UK Parliament seminar explores how to unlock the talent of women entrepreneurs

11 September 2014
ITC News

Women’s economic empowerment was the centre of attention at a debate in the United Kingdom’s House of Commons (Parliament) on 10 September, which featured the International Trade Centre’s Executive Director Arancha González as lead speaker.

The debate, which was organized by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Trade out of Poverty and the Saana Institute to celebrate ITC’s 50th anniversary, was chaired by the Rt Hon Peter Lilley, Member of Parliament and Co-Chair of APPG on Trade Out of Poverty, and a Former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

During her speech, Ms. González put a focus on why facilitating women’s participation in production and trade is key to economic development and poverty reduction. She said that if poverty is to be eradicated, there is a need to better understand target groups while pointing to women entrepreneurs as a pool of talent that has yet to be unlocked.

‘Through targeted and inclusive economic actions and policies on small and medium-sized enterprises – and in particular, women-owned businesses – we can turn this around,’ Ms. González said.

She also drew attention to the USD 15 trillion global procurement market.

‘Only 1% of this market is today supplied by women-owned enterprises,’ Ms González said. ‘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. We have an increasing number of governments working with us in this effort: from Samoa in the Pacific, to Uganda in East Africa. We would be delighted to work with UK actors too, to bring about such change.’

Attendees also had the opportunity to hear from one of the women exporters who has benefited from ITC’s support, and has succeeded in scaling up her sales volume.

Mahlet Afework, an Ethiopian designer, explained how she had started out as fashion model before moving into design. She shared her experience in participating in ITC’s Women and Trade programme.

‘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.’

For Ms. Afework, the collaboration with ITC is only the beginning: on 22 September her designs will be featured at the opening of the London-New York Festival.

The seminar highlighted some of the successful initiatives ITC has implemented through its Women and Trade Programme, as well as to examine opportunities to achieve greater impact through increased support to women entrepreneurs.

On 15-17 September, ITC’s Women’s Vendors Forum and Exhibition will take place in Kigali, Rwanda. Learn more about the event here.