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COMESA launches 50MWS project in Malawi

COMESA successfully launched the 50 Million African Women Speak (50MWS) project, a women’s economic empowerment initiative, in Malawi following the engagement of stakeholders in Lilongwe. 

Over 30 stakeholders from the government, private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and women’s associations participated in the engagement sessions, which were conducted from 12 to14 June 2018 in Lilongwe, Malawi.

50MWS is a three-year project funded by the African Development Bank, jointly implemented by three regional economic communities (RECs), that is COMESA, East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) in 36 countries. The objective of the project is to empower women entrepreneurs by providing access to financial and non-financial information relevant to developing and growing business.

The project will create a networking platform to connect women entrepreneurs and encourage peer-to-peer learning, mentoring as well as information and knowledge sharing. The platform, which will be accessible on information and communication technology (ICT) gadgets including mobile phones, will enable women to access business training, financial services and locally relevant business information, and mentors among other services to support the overall goal of enhanced financial inclusion of women, leading ultimately to increased economic activity in Africa.

Addressing stakeholders during the official opening of the three-day programme, director in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Christina Chatima, underscored the commitment of the government of Malawi to ensure the project is a success.

“We are committed and indeed looking forward to the successful implementation of this project. It is our hope that the project will complement some of our interventions aimed at empowering women such as the establishment of the Women Economic Empowerment Platform (WEEP) and the Women Economic Empowerment Fund (WEEF),” she said.

“We also envisage the platform to assist women entrepreneurs penetrate regional markets by exporting products such as cabbages, tomatoes and onions given the opportunities presented by the Free Trade Area,” she added.

COMESA director for gender and social affairs, Beatrice Hamusonde, outlined the project background and explained factors which led to the conceptualisation and designing of the project. She highlighted that the African Development Bank conducted pilot studies, which identified challenges impeding women from growing their business. The studies, therefore, established that the development of an ICT platform could mitigate some of the gender-specific challenges affecting women entrepreneurs.

Similarly, COMESA conducted a study in selected member states on women’s access to finance and related services. The study resulted in the establishment of WEEF, which will be managed by the Trade and Development Bank, one of the COMESA institutions. COMESA explained to the participants how the platform would work and assist women entrepreneurs to establish their own digital identity (online marketplace) through the creation of profiles.

COMESA applauded Malawi for being active during the engagement process. 

“It is pleasing to note that the engagement was a tremendous success. Active participation by all participants attests to your commitment to fully implement this project. I encourage you to remain in the same spirit during the process of information gathering and content development.”

The COMESA team, led by Hamusonde, paid a courtesy call on Malawi’s Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Dr Jean Kalirani, who also expressed government commitment to support the project. The team also held a meeting with Dr Ken Ndala, principal secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, who said the project was timely and would benefit women and other small and medium enterprises in Malawi.

COMESA is engaging member states to introduce the project, outlining the benefits as well as facilitating the establishment of project country teams at the national level. The country teams are responsible for gathering information and drafting content to be uploaded onto the platform, among other key duties. During the stakeholder engagement in Malawi a project country team, comprising representatives from the public sector, private sector, women’s associations, local and international organisations and UN agencies, was established. 

From 25 to 27 June 2018, COMESA will be engaging stakeholders in Zimbabwe.