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IBM and IFC Launch a Small Business Toolkit to Create Jobs and Fuel Growth in Underserved and Emerging Markets

Washington, D.C., July 26, 2007  IBM (NYSE: IBM) and IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank, launched a new version of a free small business toolkit specifically for small business owners in emerging markets as well as women, Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian entrepreneurs in the U.S., to receive highly developed business information, tools, and training services usually reserved for Fortune 1000 companies.

While small businesses generated between 60 to 80 percent of the new jobs annually in the U.S. over the past decade, they are often hurt by the lack of skills, knowledge and access to the information that larger businesses routinely use to grow and succeed.  The same applies to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the developing world who also find that access to best practice and business management tools is a significant barrier to their growth and sustainability.

The SME Toolkit is a free program that enables entrepreneurs and small businesses to learn how to implement the sustainable business management practices needed for growth in areas such as finance, accounting, international business, marketing, human resources or legal.  

"Small businesses are the growth engines of the world's economies; yet their success rate is not as good as it could be simply because of a lack of access to good business management practices," said IFC Executive Vice President and CEO Lars Thunell.   "Giving small businesses the information and new collaborative technologies they need, will help them grow and prosper."

In the U.S., the SME Toolkit will focus largely on women and constituent-owned businesses. Globally, the IFC has joined with local partners to launch the Toolkit in more than 13 languages in 24 countries, all of which can now take advantage of the new enhanced version. 

Among the specially designed free tools are: 

  • an online calculator that helps small businesses determine their readiness for financing,
  • free software to build a web site,
  • free business forms used for employee performance evaluations
  • community tools such as online conferencing, blog capability, group calendars,
  • survey and quiz builders to help small businesses make decisions, and
  • a multilingual business directory to help small businesses link locally, regionally and globally

Small businesses can also receive business training delivered via classroom workshops and partnerships with local support providers.  The Toolkit can also help small businesses go global by providing detailed market access, investment and trade information for the 64 countries most exported to countries.

Fletcher White, an entrepreneur who is opening up a Little Gym for young children in Clinton, Maryland, recently used the toolkit to help build his employee handbook, offer letters and customer service manuals.  "I have found the Toolkit to be virtual treasure chest for business management, planning and human resources.  I really appreciate the effort and technology IBM and the IFC have invested in the Toolkit to help freshmen entrepreneurs build and expand their businesses."

Local partners in each of the countries hosting the Toolkit, such as Elite in Nepal, Dunn & Bradstreet in Singapore, and FUNDES in Latin America, are responsible for making sure the more than 500 pieces of content, tools and resources are customized, localized and available in the language of their respective markets.   These partnerships provide small businesses with local support, thus nurturing their businesses to improve their chance of survival and to generate more jobs.  In the U.S., an Advisory Group will serve this same role to review existing content and identify new tools specifically for Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, and women-owned businesses.

"This truly is one stop shopping for small businesses and it levels the playing field.  We know the tools that large businesses use and we know the role technology can play in leading to growth.  Now, every business can have the same chance to succeed.  It's vitally important that we help small businesses who are the major employers and growth engines in developing markets," said Stanley Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs.  "These are just the kind of tools that can help underserved markets be successful."

The Toolkit was launched by IFC in 2002.  IBM has dedicated more than $1.6 million to transform the Toolkit and rebuild it on an innovative open source platform using top talent in IBM research.  The Toolkit now includes new Web 2.0 features such as live chat, online forums, business directories and survey capabilities to create a community where small and medium sized business can collaborate - anywhere around the world.  For example, a group of small businesses could gather in an online forum to devise a strategy to bid on a large supply contract rather than as separate bids.  The community tools also create an opportunity for peer learning.

In the future the Toolkit will add new partners, markets and languages and is planned to allow users to connect to it using wireless devices, such as cell phones.  In developing markets, mobile devices are increasingly becoming the way users connect to the Internet, and sometimes the only way. 

The Toolkit is expanding to reach the massive small business market in India, South Africa and Brazil.  The Toolkit is available in English and Spanish and translated in 14 other languages including, Nepali, Vietnamese and Urdu, with Hindi and Arabic set for release in 2007.

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Small Businesses in Developing Countries to Benefit from IFC and IBM Business Management Technology

New York, September 27, 2006—IBM and the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank, today announced a major initiative to design and build a new business management platform, which will deliver interactive tools, online collaboration and educational content for small businesses in the developing world, as well as for women- and minority-owned businesses in the United States.

“Access to best practice and business management tools is a significant barrier to the growth and sustainability of small and medium enterprises (SME’s) in developing countries. IBM’s contribution to support our SME Toolkit will enable us to bring state-of-the-art information and communication technologies to small businesses throughout the developing world,” said Lars Thunell, Executive Vice President of IFC.

 The SME Toolkit is a free on-line program which provides information and communication technologies to help small businesses in emerging markets learn and implement sustainable business management practices. IBM will dedicate $1 million to build the Toolkit platform in order to improve usability and performance, provide enhanced functionality and create a resource hub, learning location, and meeting place for small and medium businesses.    

“We see the SME Toolkit as a way to accelerate economic development and job growth in geographies and communities not yet engaged in the market economy as well as to help spur development of women- and minority owned- businesses in the U.S.,” said Stanley S. Litow, President of the IBM International Foundation and Vice President, IBM Corporate Community Relations.  “We are excited to bring our technical resources to this project that has the potential to reach so many.”

Tools on the site address accounting and finance, business planning, human resources, legal and insurance, marketing and sales, operations, and technology needs.

The two companies also will jointly develop new partnerships using the Toolkit targeted at small enterprises in India, Brazil, and South Africa. IBM will also design tools on the site that are specifically focused on women- and minority-owned businesses in the U. S.

The SME toolkit and its regional partnerships can be found at  www.smetoolkit.org.

About the International Finance Corporation
The International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, is the largest multilateral provider of financing for private enterprise in developing countries. IFC finances private sector investments, mobilizes capital in international financial markets, facilitates trade, helps clients improve social and environmental sustainability, and provides technical assistance and advice to businesses and governments. From its founding in 1956 through FY06, IFC has committed more than $56 billion of its own funds for private sector investments in the developing world and mobilized an additional $25 billion in syndications for 3,531 companies in 140 developing countries. With the support of funding from donors, it has also provided more than $1 billion in technical assistance and advisory services. For more information, visit www.ifc.org.

The SME Toolkit:
The SME Toolkit is a project of the International Finance Corporation. Since its inception in 2002, the SME Toolkit program has deployed more than 25 regional and sector-specific Web sites in collaboration with strategic partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. SME Toolkit content has been translated into 12 languages. The program has seen dramatic growth in recent months and SME Toolkit sites now collectively receive more than 2.4 million visits per year from users around the world.  The Toolkit aims to address the three main impediments that SMEs face in utilizing technology for their business: access, lack of awareness/skills, and lack of locally applicable business applications/information.  
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About IBM
IBM is the world's largest information technology company, with 80 years of leadership in helping businesses innovate.  Over the last 10 years, IBM has been one of the largest corporate contributors of cash, equipment and, most important, people to nonprofit organizations and educational institutions across the U. S. and around the world.  For more information on IBM’s philanthropic endeavors, visit http://www.ibm.com/ibm/responsibility.

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