• home

    Development Through Trade: Women Exporters Make the Case


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

    Through exports, businesswomen in developing countries are creating a better future for themselves, their employees and their communities.

    Who are the women in international business today, what challenges do businesswomen face in many of the world's lesser developed nations, and how do they rise to those challenges? The business cases in the pages that follow provide snapshots... and hopefully will spark ideas on how to foster women leaders in export development.

    Though they come from different countries - Cameroon, India, Nepal and South Africa - and represent a variety of sectors, these cases have much in common.

    First, they show what strong women business leaders can do, in creating a better future for themselves, their employees and their communities through exports. Their experiences as women have shaped their approach to the organizations they founded and manage, and their goals are different. As role models, they illustrate the advantages of women becoming engaged in trade.

    Second, in all four cases, export growth goes hand-in-hand with social commitment. For example, Sulo Shrestha-Shah, the head of a Nepalese investment company, underlines that her business is based on principles of corporate social responsibility. Tembeka Nkamba-Van Wyk, a handicrafts exporter employing thousands of South African women, says:
    "If you work with people from deprived backgrounds, you really need to see yourself not only as a businesswoman, but also as a social entrepreneur."

    Third, concerns and approaches are similar. Networking, for example, is seen as a major ingredient in the recipe for success.New technologies help businesswomen network more effectively,as well as manage organizations more successfully. Building a skilled workforce is a major challenge, so they all look at how to do that. Access to credit can be a major stumbling block, and all the businesswomen featured take measures to address this issue. Solutions range from providing start-up financing to a few hand-picked firms, to the creation of a cooperative bank allowing thousands of members to pool savings.

    Fourth, trade development strategies cannot afford to ignore the informal sector. In many developing countries, it is here that most of the vulnerable, but potentially entrepreneurial, members of society exist. They usually need specific assistance to move into formal international business.

    Though many say that research is lacking on women in international trade, 'empowerment' wish lists, papers and articles abound. We encourage our readers to document instead, 'empowerment in action': the real-life cases of women leaders in international trade, their concerns and the lessons that policy- and strategy-makers can learn from them.

    Mary Treacy and Prema de Sousa, Trade Forum contributing editors, also contributed to this article.