#02 Business
Berthold Hoffmann / Sandra Flicke-Lötzsch

Best Case: Learning from Neighbours

Associations of women in business are working together across international borders in South Asia and Southern Africa. InWEnt is supporting them in their efforts.

Regional cooperation in South Asia is often difficult due to the smouldering conflict between India and Pakistan. Nonetheless the SCWEC – SAARC Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs Council is ensuring that dialogue and exchange continue even in these difficult times. SCWEC stands for a subgroup of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Indira Dutt is currently President of the SCWEC. A native of India, she is proud of what she and her colleagues from Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives have accomplished over the past three years. In more than 50 workshops, training seminars and dialogue events, women from different nations have proven their dedication to civil society. In November of this year, there efforts culminated in three-day business summit in Chennai. It addressed an array of topics including the role of women in general and of business women associations (BWA) in political decision processes and social reform movements in particular. Around 100 women from across the region took part in the meeting.

SCWEC events generally focus on the problems confronting women in business in South Asia. Together participants explore possible solutions, sometimes looking to successful neighbouring countries for examples. The ultimate goal is to provide a wide range of services to support business women in expanding and promoting new start-ups to create new jobs. Workshops and training courses are designed to teach about the necessary modern methods, technologies and strategies.

A central topic of the CHANCE Winter School 2009, for example, was how to use new information and telecommunications technologies effectively. Participants learned how important these can be for the success of the work of BWAs and how to use them to their best advantage. A well planned website is of key importance for the work of associations and for regional networks in particular. The SCWEC site is the best example of how training has successfully translated into practice. It is now very attractive and well structured, giving a good overview of the work, members and programmes offered by the Chamber.

According to scientist Rajiv Kumar, the time is ripe to increase efforts for cooperation in South Asia. He reports that India too, by far the largest national economy in the region, is profiting from closer cross-national regional cooperation. The SCWEC women need no urging. They are already busy creating partnerships with one another. But, as the women are equally aware, without the right political support, their opportunities are limited.

Compared to South Asia, the political framework conditions for regional partnerships and promoting business women in Southern Africa are considerably more favourable. The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) concluded a respective protocol fairly recently, as Magdeline Mathiba-Madibela, Head of the Gender Unit of the SADC Secretariat, proudly points out. These binding regulations are even legally enforceable by the SADC Tribunal in the Namibian capital of Windhoek. An additional action plan is also intended to ensure that the political goal of gender equality is implemented. The Gender Unit advises member states on implementation and is dedicated to ensuring that men and women participate equally in decision processes.

Magdeline Mathiba-Madibela views Southern Africa as very heterogeneous in terms of society, culture, politics and religion. Resentment or fear of a loss of identity can also limit regional cooperation. In conversation with colleagues from South Asia, she has become conscious of the importance of networking between regional business organisations. Inspired by the SCEWC’s example, the SACD has decided to further promote exchange in their own region and inside the organisation through training programmes and trade fairs.

The first successes resulting from increased dialogue between business women's organisations in Southern Africa were soon apparent: In August 2010 Windhoek hosted the "Women in Business Trade Fair and Investment Forum" that brought female participants from all SADC countries to the table. The central issues addressed at the event included marketing and trade fair activities along with increasing the awareness of women in business of the SADC Free Trade Zone and its advantages. A Training of Trainers (ToT) involving 37 trainers from Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Tanzania created a large pool of trainers. The conference intensively discussed increasing awareness of "gender" as an issue and integrating it into training measures. Trainers involved in InWEnt projects in the region, such as CHANCE (Chamber and Advisory Network and Cooperation of Women Entrepreneurs) will assess and adjust their training materials and methods in future to address gender. CHANCE supports organisations of women in business and consulting institutions on a national and regional level through training, dialogue and network building. Training together was especially positively received by all involved. The opportunity to exchange experience between important stakeholders was also highlighted.

With the help of CHANCE, participants were also successful in founding a branch of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW International), the largest international network of business women. The "BWA South African Women in Leadership Census 2010", an extensive study, was also successfully completed this year.

The SADC Gender Unit's report in particular left a lasting impression on the SCWEC women. They want to increase their offensive actions and announced plans to increase pressure on governments in future, so that issues of equality take precedence on the SAARC agenda. The SCWEC and SADC Gender Unit have definite plans to keep each other informed of their activities. The InWEnt CHANCE programme will continue to support them in their efforts.