EAC, COMESA, ECOWAS Launch Platform to Link African Women Entrepreneurs

The launch of the 50 Million African Women Speak Networking Platform to provide African women entrepreneurs with access to information on financial and non-financial services will be vital for the realisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

This was said by the Deputy Secretary General of the East African Community (EAC) in charge of Productive and Social Sectors Christophe Bazivamo at the launch of the digital platform –a result of a collaboration between the EAC, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS).

“This platform will contribute to the economic empowerment of African women through the provision of a digital networking platform to access information, to help them start or grow their businesses while connecting them to one another in ways that will encourage peer-to-peer learning,” Bazivamo said.

He noted that the platform will also promote mentorship and information sharing between communities, ensure access to trade, finance and market opportunities between urban and rural areas and across borders in line with what the AfCFTA is coming to do.

“This is a very unique platform which promises to bridge the information gap that many our women face when aspiring to start or grow their businesses,”

“It will be a one stop source of information on financial services but also non-financial services necessary for excelling in business,” Bazivamo added.

The EAC Deputy SG pointed out that in the digital age, those with access to information are at a greater advantage than those that don’t, emphasising that the digital platform will go a long way in linking businesswomen on the continent.

“When women network and talk to each other, they quickly find solutions to the challenges they face and they seize the opportunities brought about by the larger markets,” he said.

The project which was launched during the Global Gender Summit is being implemented in 38 countries under COMESA, ECOWAS and EAC Regional Economic Communities (RECs).

The Director Gender and Social Affairs at COMESA Beatrice Simwapenga Hamusonde said that the platform which is supported by the African Development Bank (AfDB), will go beyond connecting women entrepreneurs and help them address social issues that affect them and their businesses.

She urged governments and policymakers to ensure access to internet especially in rural areas and at the same time build capacity for women by equipping them with digital skills to take advantage of the platform.

“For the policymakers, let us make internet connectivity available even in rural areas where women are not able to access internet. We also need to make sure that internet services are affordable and quick,” Hamusonde said, adding that the platform is user friend and has easy to understand content.

On behalf of AfDB, Vanessa Moungar, the Director of Gender, Women and Civil Society at the continental bank, the 50 Million African Women Speak platform is in line with the launch of the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA).

AFAWA seeks to mobilise $3 billion of new lending by banks and financial institutions for women in Africa — the largest such effort in history for the continent. Moungar said that the two facilities will combine efforts towards financially empowering women on the continent.

She pointed out that while AFAWA will focus on access to finance and capacity building, the digital platform will create an enabling environment where women will have a one-stop access to financial and non-financial related information.

“It is a critical platform where women will be sharing information on investment and be able to connect within the banking chain, to do business together, mentor each other, support and promote each other,” Moungar said, adding that the project which has been several years in the making is a major milestone for the continent.

Closing the gaps

The 50 Million African Women Speak Platform is also expected to enable women entrepreneurs to develop market intelligence skills to stay abreast with business development trends within their contexts, regionally and globally to ensure sustainability of their businesses.

The two initiatives are expected to boost financing for women businesses and ease access to finance. According to the AfDB President, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, studies have showed that women are the best investments any society can make because when they earn, they spend 90% of their income on their households, including their husbands.

“Women pay back their loans — an overwhelming 90%. Smart banks will lend to women. Yet, there exists globally close to $1.5 trillion financing gap for women-led small and medium sized enterprises,”

“In Africa, 70% of women are excluded financially. The continent has a $42 billion financing gap between men and women. And women, who are the majority of farmers in Africa, face financing gap of close to $16 billion,” Dr Adesina said.

During the G7 Summit, French President Emmanuel Macron supported efforts to mobilise over $251 million that will go towards the initiative.