Ideas & Debate

Financial inclusion of women delivers economic resilience

women

Nation Media Group staff during the International Women’s Day Gala Dinner at Serena Hotel, Nairobi on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

The devastating impact of Covid-19 on global supply chains and business, in general, has pushed both private and public sectors back to the drawing board to fix the broken links.

While issues around the shortage of manufacturing components, systems, lack of skills, affordability of labour and transport costs as well as access to finance and security could be among key topics to pop up in closed-door meetings, sadly gender inclusivity will most unlikely feature.

The inclusion of women in building resilience to future shocks only features widely in research papers — as a game-changing strategy, but implementation is yet to be realised in earnest.

A 2015 McKinsey report for instance shows that increasing women's labour market participation and narrowing the gender pay gap may boost global GDP by more than $12 trillion per year by 2025, with women's contribution to the global economy increasing by 26 percent compared to the status quo.

Conversely, over the last five years, most organisations have only gone as far as making commitments to implement gender inclusivity as part of their growth agenda. Still, organisations report difficulties in finding suitable women-led and owned suppliers, with lack of data proving to be an increasingly prominent challenge.

Therefore, progress in boosting women's engagement in the global economy has been at an all-time low before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, with women's percentage of business ownership in the global economy staying at roughly 35 percent.

Male dominance in the supply and logistics industry, for example, could, however, be the biggest unseen challenge. Organisations are making unconscious biases and maintaining barriers that continue to keep women from attaining positions of influence.

Well, it might be argued that more women are not taking up STEM subjects and, therefore, lack the technical know-how to secure top jobs.

The bigger question is the opportunity cost of empowering women against returns when they finally get into the system.

How organisations implement diversity could be missing a crucial element-harnessing the untapped power of women through a multi-faceted approach at all stages of their career lifecycle.

Simply put, investing in aspects that offer higher returns for businesses.

With the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, we have an even bigger opportunity that we can tap into and start making things right for women and for the region’s economy.

When international borders were closed to contain spread of the deadly virus, Africa’s supply chain suffered because of current structural challenges and over-reliance on foreign trade that exposed our weak manufacturing capacity.

However, with AfCFTA, we can start strengthening our manufacturing capacity and bolster logistics, leveraging on a vibrant and growing tech ecosystem to strengthen our supply chains.

Biggest challenge

This will give us a buffer on a regional front and shield us from global disruptions as we begin to entrench diversification of supply chains to ensure women-owned and led businesses get equitable inclusion in large supply chains as we set the pace on how SMEs can also be supported to succeed.

The biggest challenges for most women in all these have been access to capital, a lack of investment that has made it difficult to get business off the ground and scale in a sustainable way.

It is from the understanding that organisation and management of large supply chains play a significant role in unlocking Africa’s economic value for women that WeDeliver was formed.

WeDeliver is geared towards driving equitable inclusion for women-owned and led businesses. It is designed to simplify, incentivise action and monitor progress in corporations in their mission to include and facilitate the success of more women-owned or led businesses in large supply chains.

Such initiatives are progressive and forward-looking in bringing female business owners in the supply chain picture.

It is designed for women, opening new frontiers through creating linkages between suppliers and buyers, paying platforms, government and communities.

Resilient recovery

We believe that such platforms will accelerate progress and continue to ensure the participation of women across all economic activities and opportunities and play an integral role in helping organisations to build a resilient recovery post-pandemic.

When we have more women and pro-women organisations aligning with the aspirations of such initiative, then Kenya and Africa will be ready to tap and reap big in the world’s largest single market.