Building capacity to help Africa trade better

ECA hosts Trade Finance for Female Entrepreneurs workshop at IATF 2018


ECA hosts Trade Finance for Female Entrepreneurs workshop at IATF 2018

ECA hosts Trade Finance for Female Entrepreneurs workshop at IATF 2018
Photo credit: CIAT | Flickr

Female entrepreneurs around the globe typically face greater barriers to accessing trade finance than their male counterparts, more so in the developing world where cultural norms continue to affect their desire to do well in their chosen careers.

The World Bank Women, Business and the Law database shows that in all regions, a significant proportion of countries do not prohibit discrimination based on gender or marital status in access to credit.

In a bid to find help find solutions to this problem, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), through the African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC), organized a workshop to discuss trade finance for female entrepreneurs at the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) in Cairo, Egypt.

Participants and panelists discussed how trade and gender interact through the ability of entrepreneurs to access financial services, and what governments, the private sector and development community can do to help promote gender-inclusive trade financing.

ATPC Coordinator, David Luke, in his opening remarks highlighted that Africa was one of the regions with the highest number of female entrepreneurs but that was not matched with the financial support they get from financial institutions.

Implicit discrimination by national financial systems due to cultural norms, he said, can exacerbate the gender-divide in access to credit.

“We need to ensure affordable access to finance for female entrepreneurs. It is crucial to helping women-owned businesses to scale-up, invest in new production processes, improve their competitiveness and access world markers, among many other positives,” said Mr. Luke.

Citing the MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2018, he mentioned that the percentage of female established business ownership in Africa, excluding North Africa, increased from 8 percent in 2014 to 10.7 percent in 2016. This percentage is higher than all other regions apart from East and South Asia and the Pacific.

Yet in Africa, he said, most of the female entrepreneurs operate in the informal sector.

“Another big challenge faced by women entrepreneurs is limited access to finance due to gender disparities, exclusion, discriminatory practices prevailing unfortunately in many countries.  As a result, discontinuity in women-owned businesses is a common occurrence in many parts of the continent,” Mr. Luke added. 

Gwen Mwaba, Director Trade Finance, Afrexim Bank, concurred with Mr. Luke’s sentiments on the significant contribution of women to economic activities in Africa, in addition to their family responsibilities.

“The success of female entrepreneurs will depend largely on the availability of financial services and products tailored towards their needs,” she said, adding providing an environment for women to mentor other women and girls was crucial. 

Ms. Mwaba noted that women owned-businesses were mainly in the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) sector which in general faces severe constraints to access finance. She said Afreximbank was taking deliberate steps to address this issue through lines of credits provided through commercial banks.

The efforts are complemented by greater collaboration between Afreximbank and other banks such as the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the International Finance Corporation to synergize initiatives that aim to close financial gaps across the developing world.

Ms. Mwaba added that Afreximbank has also started a project to develop a platform for transactions - cross-border payments - in local currencies that will facilitate regional trade and remove pressures that often come from transiting through international currencies for traders.

Ghana’s wealthiest business woman, Patricia Poku-Diaby, CEO of Plot Enterprise, shared with participants her experience as a cocoa processor in trying to access trade finance and how she made it to the top.

Her company specializes in cocoa processing into value-added products such as cocoa liquor and cocoa butter. Ms. Poku-Diaby said limited access to finance was a big issue for businesses across Africa.

For example, her company has worked diligently to obtain ISO 22000 certification, which is a comprehensive and internationally recognized standard for management systems dealing with food safety, yet access to trade finance remains a serious impediment for her businesses.

“It has not been easy. It still is not easy, especially as we operate in a sector that is mainly controlled by multinational corporations which enjoy much lower financing costs in international markets,” she said.

Ms. Poku-Diaby also highlighted the volatile nature of cocoa bean prices as an additional challenge for cocoa processing businesses, especially African ones that have no easy access to commodity price risk management instruments such as forward contracts.

She praised Afreximbank for backing her when most would not.

Tesfai Abeba, Director Women Economic Empowerment and Marketing at Ethiopia’s Enat Bank, shared her bank’s efforts in trying to empower women entrepreneurs in her country. Of Ethiopia’s 137 000 micro small and medium enterprises, 37 000 were owned by women.

Key challenges facing women entrepreneurs in Ethiopia include legal and regulatory barriers, access to finance, gender bias resulting from cultural norms and skills gaps.

“Enat Bank has deployed efforts to address some of these issues. We have created a department fully dedicated to women businesses with products including collateral free loans and services tailored to their needs,” said Ms. Abeba.

The Bank has also provided loans for non-financial services such financial literacy programmes; creation of network for women; and other capacity building activities for women. Women are well represented at levels within the bank structure from top management to clerical positions.

Rini Satriani, Head of Research, Indonesia EximBank, shared the experience of inclusive financing for female entrepreneurs in Indonesia where women represent about half of the country’s total population.

She said there was a declining trend in disparity between women and men in her country with the former increasingly taking leading roles in government and senior managerial positions in the private sector.

But, she noted, the majority of female entrepreneurs in the country were still entrenched in “handmade” businesses largely in the informal sector.

“This makes it very difficult for women entrepreneurs to easily get access to loans from financial institutions,” she said, adding challenges around accessibility to markets and availability of inputs including raw materials remained impediments to women entrepreneurs in Indonesia. 

As potential solutions, Ms. Satriani said governments need to initiate programmes jointly with the private sector to facilitate women’s access to finance. Financial institutions, she said, should develop products and services tailored to women entrepreneurs while building their capacity in various aspects of entrepreneurship.

There was consensus between the panelists and delegates that empowering women remains key for Africa’s prosperity and that addressing the challenges women entrepreneurs face requires, among others, the need to promote mutual support among women through establishment of networks, developing financial products tailored towards women’s needs; building capacity of women in all aspects of entrepreneurships; and providing priority support to businesses employing more women.


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