27/07/2011

Growing Women's Entrepreneurial Networks in Africa


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At the beginning of the year I worked with intermediary organizations for women entrepreneurs in three African countries: Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. The organizations were set up to provide services, opportunities, networks and knowledge that will contribute to women entrepreneurs having successful businesses. The goal of my small project was to equip the intermediary organizations with the knowledge and skills they need to reinforce the capacity of women entrepreneurs to operate on export markets. I asked a successful woman entrepreneur in the Netherlands what were the most important skills to have if you want to operate on the export market. The answer was simple: you have to have a good network. Know the people who handle your product, know the people who ship, know the people who import your product, know the government officials that are dealing with exports, make sure the people you work with know the rules and regulations relating to importing in their country.  It became clear what my offering would be: to teach people to utilize networks. 

The first part of the project was a big knowledge-sharing event. We had 5 women from Ethiopia and 5 from Tanzania join the Ugandan project partners in Kampala. During the three days, the Ugandan intermediary organization brought together bankers, export civil servants, university researchers, consultants and women entrepreneurs to share their knowledge with the group. We took a road trip and visited women entrepreneurs that are exporting flowers, baskets, coffee and other products, and heard from them what works and what doesn’t work. Each had a different piece of the knowledge pie, and the end result was a banquet of knowledge that we all shared.

The next part of the project was a network training: training women to recognize who is in their network, then utilizing not only their own networks but also those of their colleagues.  The women learned from each other important business principles, like competitors can be people you partner with for bigger jobs.  They learned they could negotiate on terms where negotiation previously seemed impossible. 

The final part of the project was a trade mission. The women were invited by a business in the UK to visit and discover how intermediary organizations in the UK operate. They also met potential business partners and learned about the rules and regulations governing business in the UK that extends to imports.

All of this information, knowledge and experience has led to the intermediary organizations acquiring unique knowledge that has increased their value to their members and expanded their capacity to be successful in what they do.

The three intermediary organizations in this project continue to work together, building unique knowledge and using that for the benefit of their members. Check out the project blog, find partners for international trade projects and see some brief videos relating to this project.

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