OWIT-Toronto participated in The Friends of Africa Economic Development Summit, hosted over a two-day event in Toronto in October, which brought together high-level public and private sector representatives from African countries including Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco and Nigeria with their Canadian counterparts. The interactive dialogue was focused on facilitating collaboration and delving into strategic opportunities to fast-track innovative growth in entrepreneurship development across diverse sectors.
The Summit organized by Casa Foundation Canada was officially opened by the Foundation’s President, Olutoyin Oyelade, who emphasized the objective of providing entrepreneurs, companies, and leaders a networking platform to expand businesses that contribute to economic development. She noted the need to have a solid foundation for new entrepreneurs to enable them to build a more sustainable private sector and to ensure inclusive sustainable growth of businesses.
Representing OWIT Toronto and moderating a panel discussion on developing an inclusive economy, VP Stephanie Dei and current National Coordinator for the WE EMPOWER Programme of the EU, UN Women and ILO, highlighted the important role of strengthening women leadership and businesses. This experience sharing session provided concrete examples of what the Canadian and Moroccan government and private sector were doing in support of advancing women’s businesses.
Prof. Wendy Cukier, Founder Diversity Institute, Ryerson University, one of OWIT-Toronto’s partners, noted in comparison that African women entrepreneurs were stronger in numbers than in Canada. She described the Canadian Government’s policy and legal approach to women’s economic empowerment through the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy as a way to catch up, increase and double the number of women entrepreneurs by 2025. “The Government of Canada has committed $2 billion to invest in women’s economic and social development. This investment reflects a strong commitment to doubling the number of women entrepreneurs in the country,” she noted.
She highlighted the government’s strong commitment to help women to grow their businesses through the creation of a Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub. The Hub was set up to engage women business support organizations across the country (including OWIT); to challenge stereotypes and build awareness of women’s entrepreneurial success; to improve access to financing, talent, networks and expertise; and to promote internationalization and engagement of women in international trade. She
emphasized the role of institutions like the Diversity Institute and the Knowledge Hub in supporting women to export through their partnership with OWIT Toronto, as well as the role of Canadian trade consulates around the world which facilitate and enable women to set their sights higher in trading globally.
Laura Reinholz, Director of BMO for Women at BMO Bank of Montreal, detailed the BMO for Women program which provides a platform to provide education, financing, training, networking, and dedicated online tools and resources for women entrepreneurs. She also highlighted the Bank’s involvement in the We Empower challenge.
Ambassador Souriya Otmani of the Kingdom of Morocco in Canada shared Morocco’s strong commitment in supporting women’s economic empowerment. She stated how this had helped boost productivity, increase economic diversification, incomes and additional positive development outcomes. She provided examples of successful projects in both the public and private sector that had tremendously improved women entrepreneurs’ livelihoods, their families and communities.
The underlying theme at the interactive session was women’s economic empowerment is good for business and for the economy. This has been further underscored by a UNDP study on the Sustainable Development Goals that indicates that investing in programmes that improve income generating activities for women can return $7 for every dollar spent.
Summing up the actionable points in the session, Prof. Cukier emphasized the need to outline and document the challenges and obstacles to women’s participation in business; the key role of undertaking research to have facts, backup data and statistics in order to address these challenges; the necessity to have accountability as to what has been done and its impact; and finally the increasing need to have diversity in women representation especially at Board levels. This would ensure a more inclusive approach in bringing women businesses centerstage.
More information about the Ninth Edition Friends of Africa Economic Development Summit can be found here.