We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back: Why gender equality is part of the route to development | Natasha Porter

Challenges Worldwide ICS is a Department for International Development (DFID) funded volunteer programme, providing consultancy support to small businesses to deliver sustainable development impact in Zambia, Ghana and Uganda.  One of their core objectives is supporting female entrepreneurs to build their businesses and in turn unlock economic growth.

The potential of woman entrepreneurs remains largely untapped in many developing economies. In 2000 the United Nations created the Millennium Declaration which set out eight goals as a blueprint for progress. One of these was the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE).  This is seen as an effective means to combat poverty, hunger and disease, as well as to stimulate development that is truly sustainable.

The World Bank recently reported that globally, women make up 50 percent of the global population, 40 percent of the global workforce, yet only own about 1 percent of the world’s wealth. How in 2016 can woman only makeup 1% of the worlds wealth? Given the opportunity, women invest the majority of their income into their families and communities, but unfortunately, most women experience unnecessary barriers that limit their ability to fully participate in the economy.

Within African, the status of women has been significant gains over the past decade. However there are still imbalances in power relations between men and women. Most women have continued to hold second place to men in significant aspects of political, social and economic life and therefore continue to be marginalised in society.

Within Zambia, many women still face barriers to education and only 38% of girls are educated beyond primary school. However, African woman are known for their hardworking, resilient and entrepreneurial spirit. Small businesses ran by woman are increasing and now 33% of  businesses in Africa are female owned. On every street corner of Lusaka there are woman selling fruit and vegetables, chitenges and small stores. These market stalls are crucial to the Zambian economy as well as the way of life of locals. For the Zambian economy to continue to grow and develop, we need to focus on supporting SMEs and particularly female owned SMEs to grow and develop.

Through volunteering with Challenges Worldwide, I have been working with a number of female owned enterprises in Lusaka, Zambia, to support their business development.  I managed a team of 38 UK and Zambian Junior Business associates that work collaboratively with SMEs to gather information, conduct analyses and implement recommendations to help improve the efficiency of the businesses and move them towards investment readiness. This support helps provide entrepreneurs with the tools and support that can help them succeed in business. Strong female owned SMEs results in higher incomes, job creation and a stronger voice for women in their communities.

On top of this, we also provide training, learning and development and mentoring to our in country volunteers. These women are the next generation of African entrepreneurs. Our volunteers are highly intelligent, driven, motivated graduates who want to work in business.

Women are the backbone of African economies and we need to continue to invest in them to support business creation. By providing female entrepreneurs with the tools, resources and training Challenges Worldwide are supporting the next generation of leaders.  Gender equality needs to happen if developing countries are to progress.


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