By Christine Onwuachumba
At the annual general meeting and conference of Africa Women Entrepreneurship Programme (AWEP), women professionals in business expressed their readiness to improve the quality of their products to meet standards and specifications of the international market.
The AWEP 2017 conference titled, Women Entrepreneurs, Creating Sustainable Business, Economies and Societies, held Alausa, Lagos on November 15 was attended by women entrepreneurs from all walks of life.
They congregated for a two-day event that included panel discussions, pitching and election of new executives. Also in attendance were representatives from government agencies such as Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIRO) and the American embassy, a major backer of AWEP.
In his speech, Dr Friday Okpara, SMEDANs director of Strategic Partnership and Liaison avowed that the major challenge facing womens business is access to finance. “I challenge AWEP in this regard referencing Indias Self Employed Womens Association, SEWA who have their own bank, SEWA Bank,” he said.
He challenged members of AWEP further: I think Nigeria should move to ensure we earn more from exporting manufactured goods. AWEP should position Nigeria to benefit from the AGOA exchange.
Nigeria’s former ambassador to Zambia and Malawi, Folake Marcus-Bello spoke about the bane of Nigerian products being poor finishing. Until we decide individually to excel, we cannot move. Packaging matters. We are underrating ourselves by not reaching out to know what it takes to sell at Harrods and Selfridge. And what killed AGOA in Africa is that our products are too expensive, she articulated.
The days first panel session on Agric Value Chain” had such resourceful panelist Lawal Olajide, Managing Director, Grow Crops Online, and Opeoluwa Fayomi, Managing Director, Plethora Farms, amongst others.
The meeting also featured the unveiling of the winners of a pitch competition, with Clarks World LLC, maker of body balm and baby powder, clinching the first position ahead of two others.
Hilda Adelanke Aderoba, a Tennessee, United States-based member attending the AGM for the first time, extolled the virtues of AWEP thus: It has enriched me. It has lifted the entrepreneur part of my life. I have met a bunch of people, new friends, with whom I formed a conglomerate, nine of us, all AWEP members. This is what I have gained in AWEP.”
Aderoba, a Community Health Services worker in the states was the chief consultant for the ANGGP project. AWEP Nigeria Green Gold Project, (ANGGP) is an American embassy-sponsored initiative to create a database of women entrepreneurs in northern Nigeria.
Aderoba expatiated further: We have documented 130, 000 women in the north, their business, their names, every necessary detail and now we have a database. That is the phase one of the project. In Phase Two, we are going to empower them.”
Ora Ataguba, AWEPs Vice President, Southwest, in 2017, and the Project Director of ANGGP, expressed satisfaction at the gains made by AWEP in the last 12 months.
She articulated: AWEP is a platform for the women to excel in their businesses as entrepreneurs and so, we have made sure we have taken the opportunities that have been there for us this year. The numbers of women who have their certifications have increased. The numbers of women who have gone into the incubation centres have increased. The numbers of women who have their NAFDAC registration, who have done better packaging, have increased. We have reached a point where we are about to enter into the international market. There are some women who are already in stores abroad. As we continue to work on our products, more women are ready to make that shift. The banks are now ready to partner with us because the time has come for us to access this funding to actually start doing this export.”
She opined that 2017 has been fantastic for AWEP.
“We have created new clusters and we are encouraging women to work. The fashion clusters were sponsored by the Nigerian Export Promotion Council to Mauritius on international B2B. The US embassy supported us and the women went to Lome for AGOA. It was awesome, she said.
AWEP, set up by Hillary Clinton for women in sub-Saharan Africa, is backed by a lot of international community.
When there is any opportunity in the US or anywhere abroad, they let us know, Ataguba said. We work with government agencies such as RMRDA, SMEDAN, NEPC, FIRO.
While acknowledging AWEPs growth and expansion, and we can only move to the next level, she outlined the benefits available to members. AWEP is a platform which provides for the women access to funding, registration, networking, partnership with the relevant organisations, she said.
Angela Ajala, National Deputy President of AWEP in 2017, outlined AWEPs priority agenda for the next one year one.
We want to make sure that every business within AWEP has structure and governance. In doing that we want our businesses to be investment-friendly,” she said.