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Trusting Women: The Key To Unlock Sierra Leone’s Potential

By Ishmael Bangura

Last year, the world record one of its worst economic performances in decades. With the pandemic far from over, global recovery is slow, fragile and highly uneven both across and within countries. As we struggle to recover as a nation, the big question is how can we rebuild our economy and revive our development?

The answer can be found around us, even though we are not paying attention. The pandemic has helped us realize very important tools to make our lives easy like social networking commerce in which online presence and digital learning take a new toll on our lives.

In these, it is clear that women entrepreneurs are a driving force of recovery and the mainspring of commerce and technology.

While we have always known that women entrepreneurs play an essential role in supporting inclusive economic growth in every country, the pandemic has made it more evident that as a country we have ignored women’s role as job creators, employees, and contributors to economic expansion.

Advancing women’s equality in our country will add as much as billions of dollars which will be a huge change to our nation’s growth and of cause GDP. This is not being overemphasizing, because this is way true! With the economic slump that economies now face, no one can afford to continue to miss out on this largely untapped dividend.

Canada for example, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia (ESCAP) – in collaboration with the Government of Canada – initiated the Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship programme. The programme addresses three fundamental barriers that are hindering the growth of women-led businesses.

The first is lack of access to finance: The programme works to unlock private capital and use this capital to support women enterprises. This capital – whether as loans, equity, or blended finance – was used to provide targeted support to women entrepreneurs. No doubt, it has created partnerships and used blended finance to support a range of gender-smart investment mechanisms, including various small emerging companies.

To date, that programme has supported over 9,000 women to access formal financial services and has unlocked over US$50 million in private capital for women entrepreneurs.

The second barrier is policy: Existing policies and laws often do not recognize the specific issues women-led Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) face. Many a time it seems it’s all about dishing out loans to MSMEs, and everything will be well with these businesses. No!!

Firstly, the odds of securing a business loan are heavily stacked against her. This affect women who wants to take out loans but unable to due to none access to properties or land and banks require collateral. This affects women so badly that they have to settle for less with microfinance companies and in the end cannot realize their true potential to open large business.

That mindset of donors and financial institutions should be reviewed because COVID-19 has illustrated that businesses need to have greater resilience and the ability to ensure continuity through times of crisis. This is even more critical in a society like Sierra Leone where there’s still a huge gender gap.

Reassuring financial institutions that they will get their money back means, first, it is knowing that women are a high-value investment. Proof has shown that women are stronger savers than men, and are more responsible borrowers and more calculated risk-takers.

According to recent research from the Bank of New York Mellon, giving women better access to finance could unlock $330 billion in annual global revenue.

Second, financial institutions should start to think outside the box and use other methods to credit-check an individual, such as issuing loans based on cash flow, savings group history, mobile phone transaction history or a track record of enterprise performance.

Another barrier to growth in women-led businesses skills is that women entrepreneurs need support to become equipped with digital and business skills to manage, sustain and grow their businesses. It is certain that there are plenty of successful and striving women entrepreneurs in a variety of sectors in our country. Their outstanding performance in their respective fields has set an example for various emerging women entrepreneurs. However, they face huge challenges including male domination, family obligations, lack of education, poor self-confidence, financial problems, reduced mobility, limited managerial skills and digital knowhow to build their capacity.

Skill, adaptability and knowledge in business are the main drivers for women to undertake new business ventures. The female social skills advantage could be developed even further if complemented by competencies in abstract or cognitive skills and advanced digital literacy, which is a core requirement in the digital age.

All of these barriers have been in play in before outbreak of the pandemic. As a result, the impact on women and women entrepreneurs across the globe and Sierra Leone to be specific has been disproportionate to their male counterparts.

Women have continued to take the burden of unpaid care work and homeschooling. Sectors in which women employees work– agriculture, hotel, restaurants, teaching which were hit harder than other industries, impacting women’s employment.

Women entrepreneurs, who predominantly make up the informal sector, face a range of financial and digital literacy constraints affecting business continuity.

In order to meet the technological challenge, there is a need for development strategies that combine new technological capacity with investments in a broad variety of traditional and nontraditional economic sectors. These strategies need to be supported by improvements in education, skills development and vocational training. Training in the use of technology is essential and a key step in taking advantage of emerging economic opportunities. Both are critical for creating greater opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

There is growing global consensus on women’s economic empowerment as a force multiplier for good governance, economic growth, poverty eradication, ending hunger and achieving food security and nutrition, achieving sustainable consumption and production patterns and environmental sustainability.

However, efforts to promote women’s economic empowerment require approaches and incentives that must go hand in hand with creating a deliberate ecosystem that enables women to realize their rights and level the capacity and opportunity playing field.

It is the belief of many that if women are given the knowledge and skills needed to expand their businesses, diversify and undertake value addition, they will be in a position to better contribute to the economic growth and development of Sierra Leone. Women’s economic empowerment is one of the world’s most promising areas of investment, biggest emerging markets, talent pools and demographic dividends to be tapped, now and in the future.

Building back better, means ensuring that women entrepreneurs not only survive this crisis but thrive coming out of it. This requires scaling up the resources directed to women run businesses exponentially.

It’s obvious that trusting women is the key to unlock Sierra Leone’s potential.

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