A few months to the 2007 General Election the government launched the Women Enterprise Fund to much optimism among women in Kenya’s business community.
For the first time women running small to medium businesses would have access to a dedicated credit line to help them start or expand their businesses alongside their male counterparts who have traditionally taken the lion’s share of capital.
Five years later the government launched another policy meant to raise the contribution and share of women in the country’s wealth creation by reviewing the procurement laws.
Government ministries and agencies today are required by law to reserve 30 per cent of all government tenders to young people, women and people with disabilities.
Similar initiatives to encourage the participation of women in the country’s economy have also been seen in the private sector. The Kenya Association of Manufacturers’ (KAM) women in manufacturing and Safaricom’s Women in Business are just a few of such initiative that have been gaining traction among women in Kenya in the past few years.
Over the past few years however, concern has risen that Kenyan women are not taking full advantage of opportunities reserved to them.
Data from a recent report from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) looking at the representation of men and women across several of the country’s public and private sectors indicates a wide gap in how the economy rewards the different sexes.
While women provide 80 per cent of Kenya’s farm labour and manage 40 per cent of the country’s smallholder farms, they own only roughly 1 per cent of agricultural land and receive just 10 per cent of available credit.
The proportion of women working in the formal and manufacturing sectors stood at 34 and 16 per cent respectively against 66 and 84 per cent respectively representing men.
This means efforts to encourage women participation in the country’s diverse and growing economy are not reaping the desired benefits or have ground to a halt altogether.
Part of the blame has been placed on the government for not doing enough to sensitise women particularly in the counties, on the opportunities reserved for women.
A report by the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority last year revealed that national and county government procurement authorities reserved less than the 30 per cent of tender prescribed in the law.
Out of Sh133 billion in procurement budgets by the central and county government’s only Sh28.8 billion went to the special groups representing 21 per cent.
However part of the reason for the low participation has also been attributed to the lack of information among many would-be beneficiaries of these and other special purpose funds.
In the first place not many people are aware of the changes that several major companies have made in their procurement systems to accommodate more female-led firms.
Safaricom for example last month launched an ambitious plan to have women and other special interest groups increase participation in the firm’s billion shilling procurement budget to 10 per cent by 2020. The company has even reduced the entry barriers, cutting statutory requirements for bidding for tenders from 12 to just seven.
Electricity producer KenGen recently launched Pink Energy, an initiative targeted at increasing the participation of women in the country’s energy sector.
These initiatives are targeting women in established businesses as well as newly incorporated companies. Sometimes women shy away from applying to such opportunities because of the false perception that requirements for eligibility are too cumbersome or opportunities limited to a few individuals with the right connections.
In many cases, these perceptions are exaggerated with people often relying on second or third person accounts instead of finding out the information for themselves.
The first step towards participating in special funds is not much different from the strategy you would apply in venturing into a new market or developing new partnerships.
In the first place, one is expected to conduct deep research into the organisation and the opportunity presented through the special fund. Am I familiar with the organisation and the business they run? Do I fall into the eligibility criteria? Do I have the capacity to deliver the goods and services the company is procuring?
Good research needs to be a combination of reading up on the company’s activities and trends in the recent past as well as reaching out and speaking to individuals in the organisations pushing the said initiatives.
Once you have identified the categories you want to participate in and the requirements, you will need to develop a business plan and strategy on how to go about it.
Investment in personnel and equipment should be key in projecting a capacity to professionally execute the job if given the chance.
Rebecca Wanjiku, CEO, Fireside Group.