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    Accessing Export, Accessing Opportunity


    International Trade Forum - Issue 3-4/2008 

    © ITC Hathami with her notebook

    In Tunisia, the ACCESS! Programme for African Businesswomen in International Trade is paving the way for women artisans to export their products.

    Recognizing the unique challenges faced by women seeking trade support services in Africa, ITC developed the ACCESS! programme in 2005 with the goal of providing greater participation of African businesswomen in international trade.

    Funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, the programme provides exporter training, business counselling, business information and networking. It has already worked with over 600 female entrepreneurs in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

    In 2006 Tunisia became the 11th country to implement the ACCESS! programme, with the financial support of La Maison de l'Exportateur-Tunisie (Tunisian exporters' house), through the Fonds d'Accès aux Marchés d'Exportation (Fund for Access to Export Markets).

    The pilot project in Tunisia

    Following the success of six training workshops that reached more than 60 businesswomen, ACCESS! Tunisia has already extended its core training and business counselling activities and developed targeted microcredit support for its clients.

    Two groups of micro-entrepreneurs, each comprising ten artisans from Tozeur in the south and Kef in north-western Tunisia, have benefited from additional and special training in product innovation in the handicraft sector. This pilot project allowed the participants to better understand international market trends and to create market niches, develop prototypes and test the receptiveness of foreign markets.

    Trainees learned to develop apparel and homeware collections that met international trends both in fashion and in the standards of quality expected in developed country markets. They began working with a whole new range of colours, patterns and fabrics, which gave them much greater potential to export their products than they had had previously. The women were also assisted in developing new marketing tools such as samples, price lists and promotional catalogues.


    © ITC 

    International market response

    In autumn 2008, once the collections were considered ready to be sold overseas, two key market contacts visited the groups. One was an upmarket homeware store in the United Kingdom and the other a French non-governmental organization, Batik International , whose mandate is to create employment in developing countries through targeted support for ethnic product shops and local communities. The experience provided the artisans with invaluable experience and confidence in pitching their wares to international markets. It also helped the ACCESS! team to better hone this innovative programme.

    Finally, some of the artisans travelled to Strasbourg in France to present their products at the first Euro-Mediterranean Women Micro-Entrepreneurs Exhibition in November 2008. This trade mission was a true eye-opener for many of the women, a large number of whom had never travelled abroad. Commercial contracts were signed and most of the businesswomen were introduced to new clients and international buyers. As a result, they were able to enhance their understanding of selling techniques and commercial transactions.

    Enda, the microcredit association under which this initiative was developed and delivered, provided essential support in financing raw materials, developing prototypes and purchasing new production tools, which improved the quality of the products while reducing production time and increasing the potential profitability.

    Through this joint initiative, the ACCESS! Tunisia team and its focal point institution, La Maison de l'Exportateur-Tunisie, have helped to create entirely new collections of artisanal objects inspired by Tunisian culture and heritage. It's a unique and dynamic way of preserving traditions while stimulating business and impacting positively on the local community - and an innovative and enriching experience the team will be happy to share with other countries and businesswomen around the world.

    For more information on the ACCESS! programme in Tunisia and elsewhere, contact Sébastien Turrel, Trade Adviser and ACCESS! Manager or Leila Ben-Gacem, ACCESS! trainer in Tunisia.