She Trades: Golden chance for women entrepreneurs

EMELDA Musonda.

IN ZAMBIA, like many other countries across the globe, a large number of women are involved in entrepreneurship.
However, the majority of them operate micro and small-scale enterprises.
Despite most women-owned and operated businesses being at micro and small-scale level, they have increasingly played an important role in stimulating economic growth and creating new job opportunities.
According to the International Trade Centre (ITC) surveys, 10 million small and medium scale enterprises owned by women account for 80 percent of jobs created by SMEs around the globe.
ITC data further indicates that exporting firms owned by women earn more, employ more people and pay higher wages.
It is, therefore, undebatable that women-owned enterprises have potential to drive economic growth and eradicate poverty if well supported.
Despite the potential, many women-owned enterprises have failed to transition from small or medium to large-scale due to a number of challenges, including lack of access to financial services and capital, lack of access to the market and limited skills and production capacity.
Women also lack confidence to launch out into risky opportunities.
It is, however, heartening that the recently launched She Trade Zambia Chapter, aimed at promoting women participation in economic activities, provides a golden opportunity for Zambian women entrepreneurs to launch out into the international market.
The initiative, which is under the framework of the International Trade Centre (ITC), a joint UN and WTO organisation, targets to connect one million women entrepreneurs to the global market by 2020.
SheTrades Zambia, will work with already existing organisations that focus on empowering women entrepreneurs such as Zambia Federation of Women in Business, New Faces Voices under the Graca Machel Trust and Bank of Zambia.
The initiative will also draw support from the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry and the Zambia Development Agency.
She Trades Zambia, which draws its mandate from the umbrella body – ITC She Trades – will ride on the seven global action plan to empower women through trade by working towards championing quality data, enacting fair policies, securing government contracts, striking business deals, enabling market access, unlocking financial services and granting ownership rights
Together with partners, She Trades will mentor women entrepreneurs and equip them with the requisite skills and market information to facilitate their linkage to viable trade and investment opportunities.
The chapter will also strengthen the productive capacities of women entrepreneurs in the agriculture and textile and clothing industries to produce high quality products that meet the international standard.
While She Trades is not the only initiative implemented so far towards empowering women entrepreneurs, it certainly adds momentum to already existing ones.
The initiative, if well exploited, has potential to turn small and medium scale women entrepreneurs into multinational corporation owners well positioned in the global supply chain.
However, if women are to transition their businesses to multinational corporations, they need to step out of their comfort zones.
This was the message from the First Lady, Esther Lungu, during the launch of She Trades Zambia.
She implored Zambian women entrepreneurs to have a change of mindset and aim high.
Women entrepreneurs should not find comfort in the small and medium enterprise zone.
They should not be content with being confined to the local market but should work towards claiming a share of the global market.
This certainly entails that women must work hard to improve the quality of their products to meet international standards.
To derive maximum benefits from the initiative, women entrepreneurs also need to make bold decisions to venture into risky but high return business ventures.
While there is nothing wrong with starting small, women should not settle for small ventures like reselling tomatoes at the market but should be ambitious to even own farms and produce their own crops and subsequently supply supermarkets at the international level.
Women entrepreneurs should also not be selfish by fighting one another. To ensure maximum impact of the initiative at national level, women need to support one another.
No woman entrepreneur should be left behind in benefitting from this opportunity.
Cross-border traders, who are mostly women, need to come on board and exploit this opportunity to expand their businesses to multinational corporations.
But it all starts with mindset change. Women need to believe that they can do it.
And She Trade is here to give them that push that will launch them into the international market.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.

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