African women business platform, The 50 Million African Women Speak Platform (50MAWSP), launched

An online business networking platform aimed at connecting 50 million women entrepreneurs across Africa has been launched. The 50 Million African Women Speak Platform (50MAWSP) is an initiative of three regional economic communities supported by the African Development Bank.

The  inaugural national launch was conducted in Zambia, on Friday, 28 February 2020 and will be rolled out in 38 countries that are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The Platform was developed to empower women in Africa by enabling them to access real-time information on financial and non-financial services through handheld communication mobile devices. It is custom-built and dedicated to serving the information needs of women by providing an avenue through which to improve their ability to network, share knowledge and do business with each other. Zambia’s First Lady, Mrs. Esther Lungu launched the Platform in Zambia.

COMESA is leading the national launches in 15 countries, with Zambia being the first off the blocks. Others lined up are in Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Eritrea, Djibouti, Egypt, Sudan, Malawi, Madagascar, Comoros, DR Congo, Tunisia, and Mauritius.

The development of the online networking platform was conceived in 2016 and a Memorandum of Understanding signed between COMESA, the EAC and ECOWAS to jointly implement the project.  This was informed by a study conducted by the AfDB that found that about 70% of women in Africa are financially excluded.

“To give you just one more grim static; women alone, who contribute the larger percentage of Africa’s population and form the majority of those engaged in key sectors such as agriculture and trade, face a financing gap of close to US$16 billion,” said COMESA Secretary General Chileshe at the launch.

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She added that even where financing is available, it is not always accessed owing to lack of information about the available financial products such as affordable credit, business training, and mentorship, among others.

In COMESA Member States, the Platform will ride on the trade facilitation tools that have already been developed and removal of restrictions to trade across borders, such as the COMESA Simplified Trade Regime. Being a tech-driven platform, the women can begin to transact or share information with millions of people in the 38 countries where the platform is present, within seconds of signing up.

Urging the women in Zambia to sign up on the Platform the First Lady said: “With this platform you have your own space as an entrepreneur to post your merchandise and advertise it free of charge.  Alternatively, it could be the place where you connect with suppliers, or even business mentors. All these features, ladies are available to you at absolutely no cost.”

Mrs. Lungu urged Governments, policy makers, trade and business support institutions and women business leaders to support the rural women and the youth to participate in the Platform so that they are not left behind.

“Let us roll and reach out to this untapped potential by providing them with internet training and skills for them to participate,” she said. “Other stakeholders and partners can go a mile further and facilitate the acquisition of the internet tools, the smart phones.”

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