SheTrades: Empowering women entrepreneurs in international markets
Over the past century, women around the world have taken dramatic strides forward in voting rights, in social status and as economic actors. And yet they remain less likely than men to have a paid job and when they do they earn less than men in similar occupations. Gender-based legal impediments and job restrictions too often con ne women to low-paying work in the informal sector. Women are 20% less likely than men to have a bank account and less likely than men to belong to formal business networks.
In addition to the consequences for individual girls, women and families, these inequalities have an immense economic cost: by some estimates, achieving gender equality in the economy would add as much as one-quarter to global GDP. The Sustainable Development Goals rightly recognize that eradicating extreme poverty is impossible without substantial progress towards gender equality in the home, the school and the workplace.The response
Despite the enormous potential gains for families, businesses and countries, the barriers to women’s economic empowerment are numerous and substantial. Breaking them down requires a combination of mutually reinforcing government policy, private-sector action and social change. ITC created the SheTrades initiative to provide a framework and platform for partners to work together to empower women economically.
Launched in 2015, the initiative was the outcome of months of consultations with stakeholders around the world aimed at accelerating the trajectory towards eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. The consultations revealed that a key challenge to achieving gender equality was the persistence of silos between the various actors working in this area as well as between substantive factors underlying women’s ability to start and run successful businesses, including research, policy, nance and access to markets.
The SheTrades initiative set out to break down the barriers between those silos and provide a comprehensive action plan for women’s economic empowerment through trade. Its overarching goal is to connect one million women entrepreneurs to markets by 2020. To this end, it sets out seven global actions to address obstacles to trade and expand opportunities for women entrepreneurs while inviting governments, companies, trade and investment support institutions and civil society entities across the globe to make speci c, veri able pledges to:
- collect, analyse and disseminate data on women’s economic participation;
- create trade policies and agreements that enhance women’s participation in trade;
- empower women-owned businesses to participate in public procurement spending;
- create corporate procurement programmes that embed diversity and inclusion in value chains;
- address supply-side constraints that especially affect women-owned businesses;
- close the gap between men and women for accessing nancial services; and
- ensure legislative and administrative reforms guarantee women’s rights to ownership and control over resources.
A SheTrades web and mobile application – itself created by a woman-owned rm from Kenya that won a global tech challenge organized by ITC, Google and Brazilian company CI&T – allows women entrepreneurs to network; showcase their products and services; and connect to potential buyers around the world.The results
As of December 2016, partners had pledged to connect 600,000 women to markets – well on the way to achieving the initiative’s 2020 goal.
The initiative has received ringing endorsements – and more importantly, commitments – from a growing number of decision-makers, institutions and women entrepreneurs. In July, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council pledged to work with governments, banks, companies and other stakeholders to connect 200,000 women to markets by 2020. The same month, Barclays Bank of Kenya and ITC launched a partnership to train 10,000 local women entrepreneurs in nancial and business skills and to connect them to international trade opportunities. More than 1,400 Kenyan women entrepreneurs have already bene tted from this partnership, which complements the bank’s 5 billion- Kenyan-shilling ($50 million) credit facility fund for enterprises owned or run by women.
Trade and investment promotion organizations are actively engaging with SheTrades. Apex-Brasil, Brazil’s trade promotion agency, in March set up a new ‘Empowering women entrepreneurs through exports’ programme committed to connecting 6,000 women entrepreneurs to international markets by 2018. The programme has already reached out to 1,360 women-led companies, organizing close to 200 business-to-business (B2B) meetings that have facilitated $7.8 million worth of new leads.
Chile’s public procurement system, one of over 100 SheTrades partners, is working to enable women entrepreneurs to supply a higher share of government purchasing. ChileCompra has already served 15,000 women entrepreneurs and has committed to working with an additional 25,000 women suppliers under the SheTrades framework.
In three members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association – Indonesia, Kenya, and Sri Lanka – ITC is working to enhance the competitiveness of women-owned SMEs in sectors such as information technology and tourism and help them connect to international markets.
As of the end of 2016, over 4,600 companies had registered on the SheTrades app and started to access e-courses, online mentoring sessions, webinars and targeted information on topics such as negotiation skills and market analysis. The app is regularly updated to add new functionalities, such as a tracking system for the commitments made by SheTrades signatories.
The SheTrades platform gives women-owned businesses opportunities to participate in various trade fairs and exhibitions. In 2016, participation in such events, in sectors ranging from coffee to tourism, led to business leads worth a reported $11 million. Some of these leads have already turned into realityThe future
The SheTrades app will be made available in more languages – starting with Spanish and French – and additional computer and smartphone operating systems to make it more accessible to businesswomen and buyers around the world.
ITC will seek partners in establishing SheTrades Centres of Excellence in regional hubs around the world, which will draw in support from the local ecosystem of enabling stakeholders – from banks to logistics and telecommunications companies – needed to transform business prospects for women entrepreneurs.