A couple of years ago, entrepreneurship was considered a man’s territory. Women weren’t ‘allowed’ to venture into the ruthless terrain that is setting up and running a successful business; however, as time went by more and more women were on the journey to set the pace in the entrepreneurship field. The journey has still not been smooth as many female business owners continue to face significant obstacles and the battle to have a society that considers women as true equals in all spheres of life is far from won. However, through initiatives such as ShetradesKe, more women will come to the table, one at a time.
SheTradesKe is the local chapter of the SheTrades initiative which was launched in Sao Paulo Brazil last September and its goal is to provide 1,000,000 women-owned businesses globally with international trade opportunities by the year 2020 in order to address the existing imbalance which is currently skewed in favour of men.
#SheTradesKe, which is a brainchild of the International Trade Centre (ITC), emphasises the use of technology to access new skill sets and market opportunities. The launch of the #SheTradesKe initiative, which is a joint partnership of the ITC and Barclays Bank Kenya, is set to formalise and provide a clear roadmap for the implementation of this programme. The programme will aim to provide 10,000 Kenyan women in the SME sector with skills upgrades whose ultimate goal is to help them access international trade opportunities; an area that is currently dominated by men.
Speaking at the launch in Nairobi, Managing Director of Barclays Bank Kenya, Jeremy Awori pointed out how despite a third of all small and medium enterprises in developing countries being led by women, these firms continue to face significant challenges in accessing the global market opportunities. As such, there is a need for them as a financial institution to partner with like-minded institutions to invest in the capacity development of women-led SMEs as it will play a critical role in growing our economy.
The partnership, in which Barclays would invest over Kshs. 70 million into the programme, which will run between 2016 and 2020 and is part of the wider ITC agenda to provide 1 million women entrepreneurs with access to international trade opportunities by the year 2020 thus growing the global economy through women’s participation in trade. Barclays will also leverage its expertise in financial services while ITC employs its experience in business development to offer local women entrepreneurs support in areas like financial management, helping them harness and maintain links to international markets.
The SheTradesKE partnership also comes at a time when SMEs are gradually being recognised as crucial for economic growth. In Kenya, SMEs already contribute 1.4 trillion to the country’s annual GDP with 48% number of SMEs run by women and 50% of jobs created by SMEs – a factor that only emphasizes the importance of the empowerment of women in trade and finance. The initiative will also put Kenya’s economy a step closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by helping to eradicate extreme poverty, promoting economic growth, and reducing inequalities among others.
Ms Arancha González, Executive Director of ITC said that one of the key constraints for women in business is access to credit which is a strong hindrance for them and confines them to the informal sector. Lack of credit also limits the ability of women-owned businesses to grow and generate jobs, this is an important factor that will be handled in the partnership with Barclays Bank.
Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary General of UNCTAD also strongly supports the move to include women entrepreneurs more in matters of trade and finance. As a member of the Gender champions of Geneva, he pledged to not only include women in every conference he organizes but also every one of their major international publications must have a section talking about the impact on women, the role of women and the opportunities available to women. He also highlighted that as much as there have been major strides in gender improvement and gender mainstreaming in political leadership, the role of women empowerment in economic development still lags behind.
During the launch, there were also a couple of discussions held which included topics like the growth opportunities for women-owned businesses and some of the issues faced by women in business. A couple of notable points highlighted include:
- Opportunities are changing, especially for women. In a society where men were believed to make decisions, circumstances are changing and women are making power moves everywhere. It would be wrong for any woman to be left behind at such a time.
- Companies, institutions and initiatives should empower more women. Instead of empowering one woman at a time, 20 or more women should be empowered at a time. Women hold a very strong role in society and without the relevant institutions and mechanisms supporting all women, economic development will continue lagging behind.
- As a woman, nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams. No one should come in the way of a determined woman set to achieve her goals and that’s why trade policies and financial institutions should be more inclined to help women grow their businesses, and not by giving handouts. Women don’t want handouts, they need support.
- To enable women’s trade, gender bias must be fought from all fronts. If women don’t trade, they won’t grow. #Shetradeske is directly correlated to ‘If she doesn’t trade, she doesn’t grow’. With this in mind, governments and institutions are to create fair lines and align the relevant systems in finance to show the importance of having women in the economy and help them go global.
- Women should support other women. Being a woman entrepreneur takes confidence and courage in an industry still largely dominated by men, those women who are already in business or are looking to start should get more and more support from other women.
What exactly does SheTradesKE offer to women entrepreneurs?
She Trades is a global movement that strongly believes that more women in the economy is good for the overall development of a country. It provides a platform that seeks to address the constraints that limit women in the ability to be part of the economy.
Some of the constraints include:
- Trade policies
- Capacity building
- Data and information
- Public procurement
- Corporate procurement
- Access to credit
- Land ownership and ownership rights.
The initiative also focuses on the Kenyan women entrepreneurs’ empowerment from SME sectors through comprehensive training which includes:
- 50 workshops delivered by Business Support Organizations and Individual Trainers
- 54 webinars on Market Analysis Tools
- 27 e-learning courses (Export Market Analysis, Taking the Entrepreneurship Route, Considering Export Markets etc.)
- 9 Business generation activities connect 275 WBEs to buyers
- 5 trade fairs.
The SheTrades App was launched at last year’s International Forum on Women in Business which was in conjunction with the World Trade Organization’s 10th Ministerial Conference. The app was developed by GreenBell communications, a Kenyan-based ICT firm that was represented by Catherine Njau at Sao Paulo after the company won first place at the 2015 WVEF Tech Challenge, a joint initiative by ITC, Google and CI&T. The tech platform provides buyers across the globe with a unique platform to connect with women-owned enterprises. It connects thousands of businesses that showcase products in various sectors ranging from information technology to agriculture. The interesting thing about this app is that the people who developed the app in Kenya are all women.
It is also important to note that this great initiative coincides with the 14th session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) taking place in Nairobi from the 17th to the 22nd of July 2016; yet another platform that brings together prominent players from the business world and academia to tackle global trade and economic development issues.