COMESA has begun to engage member States on the implementation of the 50 Million African Women Speak (50MWS) project, a women empowerment project funded by the African Development Bank. COMESA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with EAC and ECOWAS to jointly implement the project in September 2016.
From 7-16 May 2018, COMESA conducted two successful engagements in Ethiopia and Sudan. The meetings were attended and applauded by representatives from the public sector, private sector including women entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations working with women as well as representatives from the chamber of commerce.
The 50 Million Women Speak is a digital platform, built for Africa, which will primarily be accessed through mobile devices to enable African women to start, grow, and scale their business. It is a unique proposition to build a community of women entrepreneurs who will act as peers, mentors, advisors and financier to each other. This social network will allow women to learn from each other and be able to share lessons, as well as conduct business. It will also enable them to access financial services and create business opportunities on-line. The ultimate outcome is to directly impact 50 Million women and create fair waged jobs for young people from the increased business activities, and capital flow.
The platform presents major innovation opportunities which contributes to women empowerment with special focus on African Women start-ups, new and established business operators to develop new business models, products and services. But to achieve this, efforts must be directed at addressing some of the challenges on the ground. Often most women owned businesses are too small to qualify for financial assistance from the government or loans from bank or they are unaware that these resources exist.
COMESA Team highlighted that women in business continue to face gender-specific barriers such as: lower levels of education and business training; legal barriers that impede their economic activities and cultural barriers that discourage women from thriving as entrepreneurs as well as limited access to financial and non-financial. With the help of Information Communication Technology, some of these challenges can be alleviated hence the establishment of 50 Million African Women Speak Project. The Team also emphasized that Country Teams need to work closely with COMESA during the process of content gathering to ensure the platform has relevant and up-to-date information.
Participants from Ethiopia and Sudan expressed optimism on the potential success of the project and how it could modernize their way of doing business as entrepreneurs. Ms. Rahel Moges, Managing Director for EthioGreen Production & Industry PLC, an entrepreneur in Ethiopia, could not hide her joy and optimism upon learning the functionalities of the platform.
“I am truly excited about this project because it is coming at the right time, it has been my wish to connect with potential buyers of my Agro-processing produce in other countries such as Zambia, Rwanda, Ghana and Sudan. I am optimistic that that this platform will indeed fulfil my dream. I cannot wait for the portal to be completed”, said Rahel Moges.
In Sudan, Engineer Widad Yagoub Ibrahim, CEO of Bee Group since 1985 commended COMESA and the African Development bank for coming up with a responsive project which she said will go a long way in transforming the business of entrepreneurs through providing easy access to information and capacity building in different areas including preparing bankable business plans.
Meanwhile, COMESA continues to engage member States to introduce the project and targets to have covered all member States by end of September.