As we approach the second year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world continues to reflect on the stark realities the crisis has forced us all to acknowledge, including key drivers of economic resilience for individual businesses. As countries take steps toward economic stabilization, it is clear that micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs)—which account for two-thirds of employment globally and between 80 and 90 percent of employment in low-income countries—play an essential role in strengthening pandemic recovery efforts. The pandemic has also revealed the vital role digital technologies play in enabling businesses, communities, and individuals to connect, function, and thrive. Ensuring that MSMEs can access digital tools is particularly crucial in emerging markets because MSMEs fuel economic growth and spur job creation.

To gain a clearer picture of how MSMEs are using digital tools, DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration partnered with survey firm Ipsos and Meta to administer a large-scale survey via computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) and computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) across 13 countries: Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. This global study builds on our research portfolio on emerging markets and Digital Insights and our experience undertaking thematic, industry- and geography-specific market research and analysis. It also expands on previous research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank. It contributes to the growing body of research examining the impact of COVID-19 on MSMEs, including this study by the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) at Accion in partnership with the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, our researchers used a CAPI and CATI approach, allowing us to compare responses from MSMEs operating both online and off.

Today, we’re excited to share findings from our research in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Colombia, Indonesia, Peru, the Philippines, and Thailand. Results from Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam will be published in the coming months.

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For example, key findings from our research in Thailand showed that a large majority (86 percent) of surveyed MSMEs had used digital tools for business in the past year during COVID-19. Moreover, digital tools such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, and mobile banking helped online MSMEs adjust to the pandemic: surveyed online MSMEs reported that digital payment tools (82 percent) and Facebook apps (53 percent) helped them adapt to the COVID-19 environment. Across the globe, in Peru, more than half of surveyed MSMEs across all business sizes perceived digital tools to be crucial to their pandemic response. Specifically, 69 percent of online microenterprises in Peru reported that digital tools were important or essential to keeping their business running during COVID-19, as did a large majority of small enterprises (75 percent) and medium-sized enterprises (88 percent).

As emerging markets recover and rebound from the immense challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, this research contributes important insights for actors seeking to enhance inclusive economic growth and business resilience. The nuanced findings derived from this study’s use of CAPI and CATI interviews at scale shed light on crucial opportunities for policymakers to equip MSMEs—including offline MSMEs—with digital pathways to growth in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. This research articulates clear, actionable approaches to promoting inclusivity and resilience amongst online and offline MSMEs, offering a new bank of insights into the increasingly important role of digital tools in economic growth.