The International Trade Centre (ITC) has committed to helping the South African government take women’s entrepreneurship development to the next level. At the recent official launch of the SheTradesZA hub, ITC executive director Pamela Coke-Hamilton said the hub was backed by the government, so it could bring about change faster than any other entity because it had access to key decision makers.
The SheTradesZA Hub is a platform that supports South African women entrepreneurs to access new markets, and networks and grow their businesses. Coke-Hamilton said that the platform operated in 45 other countries. The ITC is a joint agency of the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations. It specialises in the internationalisation of micro, small and medium enterprises in developing countries.
“We start by working with MSMEs on the ground, and then move up to support trade promotion organisations, policymakers and international agencies flying the flag of small businesses,” she said. Coke-Hamilton told the launch there could not be the talk of being inclusive in enterprise development, without focusing on small businesses. “Ninety percent or more than half of the employment provided by businesses globally are MSMEs, but women entrepreneurs run less than one-third of all small businesses,” she said.
“The case, therefore, for supporting women entrepreneurship in Africa couldn’t be any stronger and more urgent. “This is why the ITC established the SheTrades initiative in 2015, to make sure that the right capacities and conditions are present to foster inclusive and sustainable trade by removing inequalities and creating a better trade ecosystem for everyone.” The ITC has implemented projects in over 30 countries since the launch of SheTrades and operates across the continent.
“We want to ensure that African women will be well-equipped to take advantage of the opportunities opened by the African Continental Free Trade Area, and SheTrades hubs are key to achieving this vision,” she said. On the benefits of the hubs, Coke-Hamilton said there were many. “The first is that SheTrade hubs are platforms run by host institutions in their respective countries, and apart from women entrepreneurs themselves, no one understands the needs and challenges of these entrepreneurs better than the institutions on the ground,” she said.
She also touched on two programmes spearheaded by the Department of Small Business Development and the Small Enterprise Development Agency. In November 2020, SheTradesZa Hub, in partnership with ITC, SEDA and the DSBD co-hosted nine digital provincial roadshows across South Africa to mobilise women entrepreneurs to join SheTrades. “As a result, the number of South African women entrepreneurs increased from 425 at the beginning of November to 738 by the end of the month, and today we have 2600 women registered,” Coke-Hamilton said.
There is also the SheTrades Accelerator Programme, which is focused on the textile and apparel sector, and the Empowering African Women Through E-Commerce project. Both projects are funded by the German Development Agency.