By Candice Ungerer, Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA), ITC
In a world where accessing new markets is a key driver to growth, how can women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises be successful in international business?
Across East Africa, women are empowering themselves to create jobs and a sustainable income for their families through entrepreneurship. In Uganda, 34.8% of business owners are women – the highest rate in the world. And in Ethiopia, 26.1% of business owners are women. Nearly half of all micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in Kenya are owned by women. Clearly, women are playing an ever more vital role in the development of these and other East African economies.
To support these women entrepreneurs, the International Trade Centre through Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa, or SITA, is implementing the Mitreeki East Africa – India Partnership. Mitreeki – a combination of the Sanskrit and Swahili words for friendship – is a platform where East African and Indian women come together to share knowledge, experiences and best practices with the objective to foster entrepreneurship among women. Mitreeki is a three-pronged initiative including Communities of Practice, E-Learning and Networking.
This year, SITA teamed up with the Rwandan Ministry of Trade, Industry and East African Community Affairs to hold the Mitreeki East Africa India Partnership networking and workshop as part of the SheTrades Rwanda launch. The event was held on 22-23 March in Kigali, and welcomed over 250 participants from across East Africa, India and around the world. Sessions focused on various topics pertinent to women entrepreneurs and included a discussion on strategies for internationalisation and attracting investment. Representatives from top Indian companies including Farida Group and Tata International, among others, came to offer their expertise, as did highly successful women entrepreneurs from well-known East African companies, including Software Technologies and G-Mart. Finance experts from impact investor VestedWorld and CDC also participated in this session.
So what advice did they have for women entrepreneurs who are considering expanding into new markets and are looking to attract investment? The following Q&A are key highlights from the discussions that took place.
What factors need to be considered before entering a new market?
“What value does your company bring to the market is what matters. Do not go if your company is not relevant. Carefully choose what value is important and start with that. “Look at the supply chain and look for lower cost investment. “Grow with your customers as you internationalise.” Janaki Chaudhry, Tata International
“First, satisfy the clients that you have. Build your brand before you take on too much internationally.” Jesse Umutoni, G-Mart.
“In a digital market, there is no geographical boundary, if you have a good product you can be anywhere in the world. “Go into the market and understand the gaps and how to solve them. Market research is key, find out what are the gaps in that market, and how can you customize your product to adapt it to the market needs.” Jyoti Mukherjee, Software Technologies
How can a small company learn about international markets without investing many resources?
“Use industry and business associations and speak to your country’s missions in those markets you are interested. Development institutions including trade and investment support institutions also have market information. For example, ITC has tools for accessing market information including market access maps and product maps.” Vanessa Erogbogbo, International Trade Centre
What do investors look for when considering a company for investment?
“Investors like VestedWorld focus on the entrepreneur and their ability to build and run a company. The company should have a clear vision on what they want to achieve. “Integrity is a key investment consideration. “Demonstrate ability to scale up and grow.” Euler Bropleh, VestedWorld
“A company should have a sustainable business proposition. One that stands the test of time.” Suleiman Kiggundu, CDC
What opportunities do small companies have to attract funding?
“Approach NGO investors. Also, join networks of entrepreneurs and link with those willing to fund smaller companies. “Make sure all your business transactions are recorded. For example, pay and receive money through ‘mobile money’. Also, comply with regulations and keep tax records. This will all help install trust from potential lenders.” Euler Bropleh, VestedWorld
“You do not need so much capital if you have partners. Identify leaders with whom you can collaborate.” Jyoti Mukherjee, Software Technologies
How can women business owners overcome unfavourable policy environments?
“Do not wait for the government to come to you, bring good ideas to the table. Associate with your sector and lobby the governments together for your interests.” Jyoti Mukherjee, Software Technologies
How can SMEs compete against multinational conglomerates?
“You do not need to be big, you need to be fast. This is where the competitive advantage lies. It is better and more economical to produce close to the market. There is enough market out there, including in East Africa.” Irshad Mecca, Farida Group
By the end of the workshop, a number of commitments from ITC partners were made to take SITA’s Mitreeki initiative forward. These include:
The network of Mitreeki entrepreneurs is open to all women entrepreneurs in India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and join our Facebook page: Mitreeki Community of Practice https://www.facebook.com/groups/154474128410694/ if you would like to be a part of the network.
 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2017