Empowering Women through Business

By Patience Marime-Ball, International Finance Corporation

Empowering Women through Business

How does any institution, private or public, achieve scale when targeting an emerging area of business interest such as supporting women entrepreneurs? This was the key question during the conversation I participated in, hosted by Coca-Cola and Business Fights Poverty, on the margins of the Africa World Economic Forum in Cape Town last month.

The panel focused on how the public and private sector can enhance access to skills and finance for the women’s market. Susan Mboya, Coca-Cola’s Group Director Eurasia Africa Women’s Economic Empowerment emphasized the importance of grounding any corporate efforts to support the women’s market in the business and profit motive of the corporation.

Nomvula Makgotlho, Chief Director, Gender & Women Empowerment from the South African Department of Trade and Industry highlighted the need for the public sector to create enabling environments as well as to encourage the broad realization that the women’s market extends beyond the micro and small business landscape to medium and large enterprises.

From the IFC perspective, I discussed the importance of the financial sector in recognizing the need to support the growth of women-owned enterprises with capital. I indicated that the importance of connecting the different players along the value chain of interventions was critical. This is because enabled environments, access to markets provided by corporations like Coca-Cola and access to capital provided by financial institutions can scale women entrepreneurs’ participation in economic development.

Susan drove home the point that Coca-Cola’s interest in the women’s market is firmly grounded in Coca-Cola’s business needs. Through a study done a few years ago with Harvard University and IFC, Coca-Cola realized that there were significant numbers of women entrepreneurs operating as either suppliers (small holder fruit growers) or distributors in its value chain. Susan indicated that it is clearly in Coca-Cola’s interest to understand how it can strengthen its entire value chain but also be targeted in addressing the needs of the different segments within. This includes women entrepreneurs in its value chain who had specific and different needs hence the development of Coca-Cola’s 5by20 initiative, launched in 2010.

Through work done within 5by20, today Coca-Cola understands the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in its value chain and it is systematically creating internal programs and partnerships to address these needs. She gave the example of how women entrepreneurs in Coca-Cola’s value chain have indicated that access to capital was a significant challenge. Given that Coca-Cola is not a financial institution, it is important that Coca-Cola create partnerships with financial institutions, as they did recently with IFC and our Banking on Women program. Our partnership is focused on enabling greater access to finance for women entrepreneurs in Coca-Cola’s value chain.

I discussed how IFC’s relationship with 900 financial institutions around the world formed an extended set of opportunity for access to finance for women entrepreneurs in Coca-Cola’s value chain. For these financial institutions the question of how to serve the women’s market in a more targeted manner starts with how they can access the pipeline of women entrepreneurs. The partnership between IFC and Cola Cola’s 5by20 brings to some of these financial institutionsfinancial institutions a pipeline that has operational and financial track record as well as a market relationship with one of the world’s largest corporations. In essence the IFC-Coca-Cola partnership extends to these financial institutions as they too become partners in serving the women entrepreneurs in Coca-Cola’s value chain.

One of the key points made by co-panelist Nomvula was the role of government as a convener, enabler and champion for greater inclusion in order to have sustainable economic growth. Nomvula made it clear that governments are well served when there are more partnerships such as the one between Coca-Cola and IFC.

All three panelists agreed that individually our respective institutions would at best be opportunistic in our interventions to broaden inclusion and access for the women’s market. In order to achieve scale there needs to be more partnerships along shared values, anchored in ambitious targets with well developed tools for measuring both the business and development results.”

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2 Responses

  1. I commend Coca-Cola for setting up this program but i will recommend that they should also work women NGOs to actually reach the women that actually need this and set-up an independent body for evaluation of its implementation.

  2. Patience,  I am always pleased to hear about more financial access available to women-owned SME’s.  I am wondering about access to skill development.  At Collective Changes, we believe that women will have greater access to finances if they can show they have the business skills to use their financial resources in ways that grow their businesses.  We are looking for partners to help us leverage new technology to mentor 1,000,000 women by 2020 giving them solid business skills.  Any ideas?

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