ECA West Africa Calls for Support for Women and Youth’s Entrepreneurship in Africa
By Yemisi Suleiman
The recently concluded 3-day hybrid Regional Business Forum organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), through its Subregional Office for West Africa (SRO-WA), in collaboration with Compass Global Consulting, marked a significant turning point for the global agenda for Women and Youth’s empowerments in Africa.
Themed “Empowering Women Youths to Spur Africa’s Transformation Agenda”, the event which kicked off on 21st September at the Lagos Continental Hotel Victoria Island Lagos, brought together sector champions in various industries, who partook in the Regional Business Forum structured around high-level meetings, consultations with Business Champions, the youth, and women in the West African business ecosystems.
The Forum which is in partnership with more than 350 coalition partners witnessed an immense turnover of positive feedback from the opening ceremony. It started with opening remarks by Dr. Vera Songwe, Under-Secretary-General and ECA Executive Secretary who explained that the purpose of the conversation was how to bring the West African woman to leverage the knowledge, the innovation that exists, leverage the vibrancy they have, and ensure they can take their businesses one notch higher to the global sub-region and take advantage of markets that are further beyond in the east and the west.
Dr. Vera Songwe said “In a crisis, the first thing we want to do is ensure we prevent good businesses from falling below and focus a lot on retention. Africa, in particular, the West African region, has the population dynamics working for it. The African population is estimated at 1.3 million in 2020 of which over 250 million are the youth and it is estimated that 10 million to 12 million are entering the workforce every year but only 3.1 million of them find jobs”.
Songwe added that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) stands to grow Africa’s GDP by an additional one trillion dollars to deliver on what is needed: “first unlocking our borders, building value chains, and making sure the African women all work together to create the supply chain for textile, fashion, the agro-industry and essentially grow the value of the products, thereby earning more from that. They can become sub-regional and wider continental and international businesses and not limited to the geographies in which we exist today.”
The Honorable Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed during her session, emphasized why it’s imperative for society to empower youth and women. “We are hopeful, that this will be an effective avenue for empowering youths and women entrepreneurs and address the unemployment challenges we have in Africa, as well as address the need to create jobs”, speaking on the AfCFTA leverage.”
Highlighting the major gaps in the African educational systems and their effects on productivity, Mrs. Ngone Diop, Sub Regional Director, West Africa Office – UNECA, said “the region capacity of innovation remains weak mainly because of the deficiencies in the education systems”.
The representative of ECOWAS said that his organization will always be mindful of the roles women and youths play in economic development”. This is to reinstate ECOWAS’ commitment to women and youth empowerment.
The 3-day event was fully packed with high-level delegates and insightful sessions and speeches that are bound to create major mind shifts to aid women and youth inclusion and advancement in Africa and the world at large.