Leveraging International Trade to Empower Women
Traditionally, there have been fewer women entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa as compared to other world regions. However, much like women’s participation in the workforce, which is now on a more positive trajectory, this is changing fast and for the better. You only have to look at the fact that today, one in every three start-ups in the Middle East is founded or led by a woman.
There is room for growth, and a long way to go. The MENA region has the widest gender gap in terms of early-stage entrepreneurial activity, with the female Total Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) rate currently at just 7.3% of the population, half that of their male counterparts. The reasons for this are plentiful; culturally there are still many barriers that women must navigate when choosing to set up and run their own businesses.
At UPS, we are committed to providing equal economic opportunities for all and are continually looking for innovative ways to service our communities, ultimately enhancing the well-being of all. It is part of our ethos to seek out ways to move the economy forward by supporting those who need a chance – and a partner – to make their entrepreneurial dreams a reality.
For decades we have done exactly that, encouraging small businesses to thrive by enabling and simplifying cross-border trading. In recent years, UPS recognised that women business-owners face a unique set of challenges as commercial trends evolved and new trade arrangements emerged. To help unlock their untapped potential as economic pillars within their communities, we needed to take action.
That is why, in 2018, UPS and The UPS Foundation partnered with the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative and launched the UPS Women Exporters Program, a global initiative designed to upskill thousands of women entrepreneurs who want to bring their unique products to new consumers. Our aim is to leverage the benefits of international trade for the economic empowerment of women.
Through these initiatives, we are offering various tools to improve the technical competitiveness of women entrepreneurs and foster an inclusive business ecosystem in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, and Mexico, among other countries. Eligible female entrepreneurs have received training and mentorship to navigate the export process successfully across international markets. Since inception, the Women Exporters Program has reached over 6,000 entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Initiatives like this will help to transform the entrepreneur paradigm in the region, ensuring women business-owners are given the support they need to thrive and succeed.
However, this isn’t just about economic self-sufficiency. This kind of inclusive empowerment will make a big difference in the communities we serve, which is what ultimately drives us at UPS – we aspire to be a vehicle for positive momentum, bringing good to the world, and delivering what matters.
Last month, supported by the Ministry Of Economy of the UAE and as part of the broader Annual Investment Meeting 2020, UPS partnered with Dubai Exports to organize discussions around the theme of The New Normal for Women: Dynamic Leaders of Business. The event was part of the SheTrades initiative and brought together experts from all over the world, including the USA, Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, the UAE, India, and Singapore. The participants showcased how, when it comes to women growing and succeeding in the business world today, much of the focus by consumers is on how a company engages with its environment and seeks to drive a positive impact in the community.
And we are seeing results, beyond business best practices: women entrepreneurs are contributing towards sustainable development, economic resilience, and inclusive growth.
It was encouraging to hear such positive ideas about how we can empower women in economic transformation and growth. While we know that promoting the growth of women-owned small businesses will invigorate local markets, it is a long-term effort that requires the ongoing collaboration of organisations committed to facilitating social and economic progress.
Our hope is that by continuing to work with SheTrades and other partners, the strength of our collective actions can be a powerful force for good, further elevating the impact of women entrepreneurs in the region.
We at UPS look for ways to remove barriers for women businesses looking to succeed, which includes making global trade more inclusive. Our Women Exporters Program is one such avenue that has provided thousands of women-owned businesses with the education and guidance to scale their business and access new markets.
Together, we can move the world forward by delivering what matters – economic and social empowerment, one woman-owned business at a time.
This piece is contributed by Christina Struller, Vice President Public Affairs, Indian Subcontinent, Middle East and Africa, at UPS.