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Capacity building can empower women entrepreneurs

By | Aug 31st 2009 | 4 min read

By Luke Anami

Women entrepreneurs and their national associations can be empowered through training and information.

"Barriers preventing women from accessing markets for their products can be achieved through capacity building," said Ruth Oniang’o, a food science and nutrition consultant.

She said training aims at equiping women with knowledge, skills and confidence to prosper, while market access information enlightens women to make a choice on where to sell their products.

Strengthening of administration, operational and management skills and their ability to deliver value-added services, notably export trade promotion, can be achieved through partnering and networking opportunities that the recently held African growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa) forum can provide.

"The objective is to contribute to the development of women-owned enterprises by favouring investment, technology flows and business networks for women entrepreneurs," she said.

Economists say the future of the world economy lies in female hands — perhaps the world’s most under-utilised resource.

Over the last couple of decades, women have contributed more to global GDP growth than have new technology or the new giants, China and India.

In the developing world, underutilisation of women stunts economic growth.

Women training

Like a success story told about a women group in Rwanda, women in specific key sectors such as tourism, agro-business, ICT and textiles require capacity building to strengthen capacities to access and integrate into the global economy, regional and international networks.

"The rise in women-owned businesses is an important factor in increasing female labour force participation, and will allow more to take part in economic growth," said Prof Oniang’o during the Agoa forum where she represented the civil society.

The US Secretary of State recognised the role women play in society and challenged African governments to focus more on creating an enabling environment for them.

In her speech, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, reminded Africa of the danger of marginalising women socially, economically and politically.

She urged African leaders to deal with this omission because it is unacceptable in the present world.

"The social, political and economic marginalisation of women across Africa has left a void in this continent, and that undermines progress and prosperity. Empowering women in Africa would boost development," said Clinton.

Social and economic fronts

Singling out women groups in Rwanda and South Africa, America’s top diplomat paid tribute to the impact women groups can have on the social and economic fronts.

One such example is a major group of women in Rwanda, that has shown its capabilities and is changing people’s lives.

Immediately after the Rwandan genocide, women, who make up over 70 per cent of the population, facing uncertain future, needed to find ways of making money to help their families survive.

Many women turned to making traditional hand-woven baskets of papyrus and sisal to sell in local markets. Two women, Janet Nkubana and her sister Joy Ndungutse, survivors of the genocide who came from a family that practised traditional basket weaving formed the Gahaya Link Ltd in 2004.

They embarked on transforming these traditional colourful baskets into high-end home dÈcor with a unique Rwandan flair.

technical assistance

The fortune of these women weavers changed when an East African (ECA) visited a trade show in Kigali and met Jane Nkubana.

When the representatives of the hub realised the company’s potential, they provided technical assistance in product design, marketing and pricing to help Janet prepare her baskets for international trade shows.

The ECA Trade hub then sponsored her trip to New York to take part in major marketing event, the Sources show.

There, buyers from Macy’s spotted her product line and offered her a deal worth $150,000 (Sh11 million) to supply baskets for their New York store and to sell online.

With USAid support, and technical advice, Gahaya Links continues to grow. Beginning with only 27 women, Gahaya Links has expanded and is now a profitable enterprise that works with over 3,000 weavers across Rwanda.

The baskets have been featured in US national magazines and new deals are in the making with major national retailers.

Specific interventions

This success story is an example of how specific and targeted interventions can have positive and far reaching results.

Indeed, it has made a huge difference in the lives of thousands of Rwandan women and placed a spotlight in the unique capabilities of that country.

Additionally, the success of this one company has spurred the Rwandan Government into action.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame ordered his Ministers to do everything in their power to assist the company and clear any unnecessary hurdles for exporting baskets to the US under Agoa.

This is the road Oniango would like Kenyan entrepreneurs to take.

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