By Jossy Muhangi - (Economic Policy Research Centre)
As a precursor to the 2020 International Women's celebrations in Mbale on Sunday, the East African Community Secretariat will gift Uganda with a launch of a digital networking platform aimed at linking businesswomen in 38 African countries to access useful information on financial and non-financial services.
The platform dubbed "50 Million African Women Speak Networking Platform (50MAWS)" is an initiative funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and implemented by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The launch will be during the meeting for National Council of Women conference in Mbale.
The platform using English, French and Arabic languages, initially targets women entrepreneurs in Africa, who often struggle to access information on financial and non-financial services, and who also are less likely to have established business networks or mentors that can offer them much-needed advice and guidance on how to grow their businesses.
A Project Implementation Unit (PIU) at COMESA and sub-PIUs at EAC and ECOWAS have been set up and are operational. According to DAC Network on Gender Equality (Gender Net) empowering women economically is a prerequisite for sustainable development and pro-poor growth.
It increases women's access to resources and opportunities including jobs, financial services, property and other productive assets, skills development and market information.
The project coordinator at EAC, Mr. Wilson Muyenzi explains that the platform will improve the ability of women entrepreneurs to network and share information access financial services, markets, land for business, legal and capacity building services as well as peer to peer learning.
It is a web and mobile-based application expected to directly impact 50 million African women and create decent jobs for youths from the increased business activities and capital flow.
"Through this online platform, women in 38 African countries will be linked together to find information on how to run business, accessing financial services, create business opportunities online and access training resources, thereby empowering them economically and socially, "he states.
Mr. Achel Bayisenge the content manager reveals that the platform which has been developed over two years has two sections; a resources area with information that business women need, such as business registration processes, legal aid, financial services, among others.
The other is a networking area for women entrepreneurs to connect with, learn from and do business with each other.
Subscribers will be able to have one-on-one interactions, create their own posts and market their products, and they can create topics for discussion on areas of interest. The platform can be accessed on its website: www.womenconnect.org.
For the last two years, EAC Secretariat has been engaging different stakeholders to make sure that the platform is populated with rich information including but not limited to information on instruments signed by the partner States and their relevance when it comes to advocacy; organizations which provide access to affordable finance to women entrepreneurs at concessionary rates; financial literacy and its relevance; training and coaching on critical aspects of capacity building; mentorship and how it helps women entrepreneurs as well as potential local mentors ready to nurture women entrepreneurs and how they can be accessed (individuals and organizations preferably doing it for free) just to name a few.
This information was collected from service providers from the public and private sectors, including women association's networks. The Platform development has been completed and the Platform was officially launched at Global level on the 26th of November 2019, in Kigali at the Global Gender Summit organized by The African Development Bank.
The innovation is timely for Ugandan women in business who have been credited for being the third most entrepreneurial in the world after Ghana and Russia, according to the 2018 MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurship carried out in 57 countries.
In spite of this cosmetic ranking indicating that 33.8% of businesses in Uganda belong to women, they (women) face immense hurdles in access to finance, market information, big tenders and contracts on top of time constraints.
Mrs. Mary Makoffu, the EAC Director of Social Sectors, explains that the platform has other relevant stakeholders who make sure that the use of ICT in enabling women to get financial literacy, digital literacy, management training and sharing information is made possible.
"At the national level, we are working with the Government ministries responsible for gender, the youth, ICT, trade, and finance", says the director.
The EAC Deputy Secretary-General in charge of Productive and Social Sectors, Christophe Bazivamo, is equally optimistic of the positive impact the platform will have on inclusive growth observing that the "The platform will be a community of mentors, advisors, and role models, who will help inspire many other women on the continent and beyond.
The platform will help reduce the burden that our women carry, when they have to do unpaid work in the homesteads, and conduct business at the same time."
The targets for the project include increasing the income of the business entrepreneur platform users to at least US $ 100,000 a year; increase number of jobs created by women entrepreneur platform users by 10% including youths, 20 % increase in usage of financial services by platform users and a 10% increase in access to loans by 2022.
In Uganda, only a handful of commercial institutions like Centenary Bank through CenteSupa woman accounts, DFCU's Women in Business Program, and Post Bank's Women Microfinance Initiative endeavor to offer gender-friendly packages thereby contributing to financial inclusion.
These supplement government initiatives like Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme, the Youth Livelihood Programme plus the Presidential Initiative on skilling the girl child.