October 7, 2015 By Hassan Gbassay Koroma
In a bid to empower women and promote gender equality in Sierra Leone, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – a member of the World Bank Group – has in a roundtable conference engaged business women from across the country to chart the way forward on micro, small and medium enterprises.
Statistics has over the years shown that in Sierra Leone 70% of the women involve in micro, small and medium enterprises, which they use to sustain their livelihood and support their families.
In her welcome address, the IFC Resident Representative, Ms. Mary Agboli, expressed special thanks to the participants for attending the session, noting that the day’s event will help expose them to areas that will enable them build their business capacity, as well as equipping them with the required skills to overcome challenges in business.
She said the session was to discuss the four strategic pillars of development for micro, small and medium enterprise in the country. “In other countries, we have banks that do business with only women, and that helps to build the capacity of women. We want to build the capacity of everybody but we’ll make sure that 70% of women are targeted,” said Ms. Agboli.
Making a statement on behalf of the Acting Minister of Trade and Industry, the Acting Director Charles Mereweather Thompson, commended the IFC for their good work in helping to build the capacity of women in the country.
He said over the years, the IFC has been instrumental in helping businesses to develop, noting that the financial agency has also been key in promoting businesses in the country, for which his ministry was grateful.
Also speaking, President of the Bombali Farmers Association, Ms. Muskuda Jalloh, said the roundtable discussion was an important session that will help boost participants’ business knowledge, adding that business was not only limited to buying and selling.
“I started doing business by merely buying and selling, but I thought to myself that such a business would not enable me make enough profit. So I decided to go into production,” Madam Jalloh told of her experience. “I went to the provinces and organized women groups to engage in farming, and today I’m proud to say that we have set up an agricultural centre as well as having 50 women farmer groups across the country.”
She added, however, that there were challenges in the farming business, some of which she said can help prepare farmers for the future. She called on the women to be diligent, disciplined and to maintain integrity.
In an interview with some of the participants after the session, Gladys England, owner of OASIS Juicy Bar in Freetown, said she was happy to be part of the roundtable discussions as it had enriched her knowledge in things she didn’t know before. “The knowledge gained would help me in addressing areas of weakness and to properly plan my business,” she said.
Ms. Marie Bob Kandeh of Stay Okay Enterprises told Concord Times that she is a food producer and faces a lot of challenges in producing and packing her products, coupled with financial challenges as a good number of banks hardly provide loans to women.
She said the Standards Bureau, which is supposed to expose their products to the international market, are demanding a lot of money for registration; a development she said is also affecting business in the country.
Commissioner at the Corporate Affairs Commission, Ms. Michalla Mackay, described the roundtable discussion as important because 70% of the country’s micro, small and medium enterprises were owned by women.
She suggested for the roundtable discussion to be replicated in the provinces at district level to impact more knowledge to women in business across the country.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is an international financial institution that offers investment, advisory, and asset management services to encourage private sector development in developing countries.
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It is a member of the World Bank Group and is headquartered in Washington, D.C., United States. It was established in 1956 as the private sector arm of the World Bank Group to advance economic development by investing in strictly for-profit and commercial projects that purport to reduce poverty and promote development.
The IFC’s stated aim is to create opportunities for people to escape poverty and achieve better living standards by mobilizing financial resources for private enterprise, promoting accessible and competitive markets, supporting businesses and other private sector entities, and creating jobs and delivering necessary services to those who are poverty-stricken or otherwise vulnerable.
Since 2009, the IFC has focused on a set of development goals that its projects are expected to target. Its goals are to increase sustainable agriculture opportunities, improve health and education, increase access to financing for microfinance and business clients, advance infrastructure, help small businesses grow revenues, and invest in climate health.