African Businesswomen Get Access to Trade

Article excerpt

Women entrepreneurs benefit from targeted assistance to expand their businesses internationally through this award-winning programme.

The creative skills, innovative spirit and sheer determination of African businesswomen are evident in the businesses they have created. However, for the most part, they deal exclusively in local markets and limited sectors. To expand their businesses internationally, they need access to markets, training, information and networks. A joint ITC-Trade Facilitation Office Canada (TFOC) programme, "ACCESS! for African Businesswomen in International Trade", is helping to meet their needs.

ITC's experience in working with women exporters and would-be exporters has shown that they face unique challenges to doing business internationally. Yet it also found that many businesswomen are social entrepreneurs who combine a drive for export growth with a commitment to developing their communities. For ITC, it makes good business sense and good development sense to encourage women to build their businesses. For these reasons, it conceived a specific initiative to support women entrepreneurs, which aimed at addressing some of the typical constraints they face.

Overcoming isolation

The challenges to exporting faced by associations of African businesswomen and their members include limited access to finance and export business training; limited participation in sector strategy and business development; limited demand from local supply chains; and lack of support in the creation of market linkages abroad. Cultural traditions and family obligations can also hold women back from playing a more prominent role in economic life.

As a result, many women are isolated in micro-businesses or those in the informal sector. Few belong to larger, "mainstream" business networks such as chambers of commerce and they are seldom invited to export meetings where they could obtain information and business contacts. The outcome is that African businesswomen can lose confidence in their ability to "go global" and succeed.

ITC and TFOC launched the ACCESS! programme in September 2005, after more than a year of design and development. It targets African women entrepreneurs who have already attained a fair level of management competence and are actual, emerging or potential exporters. By building international trade skills and providing practical advice and guidance, the programme helps African businesswomen take on new markets.

"I came out of the ACCESS! programme armed with a compass. A compass that has to date served as a vital guide. I am more knowledgeable and confident as I explore another dimension of business - that of international markets," says Rose Aziz, a Tanzanian exporter and ACCESS! trainee in November 2005.

Local partners implement

Trade promotion organizations and other support institutions act as focal points to help implement the programme locally. These organizations are chosen for their demonstrated commitment to the development and support of women in trade, but are not exclusively women-oriented. In the case of South Africa, the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry/ Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry is the focal point and enhances programme outreach at the national level.

The programme has three components: training; mentoring; and a web portal.

The training component takes participants through 22 modules covering key aspects of international trade, such as global value chain, market research, Incoterms (international commercial terms), contracting and legal aspects, transport or cash flow management. …