Summit pleads for urgent action to support women entrepreneurs

23Apr 2019
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Summit pleads for urgent action to support women entrepreneurs

THE first Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) regional summit met here late last week to discuss concrete ways to strengthen support for women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in West Africa.

Closing ceremony of the first regional summit on the initiative for financing women entrepreneurship in West Africa

Delegates included heads of state, government ministers, leaders of multilateral development banks, private sector executives, women entrepreneurs, and contributing governments.

Organised by We-Fi in collaboration with the African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the World Bank Group, the summit brought together more than 400 public and private sector leaders from West Africa and other regions. It was hosted by the Côte d’Ivoire government.

The summit concluded with a joint Call to Action, urging wide-ranging public policy reforms and private sector actions to help women entrepreneurs overcome persistent barriers, both financial and non-financial.

“Women constitute the majority of Africa’s self-employed population and play a key economic role, with significant benefits for their families, communities, and countries,” summit leaders noted in the joint statement.

Acknowledging the challenge of full economic participation, they declared: “Women entrepreneurs also face other barriers that prevent them from accessing finance, markets, technology, mentoring, and capacity-building support. This limits the potential of women entrepreneurs and impedes economic growth and poverty reduction across Africa.”

The leaders stated that, owing to these constraints, female entrepreneurs in the region consistently lag men on several key indicators of business performance.

A recent World Bank study found that monthly profits and sales from female-owned firms in the region were on average 34 per cent and 38 per cent lower, respectively, than those of male-owned firms.                                                                                  

Summit leaders called on governments to undertake policy and legal reforms to increase women entrepreneurs’ access to financial services, government contracts, and the basic infrastructure of the digital economy. They also highlighted the urgent need to remove labour and mobility restrictions for women and to ensure their equal rights to property.

A World Bank report says that the past decade has seen African governments improve women’s economic inclusion by implementing 71 legal and regulatory reforms – more than any other regions in the world.

But the report adds that, while African countries have made significant progress in closing the gender gaps, further strengthening women’s roles as entrepreneurs will transform the continent.

Acknowledging the importance of public and private sector collaboration, summit leaders underscored the role that private sector and civil society organisations play in improving women’s access to capital, markets, digital skills training, mentorship, and business networks.

They further called for better collection and reporting of sex-disaggregated data by both the public and private sectors to help measure the impact of policy reforms on women entrepreneurs.

The Summit is the first of its kind for We-Fi, a global partnership among 14 donor governments, eight multilateral development banks, and other public and private sector stakeholders, established in October 2017 and housed in the World Bank Group. Donor governments have so far committed over US $350 million to support We-Fi’s activities.

In April 2018, the World Bank Group and the Islamic Development Bank were among the recipients of We-Fi’s first round of funding to support women-owned and led SMEs, many of which are in Africa.

The first allocation of $120 million is expected to mobilise over $1.6 billion in additional funds from the private sector, donors, governments, and other development partners.

“I am pleased that Côte d’Ivoire hosted the first regional Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) Summit,” Côte d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara told the summit.

“Women play as critical a role as men in the growth of our economy. I am confident that this summit will result in concrete actions and expand opportunities for women’s entrepreneurship across West Africa,” he added.

Ivanka Trump, an advisor to US President Donald Trump, meanwhile said: “I was honoured to join our We-Fi partners and inspiring entrepreneurs in a meaningful dialogue with West African leaders on the economic empowerment of women.”

“The White House, and the whole of US government, stands firmly behind the goal of economically empowering 50 million women through W-GDP by 2025 and, in so doing, championing American values of freedom and equality around the world,” noted the advisor.”

Ivanka Trump said the mission was crucial to the peace and stability of Nations and was achievable “if we focus our collaborative efforts on job training, entrepreneurship and breaking down the legal and cultural barriers that restrict women from achieving their full economic potential”.

World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva chipped in, thus: “In Africa, women are more likely than men to be entrepreneurs, but they face entrenched barriers that make it harder to succeed,” adding: “By helping tackle financial, social and legal constraints, We-Fi can help unleash the tremendous potential of women entrepreneurs as a force for job creation and economic growth.”

African Development Bank Group President Akinwumi A. Adesina had this to say: “Through the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) programme, the African Development Bank is transforming financial markets by de-risking lending to women on the continent. We invite all stakeholders to join us and be part of this game-changing initiative that will result in greater women empowerment.”

Meanwhile, Islamic Development Bank Group President Bandar M. H. Hajjar declared: “Supporting women entrepreneurs requires comprehensive solutions that focus on innovation, value chains, and use of Islamic finance. We should consider women entrepreneurs to be partners of development financial institutions rather than recipients of financing. Our role can thus be to incubate and empower their businesses, not just to provide financing.”

In other remarks, ECOWAS Commission chairman Jean-Claude Brou said: “ECOWAS welcomes the We-Fi initiative and member states fully support it… In addition to the various ongoing programmes and projects in favour of women entrepreneurs, ECOWAS member countries will work with the We-Fi secretariat to implement actions and reforms needed to further promote women entrepreneurship across all sectors within the region.”