Statement by the ITC Executive Director at the Fifth Senior Executive Roundtable on Sourcing from Women Vendors (en)
Delivered on 15 September 2014 at the Fifth Senior Executive Roundtable on Sourcing from Women Vendors
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Honourable Oda Gasinzigwa, Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great honour for me to open this Fifth Senior Executive Roundtable on Sourcing from Women Vendors on behalf of the International Trade Centre (ITC) and our partner organisations. I want to thank the Rwanda Development Board, United Nations Global Compact, WEConnect International, the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, Vital Voices Global Partnership, the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, UN Women, Full Circle Exchange and Quantum Leaps for their partnership.
ITC is celebrating 50 years this year. As the UN/WTO agency with a clear mandate to assist small and medium sized enterprises to increase their competitiveness and to help them benefit from trade. It is only fitting that we hold this meeting together with the Women Vendors Platform in Africa for the first time.
This is not a symbolic gesture. It is a reflection of the growing importance of Africa in the global economy. And in Rwanda no less, a country that has the highest representation of women in parliament in the world, and is one of the most dynamic economies in Africa.
Today is an appropriate time to reflect on and celebrate the unprecedented gains women have made over the past 50 years. Increase in female life expectancy, reductions in gender gaps in education enrolment with, strikingly, more women than men now attending universities, and women’s representation in the global labour force rising to 40%.
On the back of this momentum, it is important to renew our sense of purpose and commitment. Today we will share the lessons we have learnt as to why unlocking women’s economic potential is not only important, but is a critical prerequisite to achieving sustained human and economic development.
Why is a focus on SMEs important, and in particular, on women-owned enterprises? Let us consider some facts:
- Fact 1: There is a global job crisis: close to 500 million jobs are needed globally for new entrants to the labour market between now and 2030. Global unemployment increased from 170 million in 2007 to nearly 202 million in 2012, of which a large number - about 75 million - are young women and men.
- Fact 2: SMEs provide two-thirds of all formal jobs in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, and 80 per cent in low income countries, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the US, Women-owned companies employ more people than the largest 500 companies combined. This is without considering the informal sector.
- Fact 3: Research shows that women invest up to 90% of earnings in their family and community – for example, in the health, nutrition and education of children - compared to approximately 40% by men.
Fully exploiting the economic potential of women and women owned SMEs can therefore lead to a transformational economic story.
But for SMEs and in particular for women entrepreneurs, the lack of access to knowledge and information, access to tools to improve competitiveness, access to finance and access to markets pose a hindrance. The solutions involve broad based partnerships that include a wide range of actors including the private sector, national governments, industry associations, international organisations and civil society. New thinking is required where policy makers better understand the unrealised potential in their economies and women entrepreneurs.
For example, Rwanda, with the support of Minister Oda Gasinzigwa was the first country to pilot ITC’s initiative to include a gender dimension in the Enhanced Integrated Framework. In this way, trade strategy makers and programme designers in Rwanda can ensure that the framework’s support to tackling supply side constraints takes cognizance of gender related issues.
This initiative has been rolled out to 18 additional countries, enabling officials of trade ministries to understand how to identify the trade related needs of women entrepreneurs in their economies, and to address these through appropriately designed policies and capacity building programmes. I hope today we can have a good debate about these elements.
Following the global economic crisis of 2008-09, the importance of developing countries as consumer markets has grown, and so has the interest of multinational corporations in investing in these relatively more dynamic emerging markets.
The result is a convergence of business and development with the private sector taking on a greater role in initiatives to develop labour and supplier capacity in order to meet their business needs. Indeed the Post-2015 development goals on which the international community is convening, positions the private sector as an important partner in developing the solutions to address our growing global challenges.
It is essential that the post 2015 pays more attention to trade, entrepreneurship, SMEs and economic growth as fundamental ingredients of a more prosperous world. This will better position governments to realise commitments to women’s economic empowerment made at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
Looking ahead, if we are to eradicate poverty and tackle inequality, we have to take advantage of converging interests of the public and private sectors to address the challenges and realise opportunities.
The Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women Vendors is such a platform for innovative collaboration. ITC is in a unique position to convene these partners given our mandate to work with businesses and governments, and our deep networks of trade support institutions through which we work to deliver trade related technical assistance. The Global Platform has been established to facilitate connections between buyers interested in sourcing from women entrepreneurs in developing countries. Since 2010 this Global Platform has yielded over USD25m in contracts and letters of intent to transact business have been signed by women entrepreneurs.
This year for example, we held a capacity building workshop jointly with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance on the margins of the Specialty Coffees Association of America Conference in Seattle Washington. We offered a select group of high growth potential businesswomen in the coffee sector opportunities to explore potential business matches with small to large coffee buyers and held over 250 B2B meetings.
The results have been outstanding with business transacted by companies coming from Papua New Guinea to Burundi with some of the most recognised names in the coffee trading industry.
An important objective of our work is to increase the amount of procurement spend secured by women. This is an excellent opportunity for governments. USD15 trillion each year passes from the hands of governments to suppliers through the global government procurement market.
I have already underlined the need for governments to do their utmost to foster the growth and success of SMEs. Government procurement affords governments the avenue to ‘be the change they want to see’. That is, to structure procurement to enable entry points from SMEs, in particular those owned by women. Procurement is about the transparent use of public funds and value for money- but this can be married with sustainable use of public funds too.
In response to requests for guidance on how to achieve this, ITC will today launch a guide 'empowering women through public procurement'. We are keen to work with governments interested in exploring opportunities to better integrate women-owned companies into their supply chain.
The full talents of women entrepreneurs are yet to be unlocked. This we can achieve together, through targeted actions and policies that can contribute much to achieving inclusive, sustainable development.
I wish you a productive roundtable discussion, constructive business to business meetings and a successful three days of learning, sharing and doing business.