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The Belt and Road Initiative and East African small and medium-sized enterprises: benefits, drivers and particular sectors

Samuel Gyamerah (School of Management and Economics and Center for West African Studies, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, Chengdu, China)
Zheng He (School of Management and Economics and Center for West African Studies, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, Chengdu, China)
Enock Mintah Ampaw (Applied Mathematics Department, Koforidua Technical University, Koforidua, Ghana)
Dennis Asante (School of Management and Economics, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, Chengdu, China)
Lydia Asare-Kyire (Faculty of Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development, Kumasi Technical University, Kumasi, Ghana)

International Journal of Emerging Markets

ISSN: 1746-8809

Article publication date: 30 April 2021

Issue publication date: 24 February 2023

551

Abstract

Purpose

Drawing upon the institutional theory, the present study investigated whether or not small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in East Africa benefit from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and how the latter influences the internationalization of the former.

Design/methodology/approach

An in-depth interview was conducted by using 26 SME managers/owners who are engaged in international activities in the “Belt and Road” countries. The sample was chosen from four East African countries across three industries. The theoretical framework emerged from the grounded theory analysis of the primary data.

Findings

The authors found that the BRI as a formal institutional force generates both direct and indirect influences on SMEs' internationalization. Three key driving forces, namely partnerships, specialized services and innovativeness underpin the internationalization of SMEs. Additionally, sectoral analysis of the similarities and differences in responses reveals no remarkable differences in the drivers and impact of the BRI on SMEs in all the three industries investigated.

Research limitations/implications

The internationalization process of East African SMEs could be augmented through formal institutions like the BRI, and the internationalization of SMEs along the “Belt and Road” countries mimic an integrative approach. The theoretical framework demonstrates significant potential for further benefits that SMEs may obtain through the BRI by taking advantage of certain BRI opportunities and adopting crucial strategies to internationalize rapidly.

Originality/value

This is the first study to employ a qualitative approach to study the influence of the BRI at the firm-level. Specifically, the paper covered the hub of BRI countries in East Africa. Hence, the study makes substantial theoretical and policy contributions to the literature.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Mrs. Christable Kwaku-Nanka Gyamerah, Emmanuel Etto Duodu and Bright Nana Kwame Ahia for their invaluable assistance in the data collection.Funding: This study was financially supported by the Science and Technology Planning Fund of Sichuan Province, China (No. 2020JDR0117).

Citation

Gyamerah, S., He, Z., Ampaw, E.M., Asante, D. and Asare-Kyire, L. (2023), "The Belt and Road Initiative and East African small and medium-sized enterprises: benefits, drivers and particular sectors", International Journal of Emerging Markets, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 463-482. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJOEM-08-2020-1000

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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