie emphasizes the need to invest in digital maturity, accepting that we now live in a new reality, and to develop the ability to adapt to the needs of the market. Furthermore, when considering the commitment of SMEs to the SDGs in the post-COVID-19 era, Emily (EcoVadis) emphasized the importance of the SDGs for businesses highlighting that all of EcoVadis’ evaluation tools are scored against the SDGs in the results scorecard received by companies, so that they can see their SDG progress. Thus, there is a need for training for SMEs about the SDGs. She mentions two resources that can be used as guides: the UNGC SDG Action Manager, and an EcoVadis Whitepaper.

Some additional resources for SMEs by EcoVadis:


Emily Rakowski - Chief Marketing Officer, Ecovadis
  • Ayman Chowdhury, Head of Secretariat, Global Compact Network Canada
  • Stephanie Fontaine, Country Director, WEConnect International in Canada
  • Emily Rakowski, Chief Marketing Officer, EcoVadis

GCNC Webinar Series: Business Continuity Through the Lens of Sustainability

A multi-part webinar series that will focus on the Canadian response to COVID-19 and share the insights, priorities and inspirations of top business leaders, government representatives and sustainability experts.

What does leadership from the top look like in a time of crisis and how does this vary across multinationals and SMEs? How can governments and civil society combine efforts with the private sector to catalyze the recovery process and limit further disruptions? How do we reimagine the future of work in a post-COVID era and how do we ensure that business revitalization in the digital age is both eco-centric and human-centric?

The webinar series aims to offer thoughtful reflection and expertise while hoping to reanimate collaboration and drive actionable goals.