Women-led businesses gain strength in Rwanda and Zambia


Small businesses receive support to access much-needed finance

The three winners of a recent competition for women-owned start-ups in Rwanda deal with avocado, jam and juice products. Their businesses have struggled to survive the pandemic and have now received a little cash boost of 3 million (US $ 2,980), 2 million and 1 million Rwandan francs, respectively.

Organized to showcase the country’s women-led businesses that are aligned with the Made in Rwanda initiative, the Women Connect Awards also serve to highlight the challenges women face in growing their small businesses, including financial literacy and access to bank loans.

“What they need most is how to improve their business and how they can design their own financial plans,” said Nadine Rutabayiro, manager of women’s banking services at Access Bank in Rwanda, which organized the events. price.

“Sometimes the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs start from the ideation phase of the business, they need to understand if the business to venture into will be profitable and what strategies will be deployed to ensure profitability”, a- she declared.

Access Bank collaborated with the SheTrades initiative of the International Trade Center to

helping women entrepreneurs set up financial plans, and the bank has a dedicated branch that offers loans to small businesses run by women.

In Zambia, the SheTrades initiative has done similar work with a group of 200 women over the past year and a half. They have helped budding fashion designers attend international trade fairs and run courses in supply chain management and e-commerce. The result has been a boon for businesses, with women reporting new deals and deals totaling $ 3.46 million, according to SheTrades, and exporting to 12 new international markets, including Belgium, China and Australia. .

Despite positive gains, financing remains a major issue for women in Zambia, said Albert Halwampa, director of export development at the Development Agency of Zambia, which works with SheTrades in the country.

“We work with women-led businesses that have the potential to be connected to regional and international markets. Some of them already have access to loans, but the problem is the high interest rates which hover between 30% and 35%, ”he said.

“Most of them don’t want to borrow at such rates because they could end up losing their business. But if they had access to the right funding, they could make quick wins, ”he added.

Obtaining financing, in the form of development aid or direct loans to businesses, is not easy. SheTrades works with a multitude of partners, including the Ministries of Commerce in Rwanda and Zambia, international organizations and partnerships like the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) and local financial institutions like Access Bank in Rwanda and Prospero in Zambia. One of the goals of SheTrades support is to engage other donors and the private sector to join in supporting promising small businesses in the developing world.

This approach is paying off, as evidenced by Access Bank’s three targeted cash rewards and in-kind contributions, leveraging essential training expertise, as well as new resources from the private sector. SheTrades Zambia engaged with private sector partners as facilitators, investors and market partners to maximize the sustainability and reach of the project.

This included working with DHL experts which served to leverage their technical expertise, logistics solutions and market links. The project also worked with Stanbic Bank Zambia to secure a meeting room as an in-kind contribution to organize workshops and events.

SheTrades Zambia has also received support from the government by hosting the project and its activities at the Development Agency of Zambia (ZDA) in the form of in-kind support. The ITC national coordinator has a dedicated office on the premises of the ZDA.

For any business owner, a banking relationship is necessary to grow, and especially if one is to start dealing across borders.

“Our main goal is to empower women through financial support. In Rwanda, women-owned SMEs are not really growing at the same rate as men due to a range of issues, including knowledge gaps, ”said Rutabayiro.

“Another challenge is to find guarantees for the banks, by which they choose to opt for microfinance where they are charged very dearly. This creates delays in the growth of businesses because expenses are often much higher than income earned, ”she said.

For banks, such loans can be risky, which is why government or other guarantees are of great help. Access Bank offers a special W Power loan for start-ups of up to three years, offering between one million (990 USD) and 50 million Rwandan francs, intended to strengthen young businesses with the necessary cash flow.

In Zambia, they keep an eye out for other ways to promote small businesses and help them grow.

“At the end of the day, you find that they don’t have enough capital to put into the business, so they can’t grow. So they end up operating only in their small entities because there is no dedicated solid funding channel for their growth, ”said Halwampa.

“We will continue to mobilize funds from partners because we do not have enough for necessary activities such as export promotion, market development, trade facilitation. This kind of support has a huge impact in terms of capacity building, and we will continue to promote women in commerce and hope to be able to help more women to sell their products abroad, ”he said.

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