The Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) in partnership with the Caribbean Development Bank has kicked off the inaugural activity of the Women Empowered through Export (WE-Xport) programme with a two-day workshop aimed at increasing participating firmsâ€™ and regional business support organisationsâ€™ (BSOs) access to finance.
Access to finance has been identified as one of the largest hindrances to businesses in their efforts to expand. Through an increased understanding of the necessary requirements to access funds from traditional banking institutions and funding agencies, it is hoped that more women-owned businesses will be able to access the finance needed to expand their businesses, and take advantage of the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) European Union Economic Partnership Agreement (EU-EPA) to export their products and services to CARICOM and Europe.
â€œThis disproportionate access to finance, which women face, limits their ability to participate in, and contribute to the economy, and hinders the improvement of their lives,â€ said Lisa Harding, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Coordinator, Technical Cooperation Division, CDB.
â€œFurther, we believe this barrier and the consequent under-representation in entrepreneurship represents a missed economic opportunity for our Region,â€ she said. â€œIt is against this backdrop that CDB is pleased to be partnering yet again, with Caribbean Export, in the WE-Xport programme, and particularly to fund participants in the â€œAccess to Financeâ€ component.â€
At the opening of the workshop Pamela Coke Hamilton, Executive Director of Caribbean Export, outlined how issues such as sector concentration, lack of innovation and informal business structures, impede access to finance. Coke-Hamilton informed attendees that the WE-Xport programme aims to tackle many of these challenges; and the Access to Finance workshop would address the concerns of financial institutions regarding â€œweak financial literacy, and not keeping proper business and financial recordsâ€. Further, following the workshop, local Business Support Organisations in all 15 CARIFORUM countries will receive six months of technical assistance to enable them to better equip firms in their respective countries in preparing to access finance.
Coke-Hamilton closed by stressing â€œto the financial institutions, you also have a vital role to play in ensuring that when these companies make the necessary adjustments on their end to meet the requirements, that they are facilitated in their respective countriesâ€.
The European Union has done a considerable amount of work in support of private sector development over several decades. Their continued commitment to achieving the overall objective of increasing the growth and prosperity of MSMEs and by extension decent job creation and wealth formation in the region was highlighted by Camille Wildman, Project Officer-Private Sector Specialist at the Delegation of the European Union to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean States, the OECS and CARICOM/CARIFORUM in her remarks. Wildman commended the CDB, Caribbean Export and UN Women on the organization of the workshop to improve the ability of the attending BSOs and women-owned businesses to meet the requirements of the formal banking sector and improve their overall â€˜financial intelligenceâ€™.
Caribbean Export launched the WE-Xport programme in March, 2018 and selected 20 women-owned businesses from across CARIFORUM to participate in a range of activities and intiatives to build their capacity and support the growth and development of their businesses. Following the Access to Finance workshop, three companies from the WE-Xport programme will be showcasing their businesses at European Development Days (EDD) in Brussels, Europe. Following this event, participants will benefit from a three-month intensive business coaching programme.
In addition to workshops, activities under the WE-Xport programme include technical assistance grants, a podcast series to address issues affecting women in business and a womenâ€™s business forum.