The 6th EU (European Union) – Nigeria business forum was basically a platform for leaders, policy makers and stakeholders from the EU and Nigeria to explore business openings, how to create investments and create more jobs.
Day two of the event, which took place at Eko Hotel & Suites in Lagos on Friday, 6th October 2017, was all about gender equality and investing in Youth. I particularly enjoyed this bit of the business forum because it was channeled towards empowering women entrepreneurs, accelerating gender equality and investing in young people within Nigeria.
According to the African development bank group (Afdb), women are more economically active in Africa, and in Nigeria particularly as entrepreneurs, recruits and farmers than in any other part of the world. Yet across the continent, women are held back from accomplishing their full potential as frontrunners in the public life, in the boardroom or in developing their businesses.
The obstructive cultural practices, lack of security, infrastructural deficiencies and discriminatory laws that women have to deal with hold back the potential of the continents’ economy. Nigeria, for instance, ranks 118 out of 144 countries on the global gender gap index for 2016. Substantial gender gaps still exist in education and economic empowerment.
Currently, women’s outlook of creating larger earnings are obstructed by lack of basic skills, little or no access to financial services and the challenge of balancing domestic and business obligations.
Ngover Nwankwo, who represented Aishah Ahmad, the deputy Central bank governor at the forum placed a lot of emphasis on the need to empower female entrepreneurs from bottom to top. She pointed out that the issue is not with women starting their business or making a name for themselves, a lot of women start trade all the time. It is more about them growing their already existing businesses beyond the micro level. The panelists and other stake holders agreed with her line of thought.
Education/financial literacy is top on the list of hindering factors for entrepreneurs being the best version of themselves. There is an urgent need to invest more in education for women so that they are not just skilled in starting businesses but able to apply monetary edification in the day-to-day running of their enterprises. Next is access to funds, a lot of loan schemes exist in Nigeria but there are too many financial barriers (such as collateral). Businesswomen should be open to seeking equity investors; it doesn’t have to be about debt all the time. Finding people who will finance in the business and share the profit is another viable option.
Iyalode Lawson, first female president of NACCIMA (Nigerian association of chambers of commerce, industry, mines & Agriculture) and Dr Ola Orekunrin, founder of flying doctors, Nigeria placed so much emphasis on women supporting other women. There is a need to share the success story of women at the top as some form of inspiration for those starting up. Dr Ola also spoke intensively on how culture and religion intertwine in subjugating the right of females. Why for example are women told to shrink themselves? Why are they not allowed to aspire to the best of education or to dream big? It is essential to teach children from when they are little that men and women are equal and deserve the same opportunities.
Other discussions around women hinged on policy formulation. The education curriculum, labour and finance policies are highly discriminative. Ndidi Nwuneli, co – founder of AACE food processing and distribution channel expressed disappointment at the highly discriminative education curriculum, labour and finance policies. She left the audience with unanswered questions:
Why do textbooks say, “Mum’s job is to cook and dad’s is to work?”
Why do labour laws in Nigeria tell women they cannot work at night? What about those in the manufacturing industry who work with (night shifts)
Why is it difficult for women to get loan finance for their businesses?
Away from women, the youth panel touched on the need to take into account the aspiration of young people and youth organisations. There were discussions on the importance of empowering youth (especially economically) so they are better able to contribute to the development and growth of Nigeria.
Alkasim Zangina, regional chairman of the Nigerian young professionals forum (NYPF) spoke extensively on the need to “sack” the older generation not just from governance but also in the world of business. More young people need to discover their potential and take charge, not everything will be handed to them on a platter of gold.
A lot of talk on this panel was around young people standing up for themselves and not waiting around for anyone to make things better in both the formal and informal sector. The panelists challenged youths to go outside their comfort zones and gain more experience and skills in order to be prepared for whatever opportunities arise.
The entire session was remarkable; all the stakeholders identified issues surrounding empowerment of women and youth and of course suggested possible solutions to the said issues. The question that kept resonating within me as I sat in the audience was ‘where do we go from here’? It’s one thing to discuss and identify key problems and even suggest resolutions, it’s another to actually do something about the conversations.
While I am worried about the implementation of all the suggested policies and key solutions to the issues raised. I remain enthusiastic about positive change as having open conversations about them are a good start.