The COVID- 19 pandemic has continued to disrupt economic activities all over the world, and the informal sector, and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are at the centre of the crises. In light of the strong representation of female entrepreneurs within the SMEs space, The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE or The Exchange) hosted a webinar in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation to address the theme, Supporting SMEs and Women-Owned Businesses in Corporate Value Chains.
Speaking at the webinar, the Divisional Head, Shared Services, NSE, Bola Adeeko noted, “Entrepreneurs in Nigeria face significant challenges in accessing finance to sustain or expand their businesses. With the high level of female participation in entrepreneurship (OECD in 2019 puts female participation at 58% compared to male’s 45% male), experts anticipate that the COVID-19 crisis will hinder the progress made in advancing women’s entrepreneurship in Nigeria. To this end, we are pleased to have brought together an expert panel of discussants who have made an indisputable business case for gender-inclusive practices in corporate value chains and highlighted strategies for improving the participation of women owned and run SMEs.”
Looking at the current SMEs landscape, the Executive Director, Fate Foundation, Adenike Adeyemi indicated that, “When we look at the micro segment, we see that the number of women-owned businesses is equal to men-owned businesses. However, as we move on to the SMEs segment, we see a drop in female participation to less than 25% which suggests that women are either dropping off or not growing as quickly as their male counterparts.”
In identifying some of the constraints female entrepreneurs face, Nigeria Country Director, WeConnect International, Yeshua Russel highlighted, “While it is imperative that concerted efforts are made to link women to the value chains of large corporations in order to empower them, there are barriers that must be addressed which include inadequate technical capacity; low level of collaboration among women-owned businesses; and lack of access to finance. Consequently, we need to create more structures and systems that can educate and incorporate women to raise their level and quality of participation.”
The Director, Corporate Affairs and Sustainable Business, Ghana and Nigeria, Unilever, Soromidayo George further expounded on this saying, “From our experience with Ebola and other epidemics, the economic impacts of a health crisis will have a disproportionate impact on women which will widen the gender inequality gap. This is particularly attributable to the harmful social norms that limit the expectations of what women can and should do especially along familial and business spectrums. We must, therefore, articulate organised ways to tackle these expectations and lay the right building blocks to achieve gender equality.”
All the panellists during the session agreed on the fundamental needs of business, particularly women-owned business as articulated by Executive Director, Business Banking, Access Bank, Ayodele Olojede. She noted that, “In building and nurturing women-owned businesses, it is important to adopt a holistic approach that focuses on the four fundamentals of finance, information, market and technology.” Taking this a step further, the Director, Enterprise Development Centre, Lagos Business School. Peter Bamkole emphasized, “Capacity building must go beyond training in the development of women-owned businesses. Women are fast and adaptive learners but must also be given the support of mentoring and hand-holding to reach their highest potential.”
In closing out the event, the Head, Corporate Communications, NSE, Olumide Orojimi emphasized the need to continue the conversation beyond the webinar stating, “Bridging the gender inequality gap is a journey and it is one we must all contribute to actively. We at the NSE are proud of our efforts at advancing female participation within our operations and our ecosystem and our collaboration with IFC is one of the efforts we are truly proud of.”
It would be recalled that The Nigeria2Equal initiative was kicked-off in May with a webinar that explored the gender implications of COVID-19 for women as employees. The conversations that ensued during that webinar highlighted the differential socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on men and women, with women predicted to face more negative impacts.