The West Africa Business Forum, the first edition in a series of stakeholders’ engagements by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), through its Subregional Office for West Africa (SRO-WA), in collaboration with Compass Global Consulting kickstarted on the 21st September 2021 and ended on the 23rd September 2021.
The 3-day hybrid Regional Business Forum Themed “Empowering Women Youths to Spur Africa’s Transformation Agenda”, brought together esteemed Actors of West Africa’s Business Ecosystem, Business Champions, the youth and women in the West African business ecosystems to deliberate solutions for the financial inclusion and empowerment for both women and youth in West Africa.
“The economic empowerment of women and youth is critical to the sustainable development across all continents”, Honorable Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Shamsuna stated as she emphasized the importance of women and youth empowerment in Africa and globally.
The forum boasts Delegates from 15 West African countries and over 350 Coalition Partners from across the region who keenly support the agenda to empower Women and Youths towards employability and Entrepreneurship. It featured multiple aspects of the economy, as well as a diverse range of discussions on how to harness Africa’s potential through youth and women empowerment.
In preparation for the forum, Sub-regional Director, West Africa UN Economic Commission of Africa Mrs Ngone Diop, carried out a survey. The survey was responded to by around 200 women and young people from various Business sectors in West African Countries. 82.6% of the responders were decision-makers, 64.2% were Micro businesses and 26.8% were small business owners. The majority of responders are in the Agro business, Agro-processing beauty products Manufacturing sector at 24%.
The result of the survey shows that the skills identified which are underrepresented in business are digital. Responders’ survey also shows that employment/ leadership opportunities for Women and Youth can be found in various Business sectors such as Agriculture/ Agribusiness, Technology/ICT, Industry/ Manufacturing, Construction and Marketing.
During the three day forum, participants conducted in-depth reflections on the actions and potential opportunities to engage Women and Youth in Business. It revealed that internship and mentorship programs have to be adopted, quality foundational education, training hubs to improve skills for women and youths, internet availability and early enrollment of the girl-child into tech.
Speaking on the importance of familiarizing the girl child with tech, Sub Regional Director, West Africa Office UN Economic Commission for Africa, Mrs Ngone Diop said, “Early enrollment of the girl child into tech space will ignite their interest in STEM subjects and make the concept of technology education comfortable for girls”.
The suggested policy recommendations by responders include actions on Education/ Building capacity, Access to Finance/ Partnership, ICT/ Innovation Digitalisation, Structural transformation, AfCFTA, and Entrepreneurship/ Employment etc.
The West Africa Business Linkages Platform was launched to support the growth and sustainability of Women and Youth Entrepreneurship. The purpose of the linkage platform is to Connect, Build, and Transform our enormous resources endowment; building business linkages and bringing transformation and change in West Africa.