International trade by women-owned enterprises is an effective driver for the economic inclusion of other women. Data from the International Trade Centre show that the percentage of women employed by women-led exporting firms is as high as 66% – compared to 39% for women-led businesses that operate domestically.
However, a woman entrepreneur leads just one in five exporting firms. Women continue to face significant barriers to trade, such as access to information, networks, and finance.
Enabling women to participate more in trade and improving the performance of small and medium-sized enterprises owned by women can increase productivity and competitiveness, create jobs, reduce poverty and drive overall economic expansion and innovation.
Since April 2018, the SheTrades Commonwealth programme has been working towards creating opportunities for women-owned businesses to participate more in international trade.
This is achieved with both direct support and fostering a more inclusive and supportive ecosystem through policy and partnerships.
The project’s in-country support prioritizes the following sectors in the four Commonwealth countries of Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria:
- agriculture and its sub-sectors − in particular, avocados, cashews, tea, coffee, spices and shea tree products
- textiles and apparel
- IT and business process outsourcing
The Commonwealth project trains women-owned businesses in the essential skills required to trade internationally by using innovative and targeted approaches such as webinars, on-site workshops and mentoring. Examples include training for textile companies on developing a portfolio, quality workshops for shea beauty products, and face-to-face training in export strategies. These skills are taken to buyers during business-to-business events, where on-site mentoring is provided to the women entrepreneurs to help them confidently and professionally engage buyers and investors.
Sitting within the SheTrades Initiative, the Commonwealth project can call upon the opportunities provided by other SheTrades components – such as SheTrades Invest and partnerships including UPS and Ebay. For instance, members of SheTrades Commonwealth have benefited from training in online sales offered by Ebay.
The project also supports governments with the information, tools, and guidance needed to design and implement more inclusive policies. SheTrades Outlook, for example, is an innovative policy tool that helps governments assess, monitor, and improve the extent to which the institutional ecosystem supports women to trade.
In addition, ITC delivers advisory services to governments by bringing expertise, conveying key public and private stakeholders, and facilitating the development of action plans, and policy or legal changes.
In 2019, the project trained more than 2,000 women business owners in the skills needed to access international markets, such as branding and marketing, quality improvement, and strategy development. Of these, over 600 reported making changes to their businesses.
The project has also connected more than 800 women-owned businesses to buyers through support at international trade fairs, in-country business linkage events, and partnerships with large private sector companies. These activities generated over $70 million in leads, with an additional pipeline of sales which the project is currently monitoring. By enabling women to build their businesses, the project has created over 2,000 new jobs for women, which is providing more opportunities in communities for decent work and developing skills.
The multiplier effect of ITC’s support is even greater when women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises develop or are already involved in their own corporate social responsibility programmes.
Since joining SheTrades Commonwealth, Kenyan tour operator Brogibro Safaris and Event Management has attended three international trade fairs and secured more than $31,000 in sales. As her business expanded, managing director and CEO Ruth Owino was able to establish a microfinance programme to support widows and orphans on Rusinga Island in Kenyan Lake Victoria.
SheTrades Commonwealth has also strengthened the capacities of 53 business support organisations. For example, the project co-delivered business generation activities with the Ghana Export Promotion Authority that enabled the organization to improve their mentoring of and generate businesses for their SME members owned by women.
With respect to cross-Commonwealth support, SheTrades Commonwealth rolled out SheTrades Outlook in 25 countries.
To date, 86 indicators have been developed, over 50 good practices on data collection and entrepreneurial support have been identified, and more than 400 institutions have been mapped.
The project has also partnered with several government ministries to incorporate gender considerations into policies. In Ghana, SheTrades Commonwealth worked with the Ministry of Trade and Industry to mainstream gender into the implementation plan of their small business policy.
The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) has committed an additional $4.5 million for an extension of one year to 31 March 2021. The extension will focus on embedding results across value chains, building on partnerships with large private sector companies and business support organizations as well as continuing work with SMEs to support the creation of long term, inclusive and sustainable change.
In particular, the project will focus on helping its women-owned businesses develop robust trade relationships that could lead to viable businesses; and on reaching more rural suppliers across the value chains whose access to markets is more constrained.
The project will also expand SheTrades Outlook to more countries so that governments can identify data gaps, compare information with other countries in their region, benefit from best practices, and inform policymaking to support women entrepreneurs.
Where national interest in policy reform has been identified, SheTrades Commonwealth plans to support that through national dialogues. This work will be complemented by newly developed frameworks, including a practical guide with toolkits for policymakers and procuring officers to find solutions to include women in public procurement.
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