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SMEs’ Learning, Knowledge And Performance In Foreign Markets: A Survey


In today’s world, it has become increasingly difficult for countries to survive without a means of exchange which involves money, ideas, products and/or services. Advances in technology, economic freedom and exchange of information from the effects of globalisation have resulted in increased opportunities for firms to trade and invest more across borders. As a result, every economy is affected either positively or negatively by the firms trading activities that occur beyond its borders.

Notable among these cross-border firms are SMEs that play very vital roles in wealth creation and sustainable economic growth. In Nigeria for instance, SMEs, in general, account for about fifty percent of employment on average and fifty percent of industrial output. In addition, SMEs represent about ninety percent of industrial output in terms of the number of enterprises or firms.

Despite infrastructural inadequacies and the unpredictable business environment that often typify emerging and developing economies, there has been an upward trend in firms – SMEs inclusive – conducting business across borders.

A recent report by the IMF suggests that Nigerian firms are willing, and continue, to engage in foreign business activities despite the nation’s economic challenges, especially with crude oil production due to a fall in global oil prices in recent times. Such development provides an opportunity for researchers to investigate underlying factors/conditions that tend to explain the “why” and “how” firms yet undertake international business.

Thus far, researchers have predominantly examined developed economies SMEs that engage in foreign business activities, with emphasis on several variables, including firms’ characteristics, the role of networks, social capital, and managers’ entrepreneurial posture.

In general, these extant studies were aimed at describing, understanding and interpreting reasons underlying SMEs’ formation, their entry, and operations in foreign markets. Despite their contributions to advancing our understanding of SMEs in general, studies on emerging market SMEs’ remains yet underexplored. It is envisaged that investigating emerging market SMEs  (e.g. Nigerian firms) would represent an important context for developing our understanding of internationally active SMEs.

Quite often, SMEs possess limited resources when compared to larger firms with slack resources. For this reason, extant research studies have noted that a firms’ knowledge base remains crucial for SMEs since it helps to mitigate a lack of tangible resources, thus, enabling competitive advantage for many. In this regard, learning and knowledge are viewed as important in the choices and consequences of SMEs’ cross-border venturing and performance – thus representing an important area of interest worth investigating.

Bearing in mind the critical importance of SMEs’ learning activities and knowledge in determining success or failure in foreign markets, and the dearth of research inquiry on emerging market SMEs, the research survey examines emerging market SMEs’ approaches to learning, their sources, and the extent to which such learnings enable knowledge competencies and performance – both internationally and in the domestic market.

SMEs’ practices often originate from the learnings of the founder/top management teams, and this, in turn, can lead to the acquisition of specific knowledge, which in turn, could affect international operations and performance. Therefore, the research survey is targeted at SMEs’ founders/management teams given the vital role they play within the firm as decision-makers.

From investigating emerging market firms (i.e. Nigerian SMEs), the survey will look to contribute to research on how SMEs’ accrue the knowledge and skills required for their international expansion. It is assumed in this study that the learning activities of the founders/top management teams, and that of the firm collectively, across key stages of the firm’s history, are important to understanding how emerging market firms’ acquire knowledge, and position operations in foreign markets.

By capturing learning and knowledge developments over-time, the study’s potential benefit to you, as a participant, would be an understanding of how shared learning can be encouraged within firms, and an awareness of those learning and knowledge attributes that could be pursued and/or exploited for enhanced productivity/performance in international (and domestic) markets.

This study has been approved by the University of Leeds Ethics Community. The responses you share in the survey will remain anonymous, and a copy of the results will be made available to you upon request after its completion.

Please follow this link to the survey.

Or copy and paste the URL below into your internet browser:

If you would want to know more about the survey, please contact me via email at, and I will be glad to respond to your queries.

Featured Image Source: Isibor Jerry Ebeigbe

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