ITC Shares

Women entrepreneurs breaking barriers

8 March 2018
Michelle Kristy , Poonam Watine , Caroline Kemunto, International Trade Centre

Meet the ‘SheTrades’ entrepreneurs making a difference in trade

While entrepreneurs face challenges starting up businesses everywhere in the world, women often experience an extra layer of hurdles. These include regulatory and cultural biases, as well as lack of access to capital, market information, networks and technology. These barriers often mean missed opportunities to further raise growth rates and to create opportunities for more people.

These are the stories of five ambitious women who pursued and broke barriers to become successful women entrepreneurs with the help of the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative, which connects women entrepreneurs to markets.


Charitha Abeyratne Hettiarachchi took the leap to create a sustainable eco-tourism resort, Saraii Village, in Hambantota District in southern Sri Lanka. With the support of SheTrades, Hettiarachchi was able to increase her exposure, resulting in closing business deals with international travel agencies and becoming known as an eco-luxury wedding and honeymoon destination. Couples can explore the rustic paradise while nestling in a treetop and awakening to the sound of blissful birdsongs.

However, in pursuit of success her ambition was confronted by specific gender-related challenges, such as securing access to funds and gender biases. It was her perseverance that allowed Saraii Village to become a success by empowering the local population by adopting sustainable practices. Her vision is to expand the resort to other regions in Sri Lanka with the help of SheTrades. ‘I would say face your fears confidently,’ Hettiarachchi said ‘Fear is the only thing that would keep us from reaching the top.’


Phyllis Mwangi paved the way to becoming an inspirational businesswoman in Africa through the success of her online flower shop. That inspired her to create Tandao Commerce, an e-commerce platform operating out of Kenya that is helping to revolutionize the way people shop and how small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) doing business in Africa.

With the support of SheTrades, Tandao Commerce attended CEBIT Hannover in March 2017, an important digitization and innovation trade fair. There the company was able to secure a $60,000 grant to fund its social program to get 100 women-owned businesses online and train them to run sustainable enterprises. ‘The really great thing about Tandao Commerce is that it’s an e-business, most people are not dealing with a person, they interact with us on an online portal,’ Mwangi said. ‘I believe this is a model that favours women as it is not immediately perceived who the business owners are.’


Shana Fatina reached new heights after participating in the ITB Berlin tourism trade fair in March 2017 by closing deals and gaining potential partnerships for her diving experience company ORA Dive in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia. With many opportunities from potential partners and buyers presented during the trade fair, she learned how to improve her services and products as a global player. ‘The help from ITC SheTrades resulted in deals for our business,’ Fatina said.


Saliza Mohamadar is the owner of Iboih Inn, a restaurant and lodging business in Weh Island, Indonesia. With the support of SheTrades, she also took part in the ITB Berlin trade fair and increased her capacity and knowledge to make Iboih Inn better known in European markets. By exploiting digital marketing methods and using social-media platforms she has been able to target more online customers. Her company has experienced a 20% increase in sales since June 2017 and she is currently planning to expand her services facilitated by the SheTrades business networks.


Rose Topisian, director of travel operator Asilia Safaris, Kenya, participated in ITB Berlin 2017 and received support on how to approach international buyers. Her company went to the next level by building brand awareness and developing relations with international buyers during the fair. She identified new partnership opportunities and new markets such as India and Turkey. ‘I am grateful to the entire ITC SheTrades team for their commitment, resources and the time they have taken to support women entrepreneurs,’ Topisian said.