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Trade Finance Global’s (TFG) annual Women in Trade, Treasury, and Payments campaign in 2024 focused on Inspiring Inclusion around the globe. Different regions face different challenges when it comes to gender inclusion, and it is vital to understand perspectives from across the globe.

To learn more about the challenges that women face in the trade, treasury, and payments space across the African continent, and some of the programmes in place to help balance the scales, TFG spoke with Gwen Mwaba, Director and Global Head of Trade Finance at Afreximbank.

Afreximbank’s role in addressing gender equality

Women in Africa aiming to accelerate their careers in trade, treasury, and payments face several significant challenges, including societal pressures, which sometimes dictate women’s roles and affect their career opportunities. 

Additionally, women can encounter obstacles in career advancement due to periods of maternity leave, which can put them behind their male counterparts. Many women also lack sufficient role models in leadership positions within their fields.

Mwaba said, “The reality is that trade is not gender balanced, particularly across developing and emerging markets.”

This is something that Afreximbank focusses on addressing in order to support, include, and empower women across the continent. 

The bank has implemented various initiatives to provide mentorship and training programmes to upskill female employees and attract more women into the industry. These efforts are part of a broader strategy to build capacity and offer support systems that enable women to navigate their careers more effectively, including overcoming organisational challenges. 

Beyond internal initiatives, Afreximbank extends its support to African female entrepreneurs, offering targeted programmes to facilitate their involvement in trade and access to essential information and financial resources. 

Through these comprehensive measures, the bank is making significant strides in empowering women in Africa, helping to overcome the generations of embedded challenges.

Impact of Afreximbank’s work

Afreximbank’s Trade Information Portal is one initiative that has helped to democratise access to trade information and is helping to level the playing field for women in trade. 

The Trade Information portal, which is available under the Afreximbank’s digital ecosystem the Africa Trade Gateway (ATG), offers a subscription-based service where entrepreneurs, at no initial cost for the free limited access version, can access information about market needs and opportunities in neighbouring countries. This information is crucial for women looking to export goods and services, empowering them to make informed decisions and identify viable markets for their products.

The bank’s role in promoting successful female-led enterprises further highlights its impact. 

Mwaba said, “We have a very successful client in the cocoa industry in Ghana. She started as a cocoa bean trader, but we encouraged her to set up a manufacturing plant, which Afreximbank financed. Now, the company is semi-processing cocoa beans into cocoa cake, cocoa liquor, and cocoa butter for export to manufacturers of finished products outside of Africa. 

“What is exciting about this business is that it is owned by a woman who is also the CEO, her CFO is a woman, her entire senior management team are women, and the people on the shop floor are women. 

“That’s just one example of Afreximbank’s initiatives to support women entrepreneurs.” 

However, supporting entrepreneurs in today’s technology-driven economy also requires a dedicated digital approach.

How can digital education help women?

Afreximbank is strategically positioned to enhance and promote digital education among African female entrepreneurs, enabling them to participate more fully in digital trade

The bank’s approach to digital education – which is no longer just an advantage but a necessity for staying competitive in the global market – involves providing digital solutions and training to ensure users can fully leverage these technologies.

One digital initiative which can also be accessed on ATG is the Mansa Digital Platform, a KYC repository that simplifies the verification process for corporates and banks. This platform is instrumental in helping entrepreneurs gain quicker access to financial services by streamlining the due diligence process for potential lenders.

Mwaba said, “Once you are Mansa verified, it’s easy for banks to provide you with solutions. Within that ecosystem (ATG), we have also developed a digital solution called the Africa Trade Exchange (ATEX), which is a digital exchange for buying and selling all manner of commodities.”

To further support ATEX, Afreximbank is the payment bank and will link ATEX to the payment platform, the Pan African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS) which facilitates transactions in local currencies. 

For example, PAPSS would allow a seller in Kenya to receive Kenyan shillings for goods that they sell to a buyer in Rwanda, who pays in Rwandan Francs. This system significantly reduces the reliance on foreign currencies, making trade more accessible and cost-effective for African entrepreneurs.

For Afreximbank, however, the digital journey is about more than just providing access to these technology platforms. It is also about training and education. 

The bank ensures that users of its digital solutions receive comprehensive training, empowering them with the skills needed to navigate and maximise the benefits the digital solutions provide. 

Mwaba said, “Through our HR department we offer Afreximbank academy AFRACAD, which has a number of digital and non-digital courses accessible to people who want to upskill themselves in anything to do with banking and trade.”

This effort enables women to trade more effectively in the digital realm and contributes to fostering inclusivity and empowerment in the African trade sector. Afreximbank plans to continue this momentum by rolling out new initiatives in the years to come.

Looking to an inclusive future

One of the initiatives the bank is driving is the establishment of Export Trading Companies (ETCs), which seek to overcome one of the significant challenges female entrepreneurs face: the inability to export due to the small size of their operations. 

Mwaba said, “This model entails aggregating goods from different markets to create scale. For example, you have many sesame seed producers who, on their own, are too small to be able to export. 

“This ETC initiative would aggregate sesame seeds into one location with the highest comparative advantage, package and brand them under one label and, using that volume, export them outside Africa.” 

Additionally, Afreximbank is spearheading the development of industrial parks focused on light manufacturing across Africa. These industrial parks would provide a conducive environment for entrepreneurs who engage in light manufacturing, such as producing small electrical components or garments, and are well suited to women due to their scalability and potential for job creation.

Through these and other programmes, the bank continues to pave the way for a more equitable and prosperous future for women in trade across the continent. A future that will inspire inclusion for all.Mwaba said, “To me, Inspire Inclusion means you can’t be all things to all people. Just be the best version of yourself can be.”