Business support for small and medium enterprises in low- and middle-income countries: a systematic review

Publication Details

 Piza, C, Cravo, T, Taylor, L, Gonzalez, L, Musse, I, Furtado, I, Sierra, AC and Abdelnour, S, 2016. Business support for small and medium enterprises in low- and middle-income countries: a systematic review, 3ie Systematic Review 25. London: International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie).

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Caio Piza, Tulio Antonio Cravo, Linnet Taylor, Lauro Gonzalez, Isabel Musse, Isabela Furtado, Ana C. Sierra, Samer Abdelnour
East Asia and Pacific (includes South East Asia), South Asia, Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean
Private Sector Development
Business Environment, Small Scale Enterprise
Equity Focus
None specified
Review Type
Effectiveness review


Governments, development agencies and organisations around the world have sponsored several assistance programs targeted to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and aimed at spurring firms’ performance regarding innovation, productivity, exports and employment generation. There are various approaches to SME support. The support can be indirect through institutional reforms that address constraints that prevent SMEs from getting access to credit, or directly through training or value chain support, for instance. Despite being a widespread practice, there is limited evidence on the impact of SME support in the literature to date. Though some of the evidence indicates a positive effect of SME support programs on selected outcomes, there is a need to systematically review and synthesise the evidence to provide an unbiased account about the impact of business support for SMEs on firm performance. As the evidence appears to be predominantly from Latin America, a focus on its applicability to the African context is also warranted.

Research objectives

To systematically review and synthesise existing evidence on the impact of business support services for small and medium enterprises in low- and middle-income countries. The review aims to compare the relative effectiveness on different direct and indirect business support services and assess how the available evidence applies to African contexts. It also seeks to understand the mechanisms that contribute most to the effectiveness of an intervention.


The authors will include studies experimental and quasi-experimental studies that evaluate the impact of direct or indirect business support services on productivity, employment, financial outcomes, innovation, export and survival rates of small and medium sized enterprises in low- and middle income countries. The authors also aim to assess the applicability of the findings to African countries.   

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