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SheTrades Caribbean eyeing three million women traders

By 2025, Caribbean Development Bank projects it will be supporting around 2,000 women-led businesses, and millions of women over the long run, through the SheTrades Hub.

The bank will be investing US$450,000 in the buildout of the hub, a two-year project that’s also backed “in kind” by the International Trade Centre, ITC, to the tune of US$19,000 in the form of project management and administration.

As the regional partner on the ITC’s SheTrades initiative, CDB will host the SheTrades Caribbean Hub and has engaged a team to operationalise the project immediately, said President Hygnius ‘Gene’ Leon at the launch of the trade platform project on Tuesday.

The hub is meant to provide women-owned or women-led businesses in 19 CDB member countries with to access markets and investment opportunities.

The financing agreement between ITC and CDB was also signed at the launch on Tuesday.

Although CDB has said goal is to assist at least 2,000 MSMEs in two years, it’s also aiming to have around three million women trading through the platform. It’s also meant to drive activity in an arena that women-owned businesses have a much lower presence than men – the export market.

“What we are launching is not just about the empowerment of Caribbean women, it is a gigantic step towards gender equity. The Caribbean’s existence has been marked by multiple periods of crisis. Our past and present has been constantly underwritten by shocks and trauma. For these reasons we must envision a future which is resilient,” Leon said.

ITC said the initiative is built on several pillars: the provision of data, fair trade policies, government contracts, business deals, unlocking financial services and granting ownership rights.

Women entrepreneurs may also access training, and do business through through global partnerships. A mobile app has been made available for women to sign up to the hub.

“There is this fallacy that women are in charge and do not need any help,” said ITC Executive Director Pamela Coke-Hamilton, a lawyer and trade expert, who has headed the ITC since 2020.

“When it comes to entrepreneurship and economic power we are not in charge,” she declared. “We are managers, not owners and that is a huge difference.”

“Caribbean women know how to make a lot out of very little. We have a way of no matter what getting it done. We bring an approach to business that reflects resilience. But even the most resilient among us need support and that is why we are here today,” Coke-Hamilton said.

The ITC head said the SheTrades project would be working with businesses organisations across the region to reach women.

“Through that network we aim to reach the target of at least 2,000 women by 2025. We have already started engaging and have had consultation with 14 out of 19 countries so far,” she said.

Leon said SheTrades was not a cure-for-all but can serve to level the playing field in terms of access to information and tools for women business owners.

“If given the same opportunity, we believe they can create livelihoods and create a more sustainable society,” he said.

There is currently a growing global network of 14 SheTrades Hubs across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America.

“These hubs we hope will connect thousands of women across the globe to markets and new opportunities. By providing funding the bank [CDB] is officially on board. It will help women become more competitive in a shifting landscape,” said Coke-Hamilton.

“The hub involves a devoted community of partners, not a stand-alone entity. Our research shows that a team effort is needed to make women’s empowerment work. Together we can reshape norms and expectations around women in trade. New networks, new lessons, and opening new doors,” she said.

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