- Female entrepreneurs have long experienced challenges which have been impediments to their business engagements.
- The Women Entrepreneurs Network of the Caribbean (WENC) has been established to address existing and emerging concerns.
- Launched in March 2012, the WENC evolved from the efforts of former United States Secretary of State, Hilary Rodman Clinton, a strong advocate of the rights of women across the globe.
Female entrepreneurs have long experienced challenges which have been impediments to their business engagements.
Some of these hurdles include: limited access to formal business networks and financing.
Consequent on these developments, particularly across the region, the Women Entrepreneurs Network of the Caribbean (WENC) has been established to address existing and emerging concerns.
Launched in March 2012, the WENC evolved from the efforts of former United States Secretary of State, Hillary Rodman Clinton, a strong advocate of the rights of women across the globe.
She has been particularly vocal on matters relating to equal opportunities for women to be fully involved in the affairs of their respective countries as political leaders, and drivers of economic growth.
Jamaica is among the Caribbean countries that will benefit from the WENC, with the formation of the local Chapter, which was launched at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston, last week.
Speaking at the launch, local President, Ethnie Miller Simpson, said the organization will commence its activities in July with a pilot programme, inclusive of a training course for participants.
The overall engagements, she explained, will target 200 female entrepreneurs in the first instance, who will be assigned mentors after they have completed the course.
“The mentors will not only be local business women, but international business women (as well),” she said.
Ms. Miller Simpson said there will also be public education and research information sharing campaigns, as well as the establishment of mutual assistance and cooperation agreements among partner agencies.
“We will also develop and implement policies and programmes to achieve and maintain an appropriate awareness of gender diversity on economic growth through best practices,” she informed.
Ms. Miller Simpson noted that these initiatives have been made possible through a $6.49 million (US$58,500) grant from the WEAmercias Grant initiative, a funding facility administered by the US Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.
The grant will assist the network in achieving its mandate of increasing the visibility and viability of female-led businesses in the Caribbean through advocacy, training, networking, and identifying and sharing best practises and resources to support the entrepreneurship development of its members.
Ms. Miller Simpson said apart from Jamaica, WENC chapters have also been established in Guyana and St. Lucia, adding that “it is our intention to (incorporate) Dominica next, followed by Grenada and Trinidad by the end of the year.”
Outlining the benefits of joining WENC, Ms. Miller Simpson said members will have access to business knowledge and information sharing, training programmes; as well as details on access to funding, among other things.
Membership criteria includes: tax compliance documents; business/company registration documents; a membership fee of $11,100 (US$100); and is open to registered female business or company owner with 51 per cent ownership of said company or business.
Ms. Miller Simpson noted that while there is much more to be achieved, the work has just begun as women comprise 66 per cent of the global workforce, and produce 50 per cent of the world’s food, but only earn 10 per cent of the accruable income while owning one per cent share of property.
Referring to a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report, Ms. Miller Simpson also informed that women are not necessarily owning their businesses and starting as many, as men.
“The GEM reveals that in 2012, seven women for every 10 men started businesses. It’s a pretty strong representation but it’s down from eight, the year before,” she said, adding that men build broader networks which include more business connections than women.
Ms. Miller Simpson added that men are more likely to be recognized as entrepreneurs which can give the boost needed to start a business.
“Another significant finding is that women set the bar lower for growing their businesses, while men are 30 per cent more likely to say they plan to add more than five employees after the first five years than women. That may be because of constraints of factors like the lack of access to capital or family responsibilities which have a greater impact on the life of a woman,” she said.
Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Hon. Anthony Hylton, who also addressed the function, said the Government is committed to creating the most enabling environment to foster entrepreneurial success.
This, he pointed out, is evidenced by the various legislative and policy changes which support the Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (MSME) sector.
“As a Government, we recognise the strong entrepreneurial role of women and their contribution to national development. In the process of wealth creation, we fully support gender inclusiveness and will put in place the policy and legislative framework to foster the economic sustainability of businesses, including those where women play strong leadership roles,” he said.
He noted that the launch of WENC will strengthen and maximise the impact of women entrepreneurs in Jamaica and the region.
“Female entrepreneurs throughout the Caribbean face a number of impediments. Research findings from organisations such as the United Nations and the International Finance Corporation point to the fact that the economic participation and contribution of women owned businesses is adversely affected by several factors,” he said.
Mr. Hylton added that the WENC will provide an avenue for women entrepreneurs to access markets in the Caribbean through linkages formed with like-minded businesswomen in the region.
He urged members of the WENC and other micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in Jamaica to adhere to global standards in order to integrate into the global value and supply chain, and contribute to economic growth and job creation.
“We need to raise the overall competitiveness of the Jamaican economy and build the capacity of Jamaica exporters of goods and services, enabling these products and services to compete with products and services originating in other, more standards-driven environments,” he said.
He further encouraged Jamaican entrepreneurs to avail themselves of the relevant certification through the National Certification Body of Jamaica (NCBJ), thereby ensuring that they are operating at global standards.
The objectives of the Women Entrepreneurs Network of the Caribbean (WENC) include: developing and implementing policies and programmes to achieve and maintain an appropriate awareness of gender diversity in economic growth through best practices; increase access to opportunities to access funding, markets, and technology; provide training and certification in entrepreneurship.
It also will encourage participation in WENC sponsored programmes and projects in association with local government authorities, community-based organisations and private and voluntary agencies; promote greater national awareness for women entrepreneurship through public education and research information.
As well as establish and maintain mutual assistance and cooperation agreements among partner agencies, private sector and international donor organisations.
Some of the members of the Women Entrepreneurs Network of the Caribbean-Jamaica are: Aroleht International; Aviola Accessories; Black Butterfly Media; Etis Cafe; Isle Bites; Shades of Elegance; Strawberry Fields; Premier Promotions; Future Services International; Maid with a Smile; On the Go Admin; and Connectimass.