The 7th Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF2021) had a vibrant opening in Johannesburg with high-level guests and speakers, including Dr. Mpho Phalatse, the Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg and the High Commissioner of Canada to South Africa, H. E. Chris Cooter. This was followed by the Egyptian minister speaking on day 2 in a session moderated by CNN’s Anchor, Eleni Giokos. More than 60 African and global experts, government and business leaders shared insights and thought leadership during the 2-day hybrid event with discussions on how to advance inclusive, resilient and sustainable growth in a post-COVID-19 African economy.
“Never despise the day of small beginnings, because from small beginnings, great things grow”, stated Irene Ochem, founder and CEO of AWIEF, in her welcoming speech. The AWIEF’s beginning was indeed small, but in the last 7 years it has made huge steps in its mission to foster women’s economic inclusion, advancement and empowerment through entrepreneurship support and development. Irene emphasised that new partnerships are crucial for AWIEF to reach greater heights and to empower many more women in Africa and to connect them to opportunities.
Mayor and High Commissioner
What better way to start a women empowerment Conference, than with the welcoming words of a powerful woman and trailblazer, Dr. Mpho Phalatse, the first female mayor of Johannesburg in 124 years! Mayor Phalatse expressed her delight and honour for Johannesburg to be the host city for such a significant business gathering as the AWIEF Conference. “The City of Johannesburg is thrilled to provide the platform for businesses to network, to find prospects and to build future collaborations.”, she said. In his opening keynote address, Also the High Commissioner of Canada to South Africa, H. E. Chris Cooter, spoke about all the great opportunities the AWIEF Conference provides. He shared some reflections on women entrepreneurs in Canada as well as in South Africa, and reiterated that “The empowerment of all women and girls is not only a goal in itself, but it is a prerequisite to achieve all the other Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.” In closing, the High Commissioner stated: “When women are able to live up to their full potential, society benefits as a whole. Let this AWIEF Conference bring powerful new connections, new ideas and great insights!”
One of the highlights of day 2 was the panel with H.E. Rania Al-Mashat, Egypt’s Minister for International Cooperation, and Amel Hamza, Acting Director, Gender and Civil Society Engagement Department of the African Development Bank. The panel, moderated by Eleni Giokos, CNN’s Anchor and Correspondent, discussed how to bolster entrepreneurship in Africa and to support the development of women. According to Minister Al-Mashat, “It all starts with the political will to create opportunities for women, so policies can be put in place that support the development of girls and women. The pandemic has created a common denominator for citizens around the world to gather around important issues like gender equality and it has highlighted the importance of multilateralism.” Amel Hamza underlined this by saying: ”This is a time to accelerate efforts, for example by giving female entrepreneurs more time to repay their loans, but also by offering a better infrastructure (electricity, water, transport) and human capital development.”
From agri-business to eCommerce
The Conference was stacked with speakers from across Africa and beyond, including high-level representatives from international development, corporate and multinationals such as: International Trade Centre (ITC), AGRA, Nedbank, UNIDO, AWS, AUDA-NEPAD, Roche and PayFast. These global experts and business leaders participated in dynamic panel discussions, focusing on growth opportunities in different sectors, from agriculture to eCommerce and the creative industry. A very lively panel discussion, was the one with agri-experts. During this one hour session, the experts shared their ideas on how to catalyze inclusive growth and resilience for women’s agri-enterprises. One of the conclusions was that we need to rethink the finance system and that the entire eco-system around women entrepreneurs needs to change. The panel discussion with the eCommerce experts also produced many insights, such as the necessity to look for innovative payment methods that reduce the costs of transactions, which forms a big hurdle for starting e-commerce businesses. The panel also emphasized the importance of creating female role models and having private-public dialogues, so that governments can develop policies that sustain the growth of eCommerce.
AWIEF2021 was a Conference full of insights, experiences and inspiring words of wisdom shared by so many different speakers. The MC of the AWIEF Conference, Peter Ndoro (Anchor and Broadcast Journalist at SABC), who masterfully facilitated the Conference, summarized it perfectly: “Africa is tagged with potential, now it’s time to take action and start fulfilling what we are capable of doing. Let’s unite and create a thriving environment for women entrepreneurs in Africa. If you empower a woman, you empower a society. Take all the wisdom with you, out there, and be amazing! See you next year again at the AWIEF Conference.”
Eleni Giokos, Anchor & Correspondent at CNN, moderated the Ministerial panel.
High Commissioner of Canada to South Africa, H. E. Chris Cooter, during his opening speech.
Panel discussion on how to catalyse inclusive growth and resilience for women’s agri-enterprises.