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    Boosting Services Exports in Nigeria: Strategies to Assist Women Entrepreneurs


    International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2003, © International Trade Centre

    ITC's Services Exporting Programme organized a workshop to promote exports among Nigerian women entrepreneurs in February 2003.
    Left to right: Omotayo Omotosho, Chief Executive, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation; Dora Akunyili, Director General, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control; Femi Boyede, Chief Executive, Koinonia Enterprises.

    1. Publicize successes and innovations of women-owned service firms

    Too few Nigerian women get national or international recognition. We recommend the creation of an umbrella organization for the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that deal with women entrepreneurs, in order to help coordinate both international assistance and training for women owners of service businesses, so that they can organize themselves to be more visible; establish awards programmes; and publicize success stories of Nigerian women who own service firms.

    2. Market to local foreign-owned businesses and offices

    Nigerians need a proper structure to organize regular networking events with foreign companies and embassies, and to monitor results. Such events help women who own services businesses to meet with purchasing managers.

    Few Nigerian women-owned or women-managed service firms win large contracts based on 'equal opportunity' principles. There is little or no effort to separate and emphasize gender issues or capabilities in investment promotion or other economic literature. Women owners of service firms do not have a voice to highlight the issue.

    The Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission and other organizations could promote the potential of women-owned firms in their literature.

    Nigeria's Ministry of Women's Affairs and Youth Development should compile an online database of women-owned service firm capabilities. The Ministry should also ensure that this information is properly distributed to embassies and international companies in Nigeria and to Nigerian missions abroad.

    3. Use associations effectively

    Although there is an avalanche of 'women's empowerment' crusading associations and NGOs in Nigeria, they do not provide practical networking solutions to their members. Few women join chambers of commerce. If a woman secures one of the top positions in an association, it is the exception, not the rule.

    The situation calls for an intensive membership drive and awareness campaigns that will expose women to the benefits of strong networks. The few women already conversant with these organizations could make a real difference by nominating other women to key offices.

    Regional and global associations could help women entrepreneurs in building referral networks. Profession-specific associations can also play a role, such as women in law, accounting or medicine, as can friendship agreements with sister associations abroad.

    4. Foster women-owned service firms

    Develop role models

    Often the most visible role models for girls and young women are women engaged in agriculture-related activities or handicrafts. Yet there are women who own law offices, accounting firms, estate agencies, travel agencies, etc. We recommend a 'grass-roots campaign' with speakers in career fairs at secondary schools and mentorship programmes.

    Set up private financing schemes

    Typically, women do not have the types of tangible assets against which banks will lend money. The usual way to get more working capital - an overdraft facility against accounts receivable - is not available in Nigeria. In addition, women may be required to get guarantees from their husbands or fathers in order to transact with a bank. Prerequisites are so steep that it is easier to use private funds.

    Successful women would need to come together to float banks and other financial institutions that would then provide easy access to cheap sources of funds for women-owned projects or services. They would need to initiate a dialogue with the Bankers' Committee and other financial associations to secure favourable terms for services firms owned by women.

    Encourage travel to regional and international conferences and clients

    To build credibility and expand referral networks, service providers should attend (and preferably speak at) regional and international conferences. They also need to travel to finalize and deliver their services. Women need access to business visas, money for travel expenses and assistance with family responsibilities while away. We recommend that women's associations forge strong alliances and make themselves absolutely relevant in the promotion of the business services of reputable members.

    Develop skills training and mentoring for women owners of services businesses

    Typically, business management and marketing training is designed for running goods, not services businesses - and there are critical differences. As the services market is underrated, skills training is limited. Most of what is provided is mediocre training in secretarial skills.

    Ensure skilled staff for service businesses

    To be competitive, businesses need staff with excellent skills in communications, problem-solving, decision-making and customer service. Such training is very limited, especially for women. We recommend that schools put more emphasis on service-related skills.

    Improve service quality

    For a service to be attractive to a foreign customer, it needs to be globally competitive. This means excellent service quality - availability, responsiveness, accuracy, etc. It also means continuous innovation. Foreign clients are willing and able to pay premium prices for top quality.

    Not many women-owned businesses are ISO 9000-compliant, although some have gained their certification. We recommend that existing women's associations launch credible award programmes for service excellence, creativity and innovation, based on very strict criteria for quality and excellence.

    5. Mainstream women's business development issues

    Often, initiatives to assist small businesses focus only on those owned by men, and initiatives specifically to help women are isolated from ongoing programming. At the core of 'gender mainstreaming' is a commitment to change attitudes so that women and men are equal participants in any private sector initiatives, and adopt gender-sensitive indicators to monitor progress.

    Integration in dominant business associations

    While women-focused business associations and networks can help, it is crucial that women become integrated into the chambers of commerce, professional networks and associations to which men have access. Activity in 'mainstream' networks automatically raises the credibility of women-owned service businesses.

    Government appointments

    Nigeria's present administration has made a political point of 'guaranteeing' a minimum percentage of high-level federal appointments for women. This guarantee could be strengthened by translating it into a standing policy instrument, through a bill submitted to the National Assembly.

    Supporting the Women's Ministry

    The present administration has outclassed any previous government in actively supporting the Federal Ministry of Women's Affairs and Youth Development. A next step would be to conduct systematic research on women in the services sector. This would provide the basis for an authentic diagnosis of needs, and how the needs could be met.

    Nigerian women-owned service firms

    Tapping into export potential

    Interview with Dorothy Riddle, Service-Growth Consultants, and Femi Boyede, Koinonia Enterprises

    Q. Are women exporting from Nigeria?

    A. Definitely. Women-owned service firms supply services to foreign-owned firms such as Cadbury Nigeria, Andersen Consulting, Nestlé Foods Nigeria and multinational oil and oil service firms. They provide services to international agencies such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF. They work for embassies. Women-owned service firms are also exporting to Côte d'Ivoire, France, Ghana, South Africa, Spain, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States of America.

    Q. What is their profile?

    A. They tend to be of above-average education. There are many technically qualified Nigerian women in specialized professions.

    Q. What challenges do they report?

    A. Access to bank loans has been almost impossible for most. Most of the businesswomen finance growth through money from family and other personal funds.

    They also tell us that they have inadequate training on how to export services, are unable to access the export market and lack adequate financing and the necessary administrative and logistical support.

    Q. Is there potential for women entrepreneurs in Nigeria to move into exporting?

    A. We think so. In Nigeria, services are still a small percentage of total exports - less than 10%. Yet services in Nigeria account for at least 42% of gross domestic product. To find out about women-owned businesses in Nigeria, we checked the business register, but it does not have statistics by gender. We therefore conducted interviews, which demonstrated that women-owned firms

    For this article, Natalie Domeisen summarized conclusions from the authors' 2003 report, Framework for a Strategy to Support Women Entrepreneurs in Nigeria.