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Empowering our women to prosperity

 

Last September, world leaders adopted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which seek to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, while curbing social and economic inequalities and making economies environmentally sustainable.

Achieving this ambitious agenda is impossible without very substantial progress towards gender equality, which is both a goal in its own right and an essential enabler of other social and economic objectives, from reducing poverty and inequality to expanding access to education. Research shows that when women earn a paid income, they invest a higher proportion of it back into their families’ health and schooling, with benefits that endure for generations.

Trade has historically been an important driver of growth, productivity gains, development and job creation in developing countries. When women-led businesses, particularly the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that account for most jobs are able to connect to international markets for goods and services, the development gains are disproportionately large and, importantly, shared across a wider section of the population.

This is why International Trade Centre in September last year launched SheTrades, an initiative seeking to connect one million women entrepreneurs to international trade opportunities by 2020. Here in Kenya, International Trade Centre is partnering with Barclays Bank of Kenya to launch SheTradesKE which will ensure that 10,000 women entrepreneurs in Kenya receive business support in critical areas, including financial services, to help them create or maintain links to international markets.

Barclays will leverage its expertise and long legacy of driving financial inclusion, combined with International Trade Centre’s work on business development and trade to assist the women-owned enterprises scale to international standards.

Kenyan women are already leaders when it comes to trade. An International Trade Centre report on “Unlocking Markets for Women to Trade” revealed that, at 46 per cent, Kenya had the highest percentage of exporting firms owned or managed by women of 20 developing countries surveyed.

In fact, when International Trade Centre, Google, and Brazilian firm CI&T last year co-sponsored a global tech challenge inviting developers around the world to pitch their ideas for creating an app for the SheTrades initiative, the competition was won by a women-owned Kenyan company, Greenbell Communications.

The app and web-based platform they created – SheTrades.com – lets women-owned businesses showcase their goods and services, from food to software development, to potential buyers from around the world.

While Kenya is certainly on the right track, local women-led SMEs, as in other countries, face financial, legal, cultural and other challenges that can pose significant hurdles to doing business and trade. Solving these challenges requires all of us to play our part.

An ITC-backed Call to Action provides a framework for governments, small firms, big corporations, and civil society groups alike to make concrete, measurable pledges that contribute to the goal of bringing more women entrepreneurs to markets. Multinationals, for example, can commit to sourcing more from suppliers owned or run by women.

Governments can pledge to reform discriminatory laws, while academics can work to collect and publicise sex-disaggregated data on women’s participation in the economy. Banks can pledge to ensure better access to finance and support for women-owned businesses, as Barclays and ITC are now doing in Kenya.

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Access to credit is one of the biggest impediments not only to starting a business, but more importantly to grow from micro - often informal - to small and from small to medium sized. If women-owned businesses remain confined to the informal sector, their contribution to a nation’s growth and prosperity will remain limited and the task of ending poverty will remain elusive.

SheTradesKE will address this and other key challenges impacting small businesses through courses in access to credit, market analysis tools, procurement, supply chain management, in-depth insights into international trade among other themes during face to face workshops as well as webinars. It will also provide for opportunities to attend global trade fairs and business generation initiatives.

While there is much uncertainty in the global economy today, there is no uncertainty about this: investing in women as economic actors – as entrepreneurs and traders – will deliver immediate benefits to Kenyan households and the broader economy.

This was the subject of discussion on July 15 when over 300 delegates from the private and public sectors and civil society in Nairobi launched SheTradesKE ahead of the 14th session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) which ends today.

Mr Awori is the Managing Director of Barclays Bank of Kenya. Ms González is the Executive Director of the International Trade Centre

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