Technical Lead of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Development programme of the International Labour Organisation (ILO-WED), Charleine Mbuyi-Lusamba, says their aim in the WED team is to help women ‘add value’ to businesses they may already own in essential and female-dominated sectors.
The WED team is also to encourage women enter more lucrative sectors, often growth-oriented and male-dominated, pointing out, ‘’we have developed a five-point business upgrading model to help make this happen:
Identify and assess the best sectors where women can establish and grow their businesses. This includes sectors where women already have a significant presence, and those that are traditionally male-dominated, which women can be encouraged to enter.
Deliver tailored business support, including entrepreneurship trainings, business continuity management, and soft skills training that cater for women’s and men’s needs. By working with local business support organisations, we ensure that these services sustain and remain available even after projects have ended.
Help businesswomen access markets by working with government and the private sector to promote hiring and purchasing policies that benefit and include women-owned and led enterprises; and by helping women entrepreneurs succeed in bidding processes, equipping them with market information, and supporting them to meet standards and requirements.
Make finance easier to access by connecting women entrepreneurs with different financing options, including conventional financial institutions, as well as less conventional financing mechanisms, such as impact investors.
Strengthen women entrepreneurs’ voice and representation by building peer-to-peer support networks, and facilitating their participation in key associations and platforms. Through soft-skills development and strengthened networks, the aim is also to empower and encourage women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and enter and succeed in male-dominated sectors.
WED is working to empower budding and existing women entrepreneurs who want to start, run and grow their business and to create conducive conditions for inclusive, resilient and sustainable economies.
It does so by addressing gendered imbalances in enterprise development in order to scale women entrepreneurs’ contributions to growth and sustainable development and to enable their meaningful participation in entrepreneurship ecosystems.
ILO-WED uses a human-centred, systemic and integrated approach based on the WED Strategy and built around a set of tested tools to implement targeted actions to empower women, entrepreneurs, helping them to secure a decent job for themselves and for others and to overcome barriers to developing productive and sustainable businesses.
Mbuyi-Lusamba says anyone who walks through any town or village in her home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, will see a multitude of hairdressing businesses, most of them run by women.
‘’They are mainly plaiting, cutting and styling but this is not where the real money is made. Their businesses remain on a plateau, never really moving forward.
‘’Then you find small factories producing the hair products used by these women entrepreneurs. In most cases, the factories are owned and run by men, who have found a way to tap into more lucrative segments of the chain.
‘’You see this business gender divide in many parts of the world, where women are stuck in the lower ends of the value chain or where they are concentrated in traditionally female, low income sectors.
‘’Take Somalia for instance, in my role as lead technical officer of the ILO’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Development (WED) team, I have spent time with Somali business women, who are working in the dairy chain. They may own one or two cows and sell the milk in the market or on the streets of the capital Mogadishu.
‘’Most do not think of moving into other more profitable businesses, partly because milk production is often handed down in the family and is seen as a woman’s traditional role’’, she said.
Continuing, she said she has also met entrepreneurs working in Somalia’s more profitable renewable energy sector, which is dominated by men, most of whom would not consider working in the dairy sector because it’s seen as ‘women’s work’.
Adding, she said on November 19, ‘’we celebrated Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, recognising the achievements of the hundreds of thousands of women business owners in the world. It was also a time to highlight the issues facing them and the ways they can cross the business gender divide.’’