Why leverage South-South Cooperation to support women entrepreneurs: how does SITA’s strengthening of women-led businesses contribute to Sustainable Development?

SITA creates a manual on contract preparation and execution, to support agribusinesses diversifying into exportable crops
November 19, 2021
SITA publishes a technical report on strategies to improve the germplasm status of oilseeds in East Africa
November 24, 2021

Image credit goes to Yolanda Odida, Founder and CEO of Pure Purple: instagram.com/purepurple_ke/?hl=en-gb

  • Women’s empowerment contributes to positive and sustainable social outcomes – and makes economic sense too. 
  • Supporting women as entrepreneurs is one of the key pathways to women’s empowerment. There are three main reasons why SITA makes women’s entrepreneurship a priority: to harnesses all the potential of women’s talent for maximum economic growth; to directly empower women entrepreneurs themselves; and to create decent work opportunities for other women. 
  • SITA promotes women’s entrepreneurship through its gender-focussed Mitreeki programme: through Mitreeki, SITA provides industry-specific training and wrap-around coaching, concentrating on sectors with potential to grow, where women have a competitive edge and where women want to work. SITA’s Mitreeki programme also facilitates peer-to-peer networks, so women can support each other during and after the programme. 

East Africa is following a similar Development trajectory to India. Having faced similar challenges 20-30 years ago as East Africa faces today, India represents a wealth of appropriate knowledge and technologies that are gold dust for East African businesses and Development initiatives. SITA leverages the potential of South-South Cooperation between the two regions in order to boost the competitiveness of key sectors in East Africa, and therefore support the region’s growth. In particular, SITA supports women entrepreneurs and prioritises sectors that can create high levels of skilled decent work for women. This blog post addresses why: how does supporting women-led businesses contribute to Sustainable Development? 

First and foremost, supporting women as entrepreneurs contributes to Sustainable Development by helping to achieve women’s economic empowerment. Women’s empowerment is central to realizing women’s rights and gender equality. But economic empowerment of women is more than a moral imperative that we owe to women of the world, women’s empowerment also contributes to positive and sustainable social outcomes – so makes economic sense too. For example, there is evidence of strong positive links between women’s economic empowerment and foundational health outcomes for women and their families, including beneficial effects on nutrition and wellbeing. A growing body of evidence indicates that increasing the share of household income controlled by women produces other benefits as well, including greater investment in children’s education, family planning, and reductions in gender-based violence. 

As well as being a key pathway to women’s empowerment, supporting women entrepreneurs also contributes directly to sustainable economic growth.

Women’s entrepreneurship contributes to these positive development outcomes in three main ways, and these are the three main reasons why SITA makes women’s entrepreneurship a priority:

  1. To harnesses all the potential of women’s talent for maximum economic growth. Flourishing businesses generate economic growth. Since women make up around 50% of any population, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that their contributions to economic growth can lead to a big leap in GDP: broadly speaking, by bringing different skills, approaches and management styles to the table, women in business contributes to productivity and therefore competitiveness. Furthermore, women tend to make excellent business leaders: companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all dimensions of organizational performance. One of the reasons women-led businesses out-perform those led by men is because women build their long-term resilience. Given that lack of resilience forces countries to focus on short-term requirements at the expense of investing in longer-term sustainability, a shift towards women-led growth is better suited to helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In addition, women are often in a better position to tap into some of the most significant, fast-growing markets: women’s greater purchasing power in developed markets has led to the growth of new market segments, e.g., Nutrition, Beauty, Fashion, which represent opportunities for East African businesses.  
  1. To directly empower women entrepreneurs themselves. Across the world and particularly in East Africa, women bear disproportionate responsibility for the unpaid care of children and the elderly, and of domestic work. Though unpaid, this care work is essential to the functioning of economies. Yet in most countries, women’s duties outside of work are a barrier to their employment. For women who have children and experience cultural expectations to be the primary caregiver, running their own business can be a more suitable path to economic empowerment compared to traditional employment, because it fits in better around their family life. The economic empowerment that comes with running a successful, resilient business directly contributes to good health and wellbeing of women themselves. What’s more, by getting more women in business, rather than just employment, we can also change perceptions about what leadership looks like for the next generation. 
  1. To create decent work opportunities for other women. Long-term poverty eradication is only possible through decent work that provides higher incomes. Supporting women entrepreneurs in majority women sectors increases the competitiveness of those sectors, meaning more women in those sectors can be lifted out of poverty through decent work (SDG8). Notably, businesswomen tend to integrate sustainability principles into their leadership approaches, which means their employees have better wellbeing and skills development outcomes. Therefore, one women’s entrepreneurial success is another woman’s supportive workplace. 

Despite the vast benefits of getting more women into business, East African women face a specific set of barriers to entrepreneurship, they lack: market knowledge, understanding of business concepts, access to finance, networking opportunities and confidence. Women also face active discrimination (e.g., from investors, employees, suppliers and buyer) and higher socio-cultural pressures in their personal lives. Nevertheless, it is possible and worthwhile to support women to overcome these barriers. SITA does so through its gender focussed Mitreeki initiative. 

SITA concentrates its efforts on sectors with potential to grow, where women have a competitive edge and where women want to work (i.e., Fashion and Agroprocessing) and, through Mitreeki, provides industry-specific training and wrap-around coaching (read about the Mitreeki Fashion Incubator Programme here to learn more about how it works). SITA’s Mitreeki programme also creates a peer-to-peer networks, so women can support each other during and after the confidence-building programme. Given SITA’s mandate of leveraging the potential of South-South Cooperation with India, SITA also chose sectors for which Indian insights are fitting. 

Thanks to SITA’s Mitreeki programme, 300 fashion and agroprocessing businesses led by empowered women are in a better position to contribute to sustainable economic growth and provide decent work to their majority women workforce. Read more about just some of them here.

Voices of SITA
Voices of SITA
This blog provides a window into the SITA project. Through stories from India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, this blog showcases the project’s progress and impact.