The Nucleus Approach
Promotion of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)
of Business Associations and Chambers
in Developing Countries
An Overview –
Kandy, Berlin, Dakar
Rainer Müller-Glodde & Simone Lehmann
Origin and Dissemination of the Nucleus Approach
The Nucleus Approach aims on the one hand at
mobilising individual enterprises, especially SMEs, on the other hand at
stimulating organizational development processes in business chambers and associations.
It has been designed and
developed since 1991 within the framework of the partnership project between the
Chamber of Crafts and Small Industries for Munich and Upper Bavaria, Germany,
and several Brazilian chambers of commerce and industry in the federal state of
The national confederation of chambers of commerce, CACB, and SEBRAE, a SME
promotion institution, took on the approach in 1999 and spread it all over
Brazil to over 900 chambers of commerce and industry, involving at the end of
2005 about 4,500 Nuclei
and 50,000 enterprises.
technical cooperation projects in numerous other Latin-American countries
experimented with the Nucleus Approach. In Uruguay, for example, there are
presently some 100 Nuclei with close to 1,000 participants.
Since 2002, the
German Economic Strategy Support Programme (ESSP) in Kandy, Sri Lanka
a GTZ-promoted programme for regional economic development and SME promotion
successfully makes use of the Nucleus Approach, involving currently six chambers
/ associations. In addition, it is being applied in nine districts affected by
the tsunami since 2005. In other Asian and African countries the introduction
of the Nucleus Approach is in discussion.
Since the end of
the nineties the Business Development Approach (BDS) is dominating as mainstream
the economic development cooperation. Although the Nucleus Approach contradicts
with its assumptions, deliberations and consequences some of the BDS ideas, it
is being accepted and disseminated to some extent.
SME Promotion via Formation of Nuclei within Chambers
Focal point of the
Nucleus Approach are behaviour patterns of SMEs, which essentially are the same
all over the world, regardless of cultural differences in developing and
emerging countries. These patterns vary only with respect to their specific
acts in isolation within his / her enterprise, not receiving impulses for
innovations neither from within nor from without.
Due to limited
education and vocational training, he / she has never come to systematically
undergo up-grade training or even to learn “how to learn” and to apply the
learning in the enterprise.
He / she
considers other entrepreneurs from the same sector not only as competitors
but even – to a differing degree in different countries – as personal
enemies with whom he / she cannot neither possibly exchange know how and
experiences nor cooperate.
He / she deeply
distrusts the government, promoting institutions, suppliers, customers and
He / she finds
reasons for his / her unsatisfactory economic situation primarily outside
the enterprise, not within himself / herself.
He / she tends to
develop a rather demanding attitude towards external support rather than
focusing on his / her self-help potential and relying on his / her own
initiative. This attitude is especially strong, for example, in Sri Lanka
and in Mozambique.
Entrepreneurs do have
objectively existing needs in order to improve their businesses. But as a
consequence of the above mentioned characteristics their subjectively perceived
situation does not automatically lead to a demand for business development
services. Any SME promotion strategy focusing exclusively on the supply side
will most probably not reach these entrepreneurs and presumably remain
Therefore the Nucleus
Approach aims at creating an organisational platform where entrepreneurs can
start to open up, to better identify their problems, to compare themselves with
others (benchmarking), to define their own demand for services, to develop
self-confidence and to improve their enterprises.
Experiences with the
Nucleus Approach in Latin America and in Asia show that this challenge can be
met head on.