Regional female entrepreneurs have been told that they are important contributors to their countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Trade, Sandra Husbands, made this observation during the closing ceremony of the Caribbean Export Development Agency’s WE-Xport Programme, held at the Hilton Barbados Resort, recently.
The programme was designed to help female entrepreneurs start exporting, or to increase exports, of their products and services. Nineteen women successfully completed the one-year programme.
Minister Husbands noted: “While you may think your business is small; while you may think you are struggling to make ends meet; while you have issues from time to time with cash flow; every single penny that you turn over in your business contributes to the GDP of your country. Therefore, what you do every day is not only important to you and your family, it is important to your country.”
She said one of the goals of government was to have an entrepreneur in every household, with specific focus on female entrepreneurship.
Pointing out that women across the globe were advancing in the business world, Ms. Husbands stated that this was the same for women in the CARIFORUM region.
However, she lamented that the barriers were disproportionately higher for women-owned SMEs, since they faced a range of financial and non-financial challenges that far outweigh their male counterparts.
Nonetheless, the Foreign Trade Minister said based on her past role as president of the Barbados Small Business Association, it was believed that female entrepreneurs were generally more disciplined.
“They asked for help long before things crashed, and they were also far more diligent in paying back loans. If they couldn’t pay back, they would have a discussion to work out measures with the financial institution. That’s the reputation female entrepreneurs have built for themselves in the Barbadian space,” she recalled.
Minister Husbands commended the Caribbean Export Development Agency for staging the WE-Xport programme, which she believes “provide that much needed expertise for females”.
She also praised the European Union (EU) for partnering with the agency to fund the programme.
Programme Manager of the EU to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, the OECS and CARICOM/CARIFORUM, Celine Anselme, said the EU recognized the role the private sector played in generating employment and boosting the economies of Caribbean countries.
She said the EU has worked with Caribbean Export for almost two decades and disclosed that it had provided US$30 million to the agency to assist with private sector development programmes from 2017 to 2021.
Ms. Anselme added that the EU supported women’s empowerment, which they believe is “a question of human rights, democracy, good governance and it just makes economic sense”.
“WE-Xport is one of the many successful activities being implemented. WE-Xport is not just any initiative, it is innovative…. WE-Xport got off the ground for two critical reasons. The first was a need to address the fact that women-owned enterprises in the Caribbean are concentrated in saturated sectors, thereby making them difficult to grow. Secondly, research has shown that in the Caribbean, women’s participation in self-employment is lower than their male counterparts, and when self-employed, women are more likely to operate at the micro level with sometimes no employees,” she said.
Market Intelligence Advisor at Caribbean Export, Zamani Moodie, speaking on behalf of the Chairperson of the Board of Directors at Caribbean Export, Cecile Humphrey, said WE-Xport was “a tremendous success”.
Mr. Moodie said the agency understood the “complexed challenges faced by regional firms, particularly those owned by women” and created WE-Xport programme in response.
The one-year initiative sought to build capacity for women-owned enterprises, as well as to help female entrepreneurs increase their exports, international competitiveness and penetration into new markets.
Participants benefited from technical assistance, business training, mentorship and access to grant funding. Through the WE-Xport programme, participant Grace Foster-Reid, who is the owner of EcoFarms, a honey producer in Jamaica, secured a deal to supply her products to American coffee franchise, Starbucks.