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Project advances women entrepreneurs

13 February 2012
Commonwealth businesswomen succeed at Europe’s largest buyers fair

Nine women entrepreneurs from Africa and the Caribbean secured orders from some of Europe’s largest traders during their attendance at Spring Fair International from 5 to 9 February, in Birmingham, UK.

The businesswomen were selected from over 60 applicants to market their products at Europe’s largest buyers fair, through sponsorship from the Commonwealth Secretariat. The project aims to raise the capacity of businesswomen to access global markets.

Yinka Bandele from the Secretariat’s Social Transformation Programmes Division (STPD), which oversees the organisation’s health, gender and education work, said: “Giving these women the opportunity to showcase their business has raised their capacity to supply products to new buyers. There are a number who have achieved significant new orders from a range of buyers in the UK but also wider afield in Europe.”

Gender inequality coupled with trade liberalisation processes can mean that women producers and exporters may struggle to secure the financial and other resources they need to develop their businesses properly and compete on an international scale.

The Secretariat in recognising this problem continues to make interventions to bring about a change of perceptions, policies and practices, helping to empower each generation to achieve more.

The Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality 2005–2015 (PoA) looks at four critical areas for promoting women’s advancement and gender equity: democracy, peace and conflict; human rights and law; poverty eradication and economic empowerment; and HIV and AIDS.

Kenyan businesswoman Jennifer Mulli penned an agreement to export crafts from her business ‘Katchy Kollections’ to the UK and believes she will now be able to double production within two years.

“It was an amazing opportunity for me. I was able to meet people who are interested in working with my company right from the design stage up to production,” she said.

Haitian-born Marie Roberte Laurent, who sells beauty products from the Caribbean island of Grenada, signed a deal to produce a line of chocolate soaps, body lotions and gels for a UK and Israel based retailer.

“I don’t have the words to say thank you to the Commonwealth for what they did for me. I know I am going to the next level and it’s thanks to them. They helped us so much from the beginning to the end,” she said.

The programme included a training workshop on 3 February at the Secretariat’s headquarters in London, UK, where the entrepreneurs were given advice on preparing for the exhibition, working with potential clients from the fair and getting value from investments. They also discussed some of the challenges they face in growing their businesses and exporting their products.

The businesswomen now hope to use the knowledge they gained to help other women entrepreneurs in the Commonwealth break into the global market.

“I plan to share what I have learnt with a lot of traders I know in the market. For instance I will be able to tell them the sizes and colours of the products that people are looking for in the UK,” Ms Mulli explained.

STPD Adviser Sarah Kitakule added that the project had additional unexpected benefits as the nine women identified synergies between their own businesses.

“They have been very creative in looking at what each other’s business does. They now have new product lines they have combined on and hope to bring to the market within 16 months,” Ms Kitakule said.

The nine women entrepreneurs were selected from Grenada, Jamaica, Kenya, Mauritius, and St Kitts and Nevis to exhibit at the fair. Their products range from jewellery to body care products and home accessories.