Yesterday TOP hosted a seminar in conjunction with the Saana Institute as part of the celebrations to mark the 50th Anniversary of the International Trade Centre (ITC) with a keynote presentation from the ITC’s Executive Director, Arancha Gonzalez.
Speaking of the links between trade and development, Arancha emphasized that it is not a question of if the linkages exist, but how it can have the greatest benefit on the ground. She particularly focused on why facilitating women’s participation in productive activities and trade can play a pivotal role in terms of female empowerment and household poverty reduction.
She said that if poverty is to be eradicated, there is a need to better understand the unlocked potential of small and medium-sized enterprises, and in particular, women-owned SMEs. Sharing knowledge of markets, increasing access to finance, providing support to meet standards and improve value-addition are all key parts of this process and through targeted economic policies we can turn this around.
The reality is that the potential for women-owned business is huge – 40% of SMEs in developing countries are owned by women and research shows that women invest up to 90% of their earnings into their families and communities – compared to 40% for men. It is obvious that money in the hands of women yields a development dividend.
Arancha also drew attention to the fact that only 1% of the $15 trillion global procurement market is currently supplied by women-owned enterprises. There is a huge, untapped potential here that must exploited.
‘Government procurement affords governments the avenue to be the change that they want to see,’ she said. ‘That is to structure procurement to enable entry points from SMEs, in particular those owned by women.’
The seminar highlighted some of the successful initiatives ITC has implemented through its innovative Women and Trade Programme, which has increased demand for goods and services supplied by women by matching international businesses with female entrepreneurs and building women’s capacity to meet buyer’s requirements.
We had the opportunity to hear from one of the women exporters who has benefited from ITC’s support. Mahlet Afework, an Ethiopian fashion designer, shared her experiences with us:
‘Since I started working with ITC, I have had the opportunity to participate in workshops at the London College of Fashion and the Parsons The New School for Design in New York,’ she said. ‘Working with ITC and the designers and students at the two schools has been overwhelming and very inspiring. It has been a life-changing experience.’
Read Arancha’s speech in full here