UN eyes more help for women entrepreneurs

A view of the opening of the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women held on March 9 at the U.N. headquarters in New York. Photo by: Loey Felipe / U.N.

Development Business, a program of the outreach division of the United Nations Department of Public Information, is forging more partnerships to help women-owned businesses in developing countries gain more access to procurement opportunities.

Worldwide, women-owned businesses have won only about 1-2 percent of procurement contracts from government and intergovernmental organizations, according to data from U.N. Women. The issue of economic empowerment, particularly what governments can do along with the private sector to help women in developing countries break into the marketplace, has dominated discussions at the ongoing 59th Commission on the Status of Women conference in New York.

One way UNDB is assisting women-owned businesses is through an alliance with the Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Network.

As a one-stop shop for global tenders and information, UNDB is not involved in the procurement process. But strategic alliances like the one with the International Chamber of Commerce, launched in late 2014, build upon an important global network from which participants can gain intelligence in the procurement cycle.

The UNDB portal is English-heavy, “but there is a focus on multilingualism” so it can encourage more participation from companies in developing countries, according to Nina Brandt, chief of UNDB.

Recently, the Eurasian Development Bank became a content provider.

Its collaboration with CBW began in 2014, when UNDB saw an opportunity to reach out to small and medium-sized enterprises in the 53 countries of the Commonwealth. The partnership will allow the two organizations to exchange information on contracts, tenders and businesses. UNDB expects to launch soon a community platform.

According to CBW Executive Director Arif Zaman, this partnership is “a starting point, but not an end point” to helping women-owned businesses grow. He noted the three Ts needed to empower women economically: trade, talent and training; part of that is having more access to procurement contracts.

Through its Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Academy, CBW offers training in procurement, entrepreneurship and leadership. The Chartered Institute for Procurement and Supply, an industry leader, is a partner for the training module on procurement. Zaman notes that of the 50,000 members of CIPS in the Commonwealth, 20,000 are women.

The training module on procurement is not only about knowledge sharing but also mentorship. Mentors are larger businesses already involved in the procurement process which can provide support in the form of financial aid, guidance on bidding procedures and techniques, and best practices exchange, among others.

So far the mentoring program is only in place in Australia, but there are plans to expand it later this year. In exchange, mentors get “preference points” in the contract bidding system, each tailored to the country where the mentoring program is implemented.

To participate in the training, companies must become CBW members at the “gold” level. Although the fee may seem daunting, many women see it as an investment and gateway to several possible business opportunities, Zaman noted. Mentors also need to be members.

Apart from offering training, CBW also connects and helps women entrepreneurs across the Commonwealth bid for contracts. For instance, it matched an engineer in Kenya with a procurement expert in Australia and another woman with product expertise in Cameroon, and they all the bid together on the same contract, CBW Co-Chair Freda Miriklis shared at a side event of CSW jointly hosted by CBW and UNDB.

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About the author

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    Mythili Sampathkumar

    Mythili Sampathkumar is a New York-based freelance journalist and writer, accredited through the United Nations press corps and focusing on international trade and development.