The Commonwealth Secretariat has partnered with the Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), a member of the Islamic Development Bank Group, and Cameroon’s Ministry of Trade to deliver the first of a series of digital boot camp training workshops to build the capacity of women-owned micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) across the west central African country.
As part of an initiative of the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Secretariat and ITFC, the digital boot camps are an integral element of a partnership to support the development of Cameroon’s e-commerce strategy to increase the participation of Cameroonian women entrepreneurs in global e-commerce trade.
The first of the intensive three-day training workshops was held in Douala in August and focussed on building the innovative skills of women-owned MSMEs operating in the sectors of agribusiness including agro-processing, wholesale and retail trade, education, health and social services, arts and crafts, events management, food, and beverage, hospitality, and tourism.
Harnessing the potential of e-commerce
E-commerce is widely recognised in Cameroon as an important tool for innovation, competitiveness, job creation and growth. It presents a huge potential for entrepreneurs and MSMEs to expand their market reach and make their goods and services available to overseas buyers. Similar to other African nations, Cameroon's MSMEs contribute significantly to job creation and poverty reduction.
This contribution will be even greater when MSMEs’ capacity to develop innovative products capitalise on domestic and international market opportunities and participate in global supply chains via e-commerce. In addition, enhanced MSMEs’ capacities will enable competition at the continental level under the world's largest free trade area, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Since 2019, the Secretariat has supported the Government of Cameroon to facilitate the development of an e-commerce strategy after conducting an e-readiness assessment. A key deliverable under this project was to conduct capacity building programmes for enhancing women and MSME cross-border e-commerce knowledge.
A study conducted into the business readiness of Cameroonian entrepreneurs revealed the digital gap that existed with regards to access to digital infrastructure for men and women entrepreneurs, with women entrepreneurs found to be at a disadvantage in terms of access to digital infrastructure and participation in e-commerce platforms.
Building the capacity of women-owned MSMEs
The Head of Trade Competitiveness at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Opeyemi Abebe, said: “This new partnership (with the ITFC) provides an opportunity to scale up the project in Cameroon, reach more women and enhance the quality of the capacity building support to these entrepreneurs”.
Amadou Cire Sall, ITFC’s Regional Coordinator, Trade and Business Department, commented on the significance of the workshops, stating:
“It is exciting to see that ITFC’s partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat is a partnership of action. The digital boot camp is aligned with meeting this goal (of the partnership) as the workshop is designed to build the capacity of women-owned MSMEs in the areas of digital trade and e-commerce.”
Representing the Honourable Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana, Minister of Trade, Ndah Mirabel, Director of Internal Trade, additionally noted that e-commerce activity in Cameroon has grown steadily.
“It should be noted that the last decade has seen a remarkable evolution in the development of e-commerce in our country with the penetration of the internet increasing from 18 percent in 2016 to 34 percent in 2021, a growth that is having a clear positive impact on economic development prospects. The e-commerce and digital marketing workshops allow women-owned MSMEs to increase their profit margins through the introduction of an online sales method.”
It is this online sales method, and the steps required to achieve increased sales, which was the focus of the workshops. “I came here like a blind person and am going out with very bright eyes”, said Pauline Mbanga, founder and owner of a local natural juice company, and participant of the workshop. “I didn’t know what e-commerce was about and have learnt a lot. We need (this support) for women. Without women, there is no economy.”
Following the workshop in Douala from 9 to 11 August 2022, the project plans to host the next workshop in Yaounde in early 2023, with approximately 100 women-owned MSMEs expected to be beneficiaries of the partnership with ITFC.