Women in Nigeria have been urged to play a more active and frontal role to stimulate the growth of businesses and overall development. In addition, they have been advised to pursue leadership roles in their communities and the corporate world so as to rise to the top echelon of decision making in order to champion policies and programmes that would ensure sustainable development.
The advice was given by the President and Chief Executive Officer, Global Fund for Women (GFW), Ms. Latanya Mapp Frett, who was the Special Guest Speaker at the 4th edition of the Women Financing Women (WFW) Group meeting hosted by leading financial services provider, First City Monument Bank (FCMB) and SME.NG (Nigeria’s SME Impact Investment Platform) in Lagos on Thursday, June 25, 2020.
The WFM quarterly meeting, which was held virtually and recorded 30 registered attendees, provided a platform for women entrepreneurs to come together and share experiences on how the novel COVID-19(coronavirus) pandemic has affected businesses and proffer solutions to the various challenges posed by the pandemic. The WFW Group, conceptualised by SME.NG in 2019, is an assemblage of women-led funds, investors and financial institutions with diverse portfolios that focus on assisting women to secure finance for their businesses in Nigeria. On the other hand, SME.NG is an impact investment platform that invests in Nigerian Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) to realise measurable environmental, social and financial returns.
According to Ms. Frett, the absence of women in key leadership positions has limited the ability and capacity of women-owned businesses, including Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs), to secure the relevant support to ensure their success.
She stated that, "the inability of women to reach the very top of leadership positions is a limitation to reach our goals. These include long term opportunities to influence the attainment of international sustainability targets in a manner that would impact positively on the well-being of women and their endeavours, especially in the area of business and other socio-economic activities".
Ms. Frett informed that the Global Fund for Women has in the last 35 years intervened and supported women in various ways. She listed this to include funding of over 5,000 women-owned businesses across the world since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the creation of a feminist funding model, under which GFW works with a network of partners to ensure that women can fund the business of other women through grants of between $10,000 and $100,000 for a period of 3yrs.
In addition, she disclosed that the Fund is in partnership with the United Nations and other multilateral organisations to sustain girls’ education following the COVID-19 pandemic, while also initiating a Crisis Fund for the pandemic. She added that the funds are used to provide relief items, health services and other essentials across communities. Ms. Frett urged financial institutions to, "focus on the overall social Impact beyond their funding to businesses by determining which ones with limited resources they can continue to fund and have multiplier effect in this critical period".
Also speaking at the meeting, the Executive Director, Business Development FCMB, Mrs. Bukola Smith, stated that FCMB has been supporting businesses for several years and has been very deliberate in this regard for women owned SMEs. This includes the setting up of a women in business proposition, known as SheVentures to meet the various needs of women entrepreneurs.
“SheVentures is a brand for FCMB’s Women in Business proposition, which provides financial and business support to women owned businesses enabling them to unlock potential, scale up and build sustainable businesses with significant impact on the economy", she explained.
Mrs. Smith, who is a prominent member of WFW, noted that the FCMB SheVentures initiative is centered on 4 pillars; Access to capital which encompasses the SheVentures zero interest loan granted to over 160 Women SMEs since last year, Gender Intervention Funds and Equity funding through collaboration with SME.NG to give ready women SMEs access to women investors; Access to knowledge which ensures that women entrepreneurs are guided with the proper training and robust mentorship programs to help them navigate and understand the business environment; Access to network and Access to market".
She restated the commitment of FCMB to sustain its support for women entrepreneurs, adding that, "through the profitable and beneficial business models we have developed for womenentrepreneurs, we have gone a step further by ensuring that SMEs that have benefitted from our support in turn go ahead to improve the social state of their communities positively. We look forward to learn more on how to support female entrepreneurs given the challenges faced due to the COVID -19 Pandemic”.
The Managing Partner for SME.NG, Ms. Thelma Ekiyor, informed that the organisation, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), conducted a “National Survey on the Impact of COVID-19 on Women-owned Businesses”. 1,300 women entrepreneurs in 30 states participated in the survey to determine their challenges and needs. She added that a key recommendation from the survey, is for a Fund to be domiciled at the Federal Ministry for Women’s Affairs to support women entrepreneurs in recovering from the pandemic.
Ms. Ekiyor also mentioned that SME.NG is working with FCMB and GroFin (a SME development financier) to provide finance to women-owned businesses, who graduate from their Accelerator “She Works Here”.
Women Entrepreneurs at the meeting gave testimonials about their experiences on the effects of covid-19 on their businesses. Notable among the achievements recorded is an increase in the number of jobs created, an indication that their respective businesses are growing in a sustainable manner.
The participants also advised that women entrepreneurs should tap into and harness the benefits of e-commerce and all other forms of business digitization.