What do onions, leather handbags and moringa have in common?
Not much on their own, of course. But, they are what certain female-helmed businesses in Africa are selling, and therefore at the core of a developing movement supporting those enterprises.
That movement, started by the International Trade Centre as SheTrades in 2018, is joining people with differing expertise and creating new networks – ranging from a designer in Banjul to an international institution in Geneva to an investor in Dakar to government officials in Lusaka, with many stops in between.
“My husband and I were out in the diaspora for 16 years and decided to come back to Zambia. When I came back about two years ago and started farming, I realized that there wasn’t any organized group that was mobilising women in agriculture – so that’s how the idea of Nkoka Women in Agrobusiness was born,” said Nkolola Halwindi of the group she founded.
The Zambia-based community of female, small-scale farmers has a unique mandate and big aims, as does the larger SheTrades partnership to support women in trade of which they are a part.
Halwindi said of Nkoka, “Every emerging farmer that is a member is actually obliged to mentor somebody else. So we share information in terms of what grants are out there, what trainings are out there, who’s doing an agro-tour, who’s accessing networking functions.”
She attended a moringa-focused trade fair in India in late 2019 sponsored by SheTrades that she describes as “life-changing”.
“In Zambia, moringa is seen as something with health benefits but when we went to India it opened our minds and our eyes. We saw the commercial side of moringa,” she said. Following that trip, Nkoka is delving into the products that can be made by processing moringa and the profit potential.
It is just these sorts of idea-spurring interactions that SheTrades is aiming for, setting up brainstorming sessions, hosting business-focused trainings and sending people to trade fairs.
Fiona Coleman, a UK-based consultant, is working with women in the fashion business in Zambia and The Gambia, first accompanying a group of 13 trade show first timers from Zambia to Cape Town. Following that, she has been hosting trainings covering many of the necessary details of running a business, from designing a collection to developing a business plan.
“We chose 10 women who were at the right level to be considered for international trade for me to mentor on a one-to-one basis for six months. Because of COVID the coaching has had to be totally virtual, through Zoom meetings. Some want to set up websites or improve their social media and some want to create new collections – so it’s very targeted,” Coleman said.
Coleman noted that one focus is helping this group of idea-driven entrepreneurs look for gaps in the market and differentiate their products.
“In The Gambia particularly companies are used to doing direct-to-consumer bespoke level items, many are not used to creating collections and planning ahead, instead they are used to a customer asking for something and then making to order. So we are focusing on how to range plan and put a collection together, thinking what items to design, what kind of fabrics, patterns, what do you need to buy from wholesalers,” she said.
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