Opening participation space for MSMEs owned by disabled persons

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Born to a business-owning family, Laily Linda Fatmawati (40) has shown her entrepreneurial streak since teenage years. As a high school student, and just like her family who ran a culinary business, Laily sold snacks and baked goods to her friends and neighbours. Her business grew over time. From a one-person operation, Laily now employs 10 workers.

In 2009, she registered the business to the Cooperatives and MSME Agency of Semarang City. This step allowed her to not only scale up commercially but also to actively network with other micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Laily would also attend various training programs delivered by different organisers, from the Semarang government to Diponegoro University. Her networking efforts are clearly effective to open business opportunities.

“I’m grateful that we’ve been getting more assistance since I joined the business community. We also have more customers,” she said.

Laily’s success didn’t come easy. She was born with a physical disability and grew up knowing how persons with disabilities are often excluded socially, economically, and politically. This situation fuels her determination to empower disabled persons by hiring them as employees.

Laily focuses on empowering community with physical disability by hiring them as employees in running her business

Outside of work, Laily is the Chair of the Indonesian Disabled People’s Association in Semarang. In this capacity, she advocates for the rights of disabled persons – demanding for better regulatory and public facility support.

“I regularly communicate with the mayor and campaign for Regional Regulation on Disability,” she shared.

Information Transparency

Yet, people with disabilities have not received the attention they deserve from the government. The government organises regular training and workshop activities, as Laily said, but those are far from sufficient. Moreover, training activities tend to involve the same participants, leaving many people with disabilities out.

“The leadership’s commitment is good, but it doesn’t trickle to the lower units of the government,” Laily said.

In terms of economic opportunity, it is rare for MSMEs owned by disabled persons to access the public procurement process. Laily felt that tender information tends not to reach MSME players from this group – in other words, tender access has not been inclusive enough.

And this is not because of the lack of potential among people with disabilities. Laily has many friends who are skilled crafters. But without enough access, it has been hard for their products to survive in the market.

Laily has many friends who are skilled crafters. But without enough access, it has been hard for their products to survive in the market

Laily has approached policy makers and asked for MSMEs run by disabled persons to have a place in Semarang’s MSME Centre. Her hope was to lower the market barrier and to ultimately help them grow their businesses. Unfortunately, she hasn’t seen any real response from the city government.

“Just imagine if we could widely introduce their handcrafted products. It would surely motivate production,” said Laily.

However, the minimal MSME participation in the public procurement system in Semarang is not unique to disabled persons. In fact, it’s experienced by MSMEs in general. There hasn’t been a flourish of MSME participation, and the existing procurement e-catalogue accommodates only bigger companies at this point.

The Cooperatives and MSME Agency has tried to overcome this issue by launching a local marketplace app for MSMEs, Gulo Asem. Customers, including public agencies under Semarang city government can select goods and services they need in the app.

Intending to be a merchant, Laily has registered her business. But she found the process to be hindered by bureaucracy and communication inconsistency. When applying as a member of Gerai Kopi Mi, a government program that fosters micro enterprises and cooperatives, district officers weren’t even aware of the program.

“This should be a great opportunity for MSMEs to participate in public procurement,” Laily commented.

Laily hoped that Semarang city government will give more room for MSMEs, whether through training activities or tender information that is more widely distributed. “Training programs should involve disabled persons that represent their sub-districts,” suggested Laily, who concluded that, “Openly available information will motivate us (MSMEs) in running our production.”

Laily hoped that Semarang city government will give more room for MSMEs, whether through training activities or tender information that is more widely distributed