Connecting Women Entrepreneurs to the Global Market


The International Trade Centre has launched the SheTrades initiative, which seeks to connect one million female entrepreneurs to the global market by 2020. Jonathan Eze writes on how the Nigerian Export Promotion Council is facilitating the project

Recently, thousands of advocates, policymakers and business leaders from and civil society organisations gathered in Copenhagen, the capital and most populous city of Denmark for Women Deliver, the world’s largest global meeting focused on the health, rights and well-being of girls and women.

The private sector is already widely recognised as a key partner in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the strong representation of business among attendees was particularly notable.

During the event, a new framework for accelerating private-sector action on women’s empowerment in global value chains was unveiled. The framework identified the main business drivers, key principles for action and three primary roles that can be taken to drive their investments in women — and discussions throughout the event underlined that leading companies already are putting into practice the core components of the framework.

Women’s economic empowerment is not a matter for government policy, the private sector, or civil society alone. All have critical roles to play. That is why having more women in the marketplace has a positive impact on businesses in all sectors and the women themselves benefit from a larger workforce, more competition, and as a result more choices between better products. In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that advancing women’s equality could add US $28 trillion to global GDP by 2025, enabling economies to unlock their full potential –and SheTrades is the key.

SheTrades initiative was launched in July 2016 with commitment to bringing 200,000 women to the global market as part of the broader UN–Goal of connecting one million women to the international market place by 2020.

Towards realising this, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) organised stakeholder’s forum in some states in liaison with a steering committee inaugurated to further drive the SheTrades initiative.

At the programme, NEPC Executive Secretary and Chairman, Segun Awolowo, said: “The council, in partnership with ITC, brought together women entrepreneurs to increase their awareness on the SheTrades platform, thereby improving their visibility and the use of trade intelligence as well as strengthening the Trade and Investment Support Institutions (TISIs) to enhance policies for the benefit of the exporting entrepreneurs.”

Awolowo also underlined that research shows that women has largely being the driving force behind the global economy, controlling over 65% of global consumer spending. However, he pointed out that globally, women businesses are outperformed in less productive sectors, as owners often lack adequate access to capital in addition to the myriad of bottlenecks and complications plaguing their businesses as same as applies with all Nigerian entrepreneurs.

“Therefore, the ITC Call to Action offers a platform to rally and engage stakeholders across governments and the private sector, to address previous shortcomings and advance women’s economic empowerment. Gender equality and the empowerment of women is a prerequisite in achieving the Global Development Goals on Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations, setting forth an ambitious development agenda to 2030,” he added.

Awolowo noted that the ITC SheTrades Initiative was an opportunity to accelerate economic growth through increased participation of Nigerian women in global trade stressing that such an opportunity was long overdue to unlock the potentials of the captive ability of women who dominate the non-oil export sectors.

While women’s economic empowerment has been on the global development agenda for almost two decades, knowledge about female entrepreneurship has been fragmentary, and the business and economic cases have not been fully articulated.

Stakeholders ranging from financial institutions to research and multilateral organisations are called upon to collaborate with ITC to expand opportunities for women entrepreneurs by making specific, actionable pledges.

Since the fourth world conference on women in Beijing, China in 1995, the desire of women to get involved in national and global affairs by way of contribution to trade, investment and economic development has reached an unprecedented height.

Indeed, a report by Mckinsey Global Institute reveals that $28 trillion could be added to global Gross Domestic Product by 2025 by advancing women equality therefore laying credence to the fact that economic development and gender equality go hand-in-hand.

“Today we are focusing on partnership for better integration of women into the economic fabric of Nigeria through connecting them to global trade. Women are the backbone of practically all economies, especially the informal economy. Therefore, we must join other countries by working together to boldly make women business enterprises a significant contributor to the country’s economy and revenue”, said Awolowo

To drive the process, the national secretariat for SheTrades in Nigeria is currently domiciled in the Council. And as part of initiatives to achieve the SheTrades mandate, the Council created the “Women in Export Desk” at the Head-office and in all the Regional and Smart Offices where issues relating to gender activities in trade are being handled.

A bold and dynamic effort by the Council to achieve the 200, 000 target has started yielding result as the Council and International Trade Centre (ITC) are presently training over 15, 000 women entrepreneurs as part of measures to increase their awareness on the SheTrades platform, improving their visibility and the use of trade intelligence as well as strengthening Trade and Investment support Institutions (TISIs) to enhance policies for benefits of exporting entrepreneurs.

While this strategic effort by the NEPC and ITC is commendable, lowering the barriers faced by women entrepreneurs at home and internationally, and helping more businesswomen to connect to international value chains, would bolster growth and gender inclusiveness in economic growth.

It is for this reason that taking gender into account matters when developing and implementing trade policy as placing women at the heart of global policymaking will go a long way towards realising the United Nations 2030 Agenda goal of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.

The Empowering Women to Trade Programme seeks to increase the economic benefits of business women in developing countries derive from their participation in international trade with a focus on the following key objectives:

Increase the demand for goods and services supplied by women entrepreneurs; Build women entrepreneurs ‘capacity; Build the capacity of Trade & Investment Support Institutions to better service women clients; Increase policy makers’ awareness of the potential, represented by women entrepreneurs and raise awareness of related barriers hampering women entrepreneurs’ participation in international trade.

The She Trades is an ITC initiative, launched in September, 2015 at São Paulo, Brazil. The NEPC along with other thought leaders in government and businesses from across the world signed up to ITC “Call to Action” aimed at connecting one million women to market by 2020, thus, growing the global economy through women participation to trade.

In 2016, precisely on the 13th July 2016, NEPC in collaboration with ITC launched the She Trades initiative in Nigeria with Council working to connect 200,000 Nigerian women entrepreneurs to the global market by 2020.

Under the “Call to Action” the ITC/NEPC seeks to champion quality data, enact fair policies, secure government contracts, strike business deals, enable market access, unlock financial services and grant ownership rights to women.

The programme continues to record appreciable successes globally as it has generated over US$ 70 million of export opportunities for almost 300 women entrepreneurs, built the capacity of more than 13,500 women entrepreneurs from more than 80 countries, sectors and company sizes; leveraged technology for better business opportunities, established partnerships with the private sectors to provide markets, knowledge and technical expertise to women entrepreneurs;

The main sectors for promotion of women in export are Textiles and apparel, agribusiness, handicrafts, computer data storage units, beauty, make-up & skin-care preparations, information services, telecommunications, computer, and information services, accounting (professional services).

If Nigeria and indeed African women hope to maximise the huge opportunities in international trade, there is need for governments at all levels to recognise women as key players in the economy and therefore accord them all the necessary support to succeed.

This much was highlighted by World Bank in its report. According to the study titled “Women and Trade in Africa: Realising the potential”, “Women play a key role in trade in Africa and will be essential to Africa’s success in exploiting its trade potential. Women make a major contribution to trade in most African countries through their involvement in the production of tradable goods as cross-border traders and as managers and owners of firms involved in trade”.

However, the Report observed that Africa’s trade potential is undermined by constraints that women face adding that such conditions prevent women from taking full advantage of the opportunities created by trade and thus undermine the aspirations of countries in Africa.

Buttressing this, Awolowo pointed out that over the years, there have been international discuss on the need to mainstream women in economic activities to curtail dysfunction that could degrade family incomes and wellbeing.

Economic pundits are of the view that given the role women plays in the society; government agencies like NEPC using strategic platforms like the SheTrades Initiative would help reposition the activities of women in business as well as lift millions of Nigerians out-of-poverty by the year 2020.