Enhancing impact: digitalisation, investment and intra-African trade

awiefThe Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) opened in Cape Town on 29 October 2019 with stirring calls from speakers for women to move from having conversations about economic empowerment to radical action

Keynote speaker, Dr Vera Songwe, United Nations undersecretary-general and executive secretary, UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said there cannot be talk about Africa’s growth without talking about the economic empowerment of Africa’s women in the same breath.

Economic activist and social entrepreneur, Wendy Luhabe was vocal in calling for women to look at how they can use the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) to put pressure on countries to include the emancipation of women in reducing trade barriers across the continent and reducing trade tariffs.

Dr Songwe reiterated that giving women in Africa back their dignity, meant ensuring that every woman in Africa had an identity, as many women’s births were never registered and they had no official identity; that women had to have access to structures to access economic empowerment; that women needed to connect as a collective to raise each other up.

“There is a new economic Pan-Africanism on the continent. We have fought for our rights. We now need to move to economic space. This is the promise: Africa needs skill. In many of our countries, we don’t have the skill required to grow. You need to claim the continent as your marketplace, the US$1.2bn market,” she told delegates.

“There are 500mn of us African women, we need to be collectively connected,” Dr Songwe emphasised.

The Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) prestigious annual conference is taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), 29-30 October 2019, for the advancement of women in Africa as innovators and entrepreneurs. More than 60 African and global thought leaders across business and politics will share insight and thought leadership, including headliners from UNECA, World Bank, USAID, CTA, Shell, Nedbank, APO Group, and so on.

Entrepreneurship allows people to forge economic futures

Dan Plato, executive mayor of Cape Town, said, “Entrepreneurship should be seen as one of the solutions to unemployment and it is crucial that they should be given support to get their businesses up and running. In South Africa, nearly seven million people are unemployed, 29 per cent of the population.”

During the opening plenary session, Virginia Blaser, Consul General, US Consulate Cape Town, recounted how she refused to continue her participation at a forum that had no women delegates and suggested that women do not participate in forums that don’t include women and don’t sign off on grants that don’t include women. “When women are economically empowered, they reinvest in their families and their communities. This creates a multiplier effect that undeniably contributes to peace and stability.”

Barbara Makhubedu, chief financial officer, Shell Downstream South Africa, said that women must be deliberate on pulling the “levers” as a collective and work hard to grind down the barriers to economic empowerment for women. Those strong levers include the strength and wisdom inherent in women and consolidating efforts and liberating technology to shape a more inclusive financial system in Africa to include women.

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