Kigali, Rwanda — Let's say you're an African woman with a fabulous idea, and you build a creative small business around it. You and your associates are euphoric - but then you hit a wall.
How do you market your products and find buyers, when the existing system favors traditional suppliers? The International Trade Centre's Vanessa Erogbogbo has some ideas.
"If we just focus on building supply-side capacity, what happens is that we have the most amazing products with the most amazing services, but no markets to sell them," she said, after arriving in Rwanda for a women vendors' exhibition alongside the World Export Development Forum. "So we work on the demand side with buyers, and that includes interacting with the private sector, as well as governments, to really understand what they're looking for."
Then, Erogbogbo said, her team can work backwards to help women-owned companies compete - which can be a challenging process that has little to do with the quality of the product or service, although high standards are essential. Entrepreneurs who succeed must understand all the elements relevant to their business, including packaging, design, marketing and sales - which might require expertise in trade and export regulations.
This week's events in Rwanda's capital incorporate business to businesses networking that may be a bit like 'speed dating' between vendors and purchasers. Erogbogbo, who is ITC's Women and Trade Programme Manager, said it is one of the Centre's flagship programmes, because women's empowerment is a priority for the Institution.
The programme was launched four years ago after a previous World Economic Development Forum convened multinationals, trade support institutions, governments and women's associations to explore how women participate in trade. The initiative is in the second phase of a six-year plan, with committed funding of U.S.$15 million.
Donors include the United Kingdom's Department for International Development and Australia's department of foreign affairs and trade, with contributions from Norway and the ITC's own trust fund.
The programme focuses on Africa and the Pacific but works globally with private sector and women-owned companies, plus agencies that can supply technical support and transfers of skills, knowledge and technology. "Our work with trade commissions and trade-support institutions is absolutely critical to what it is that we're trying to do, because these organisations are on the ground, they know their clients, they know the situation," said Erogbogbo. "They're such a critical link with the suppliers."
The ITC's approach is not charity for women, insists Tess Mateo, CEO of CXCatalysts, who has brought global private sector experience to the forum. "You can accelerate development," she said, "when you source from women-owned businesses."
Mateo says women are more likely to forgo short-term profits to re-invest in the business, and men and women entrepreneurs typically follow a different pattern of expansion. "A man will move into the next city, the next state, the next country, the next continent," she said, "whereas women will hire more people to help with manufacturing." So women create local jobs quickly.
The ITC, established 50 years ago, is a unique international institution sitting between the World Trade Organization, which regulates international trade, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which views trade through a development lens. Among ITC's achievements is a Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women Vendors, which pledges participants to increase procurement from women-owned enterprises.
Signatories to the Global Platform commit to:
1. Create shared value by sourcing from women vendors who offer competitive products and services;
2. Promote the benefits of sourcing from women vendors, and educating multinational corporations on the business case and return on investment;
3. Share knowledge on policies and practices to increase sourcing from women vendors;
4. Support, initiate or improve efforts to integrate women vendors into value chains;
5. Report to the Platform for Action Steering Committee on activities and impact via an annual survey.
Since the platform's adoption in 2010 , policymakers, international organizations, buyers, trade support institutions, women's business associations and women business enterprises from 48 countries - including 39 least developed countries - have participated in the platform's activities, with participants receiving training and market linkage opportunities.