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Unlocking Ikigai: A Valentine's Day Reflection on the Heart of MSME Development

Every year when the anticipation of Valentine’s Day starts painting the town in proverbial shades of love and affection, I often find myself reflecting on its source, the true essence of this celebration beyond roses and chocolates and how much time we spend on reflecting on its true meaning. Legend has it that Saint Valentine, adorned with a ring featuring Cupid, symbolised not only romantic love but a deeper connection—one that extended to agape love. In the spirit of this forgotten meaning, I found myself reflecting on all forms of love, and how it does or should look in all the spaces that we occupy.  This quickly led me to ponder what it looks like and how it shows up in the corporate world’s socio-economic development objectives, specifically in the work of small business capacity building.

Much like the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai—where “iki” means “alive” and “gai” means “worth”— I silently allowed myself to naively wish that Valentine’s Day could start serving as a catalyst for reflection on our reason for being. Ikigai, represented as a Venn diagram with four intersecting circles, encapsulates what we love, what we excel at, what the world needs, and what we can be paid for. In the intersection lies the perfect collision of our purpose, and our fulfilment; a subset of which is the cupid in us – living out our symbol of love.

In our world of Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD), the principles of Ikigai have the unique opportunity to help us find the sweet spot where our passion, mission, vocation, and profession converge. May the illustrative practical application below do justice to demonstrating what this could look like within the context of supplier diversity and MSME inclusion to evaluate and re-align how we practically “love” out our shared purpose, our collective “why”:

  • What We Love: Let our contextual love and altruism be reflected in enabling small businesses to actively participate and flourish in the formal economy, paving the way for sustainable enterprises that create lasting, quality jobs.
  • What We Excel At: Let us be consistently exemplary at 1. crafting effective strategies, 2. collaborating with fellow ecosystem players who complement our objectives and skills set and share our mission, and 3. dismantling barriers for small businesses to engage in and secure and sustain supply chain opportunities.
  • What the World Needs: Let us recognise that we are in the opportune position to contribute to the development of a critical mass of small businesses that are able to weather the storm of their initial, highly volatile years. Let us remember that success lies in our ability to collectively implement a blend of high impact medium-term MSME capacity building programmes and short-term Business Development Support (BDS) interventions.
  • What We Get Paid For: Let us be inspired by our shared unique humanitarian ability to engage in meaningful social impact work through the opportunity to be paid to live out our collective vocation. Let us not take for granted the platform to make a substantial impact and leave behind a shared legacy—a tangible testament that says, “I was here.”

In challenging ourselves to define our personal meaning of life through the lens of our talents, passions, and professions, we align with the philosophy that such a nuanced sense of purpose can lead to a more fulfilling life. As we embrace the spirit of Valentine’s Day, let this month of love remind us to extend our love beyond the conventional and embrace the profound connection between our shared socio-economic development endeavours and the heartbeat of MSME development.

This February, let’s not just celebrate love; let’s embody it in the spaces we occupy, leaving an unforgettable mark that echoes our collective Ikigai—a symphony of passion, mission, vocation, and profession that resounds in the lasting impact we create.