How Has COVID-19 Affected Small and Medium Enterprises?

Authors Jason Miklian and Kristian Hoelscher discuss the way COVID-19 has affected enterprises in America based on the article, “SMEs and exogenous shocks: A conceptual literature review and forward research agenda,” published in the International Small Business Journal.

Like many scholars studying at the intersections of crisis and society, we were confronted with a deep challenge when COVID-19 hit; namely, how can we make a positive contribution to the most significant global crisis of this generation? In short order, we realized that while the number of articles on business and crisis were rapidly proliferating across disciplines, particularly from the Global South, there was little to pull them together conceptually or enable scholars to see at a glance what this emerging body of research was discovering – and neglecting.

Thus, we saw a need to summarize and synthesize a broad swath of literature on how exogenous crises including but not limited to COVID-19 impact upon business and society. We focused on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as this subset was both the fastest growing and least currently served by existing synthesis/literature review articles.

Jason Miklian and Kristian Hoelscher
Jason Miklian, left, and Kristian Hoelscher

Our primary aim was to unpack and then guide readers through underlying factors underpinning the precarity of SMEs during different types of shocks and to identify what may support resilience. Arguing that multidimensional and interconnected shocks and crises will be a ‘new normal’ for most of the world, we aimed to amplify attention on how SMEs experience and respond, and present an agenda for research that aims to engage with and understand exogenous shocks in a deeper and more cross-disciplinary manner.

Of course, synthesizing over 200 journal articles, white papers and policy reports on small business and exogenous shocks was a significant undertaking, especially as we employed a conceptual review model that extracted the primary concepts and findings from these articles as opposed to a keyword or thematic overview. It took quite a bit more time than we anticipated, but feel that the end result was worth the effort, not least due to the extensive comments and suggestions that special issue editor Alexander Newman and the article’s excellent reviewers gave – they all went above and beyond to see that this piece reached its full potential.

Going forward, we hope that this review article can become a useful resource for any scholar or student looking to understand the state of the field on business, shocks and crisis, and understand the unique challenges and opportunities that small businesses face in generating resiliency. We’re particularly interested in taking arguments forward that explore how the elements of this framework interact, their sequencing and what mechanisms under what conditions support resilience for SMEs and their communities. We hope it helps spark future research on network effects between business and society that can guide cross-disciplinary research in this important field. 

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Jason Miklian And Kristian Hoelscher

Jason Miklian is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM) at the University of Oslo. His primary topic of study is of the role of businesses as peacebuilders and agents of sustainable development in fragile states.

Kristian Hoelscher is a senior researcher at PRIO. His research interests lie at the intersection of cities, politics, markets and conflict, with work done in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

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