“Leading The Way Through Women’s Economic Empowerment” on the sidelines of the 2022 U.S. Leaders Summit

On Sunday, December 11th, 2022, the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) hosted the “Leading The Way Through Women’s Economic Empowerment” panel, the first event on the sidelines of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. The panel convened high-level U.S. and African government, business, and policy leaders in a roundtable discussion on the strategies and opportunities to economically empower women. 

The event commenced with a fireside chat with Travis Adkins, the President, and CEO of the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), Patricia Obozuwa, VP of Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability at Coca-Cola Africa and Pamela Coke Hamilton, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC). The moderator, Haydé Adams of Voices of America, asked several questions surrounding access to finance, the women focused initiatives of their respective organizations and their impacts as well as the greatest advantages and barriers women entrepreneurs in emerging markets face, amongst other questions.  

Pamela Coke-Hamilton stated that the digital economy is the greatest advantage women have. According to her, business spaces “gender neutral” quality, the leap of e-commerce, and the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) are keys for women’s access to markets that hitherto did not exist. She also mentioned that the challenges remain traditional access to finance and the informal nature in which most African businesswomen conduct business. She expressed her optimism in the AfCFTA’s potential to transform Africa’s geopolitical power and emphasized the ITC’s work with 50 African countries to help more women get involved in the digital market space.

Patricia Obozuwa shared the challenges she came across working with women entrepreneurs in Africa. These include difficulty to access funding, lack of material collateral, and cultural factors that decrease the amount of respect women get in business and work environments. She mentioned the need for increased collective efforts in this regard to avoid losing decades of progress especially after COVID. She also highlighted the effort that Coca- Cola has made to include women in positions of leadership and the need for companies to have intentional targets and measures to empower women by recruiting, retaining, and promoting women into leadership. 

Mr. Travis Adkins emphasized the importance of SMEs, and the roles that women play on the continent as the majority in population. Hence the need to prioritize women in all aspects of their well-being and provide women with on the ground support to meet their unique needs. He stated ADF’s commitment to investing 50-60% of their funds into women businesses and having several yearly initiatives reserved for women. 

In general, panelists highlighted the need to increase women’s access to funding, build their financial and digital literacy, join larger groups, and formalize their business processes to benefit from the opportunities around them. They also stressed the need for collaboration with governments to drive changes in policies and cultural practices to  the benefit of women. Finally, panelists answered questions addressing land ownership, discriminatory lending practices, lack of gender disaggregated data, as well as racism’s role in the inequalities of certain industries’ manufacturing models.