Multilateral agency International Trade Centre (ITC) is currently examining areas that affect women’s entrepreneurship globally. Some of the critical areas that have come under the Geneva-based agency’s scrutiny, The Nation learnt, include macroeconomic risks, entrepreneurial business environment, access to finance, availability of business skills, training and social services, among others.
Perhaps, to underscore its commitment to turning the tide in favour of women-led businesses as far as international trade is concerned, ITC also went a notch higher, urging organisations to work with governments to help it better understand what the obstacles are and how they can be addressed.
Founded in 1964, with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, ITC is an intergovernmental organisation that fosters inclusive and sustainable economic development.
Its Head, SheTrades lnitiative, Vanessa Erogbogbo, said there was a need for renewed commitment, internationally and regionally, to support women-led businesses.
SheTrades builds the capacity of women-led firms and producers to compete in global markets. The initiative works with governments, corporations and business support organisations to create the right conditions through policies, data, markets and partnerships.
It is easy to see why the centre is channeling its energy and resources to boasting women-led businesses and increasing their participation in international trade. For one, the move, according to Erogbogbo, has become evident in terms of job creation and financial emancipation.
For this to happen, she said it would require leveraging networks of women-led businesses to find potential synergies, facilitate trade among them and together advocate about their needs to policymakers.
More importantly, current statistics on women-owned companies’ participation in international trade are unflattering; they, therefore, speak of the urgent need to push more possibilities into the hands of women entrepreneurs through various empowerment initiatives.
For instance, the centre puts the share of women-owned companies participating in international trade at 20 per cent, while an estimated one billion women are unable to fully participate in the global economy.
The ITC, however, noted that a significant proportion of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) around the world are owned by women. It added that in developing countries, including Nigeria, around 36 per cent of MSMEs are partially or fully owned by women.
However, while this may be encouraging, the 20 per cent share of women-owned companies participating in international trade is seen by the ITC and, indeed, other experts in international trade as meagre.
It is, therefore, hardly surprising that tilting this trade imbalance in favour of women has become top priority for ITC. And it appears to have clearly worked out strategies to empower women-owned businesses across the globe.
One of such strategies is driving change for women through W20, an international movement, which aims to “contribute to laying a solid foundation for global economic recovery based on a strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth.”
According to Erogbogbo, more women have to be empowered to overcome financial barriers and launch their own ventures, thereby changing the status quo. She advocated for an investment environment that incorporates a gender lens at all levels of decision-making in national, global political and economic bodies.
The Minister of Small Business Development, South Africa, Hon. Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, could not agree less, saying that one of the objectives of ITC should be the onboarding of African suppliers to its women empowerment platform.
“This must be closely managed to ensure the participation of SMEs, particularly women- and youth- owned businesses,” Ntshavheni advised.
Similarly, the President, International Government Affairs and Sustainability, United Parcel Service (UPS), Penelope Naas, said women-owned businesses face barriers including discriminatory legislation, difficulty accessing capital and insufficient formal networks for expanding internationally.
She, however, said UPS and the UPS Foundation were proud to commit resources and industry know-how to empower women to overcome the obstacles through its ‘Women Exporters Programme’.
By leveraging its expertise in facilitating cross-border trade and e-commerce for small and medium-sized businesses, Naas added that UPS and its partners provide the training and networks necessary to enable women entrepreneurs to engage in trade.
Her words: “We know that helping more women-led firms to export is key to unlocking more prosperity for communities around the globe. The Programme has trained more than 6, 000 women entrepreneurs through 35 events in markets around the globe.”
In Nigeria, Africa’s largest and most populous economy, 88 per cent of women entrepreneurs reported that UPS’s training activities improved their packaging, labelling and marketing knowledge.
Naas also confirmed that every woman entrepreneur surveyed across all countries said they planned to attend similar events under the ITC SheTrades and UPS partnership in the future.
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