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Lusaka, Monday 13 Aug, 2018:The designing process of the 50 Million African Women Speak (50MWS) Digital Platform for women entrepreneurs has commenced following the kick-off workshop held from 31 July -10 August 2018 at the COMESA Secretariat in Lusaka, Zambia.

Officials from COMESA, East African Community (EAC), Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS), African Development Bank (AfDB), and other stakeholders representing policy makers, women in business and service providers participated in the workshop.

The workshop was facilitated by Izertis Society Limited / P&L Global Joint Venture, a Spain based technology consultancy company which won the bid to develop the software and to design the platform.

The 50MWS is a three-year project funded by the AfDB, jointly implemented by three Regional Economic Communities (RECs) COMESA, EAC and ECOWAS in 38 countries.

The development objective of the project is to contribute to the economic empowerment of women through the provision of a networking platform to enable women to access information on financial and non-financial services. Specifically, the objective of the project is to establish a platform to improve the ability of women entrepreneurs to network and share information and to access financial services.

To achieve these objectives, the project will create a dynamic and networking platform for women entrepreneurs to connect them with one another in ways that will foster peer-to-peer learning, mentoring and the sharing of information and knowledge within communities, and access to trade finance and market opportunities between urban and rural areas, and across borders and between countries.

Addressing the participants during the official opening of the workshop, COMESA Assistant Secretary-General for Programmes, Ambassador Dr. Kipyego Cheluget urged the RECs and stakeholders to be innovative and develop a user-friendly platform that can be easily adopted by women entrepreneurs.

“The aim is to have a platform that is responsive and fit for purpose. We want a digital platform that will make it easier and convenient for women entrepreneurs to navigate and access the relevant information they need to develop and grow their business”, said Ambassador Cheluget.

He added that COMESA was making strides to invigorate her Member States towards the full adoption of digital technologies. The focus is on establishing seamless processes across the COMESA region to enable ease of doing business/trade and to enhance regional integration using information communication technologies (ICTs) as a tool.

Furthermore, he expressed his appreciation that the 50MWS project is being implemented at a time when COMESA is rolling out instruments of Digital Free Trade Area (DFTA) to minimize physical barriers in its Member States. Thus, the digital platform is expected to complement the ongoing efforts on enhancing the regional economic integration agenda.

The Head of the EAC delegation, Ms. Mary Makoffu, Director responsible for Social Sectors noted that the 50MWS initiative is an exciting project and all EAC Partner States are looking forward to the successful implementation in the East African region.

“The project will support current interventions which are providing women entrepreneurs with real time information on cross border market information such as prices of agricultural commodities, currency exchange rates and taxes charged by the revenue authorities. This helps women to make informed choices and save them time and money moving from one market to another searching for the trade commodities”, added Ms. Makoffu.

Ms. Makoffu also informed the meeting that the EAC had already held consultative meetings with all the EAC Partner States, which provided valuable feedback to enrich the platform design process.

Mrs. Salimata Thiam, Principal Programme Officer (PPO) Gender at the ECOWAS Gender Development Centre, representing ECOWAS commended the AfDB for bringing the three RECs together to implement the 50 MWS project.

“In our view as ECOWAS, we envisage this project to enable women entrepreneurs in the three different sub-regions to interconnect, to share their experiences and to have access to useful information which will help them to improve their turnover", said Mrs. Thiam.

The 50MWSDigital Platform is expected to be fully functional at the beginning of 2019. Meanwhile, the three RECS will continue to engage their respectivemember States to introduce the project as well as setting up country teams who will be coordinating the implementation of the project at national level.