Afro-descendant women entrepreneurs benefit from business development bootcamp in Jamaica

THIRTY-THREE women entrepreneurs and senior leaders from women-led organisations from the Caribbean, North and South America and Africa received business development training, mentorship, and networking opportunities at the inaugural Yemanja Collaborative: Leadership and Networking Workshop for Women Entrepreneurs on December 5-7, with select participants identified to attend the 2023 International Woman Leadership Conference (TIWLC) in Dubai.

Hosted by UN Women Multi-Country Office (MCO) – Caribbean in support of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015 -2024), the participants who were primarily from the agro-processing, cultural and creative industries, attended daily training sessions with industry experts on pitching their businesses to access financing whether seed funding from angel investors, private equity financing or grant funding from development financial institutions (DFIs) as well as a focus on leadership skills, relationship management, securing investment and the Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs).

With World Bank and InfoDev data stating that women in Latin America and the Caribbean constitute 59 per cent of the informal economy and represent only eight per cent of entrepreneurs in the formal sectors, the workshop sought to enhance the economic empowerment and resilience of women-owned MSMEs.

At the opening ceremony held at the ROK Hotel, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange noted the training aligned with the Government's mandate as seen in Vision 2030 and the National Policy for Gender Equality (NPGE).

"This training and networking workshop presents a great opportunity for us to examine the progress made in advancing gender equality and empowerment of women and girls and explore how progress can be accelerated," Grange said.

"The issues, barriers and legacy of the colonial past – the enslavement and chattel slavery – that may have prevented us from achieving our full potential as participants in Jamaica's social, cultural and economic development, and have equitable access to and benefits from the country's resources are not impossible to transform inequality into opportunity."

Representative, UN Women MCO – Caribbean, Tonni Brodber set the context of the workshop, noting its historic importance in the UN Decade Dedicated to People of African Descent (2015 -2024) and advancing the development of Afrodescendant women entrepreneurs and leaders in the private sector.

"By analysing policies to eradicate poverty from a multidimensional perspective cutting across the variables — race, ethnicity, class, sex — effectively allows us not only to lift people out of poverty temporarily but to lift them out of poverty, permanently," she said.

Minister of State in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce Dr Norman Dunn acknowledged the strides towards gender equality in Jamaica, noting that women represent 56 per cent of new employees in 2021, which contributed to the country's lowest employment rate of six per cent.

Head of Culture Programme, UNESCO Office for the Caribbean, Yuri Peshkov, shared data from UNESCO's Gender and Creativity: Progress on the Precipice report, revealing that women working in the creative & cultural sectors continue to face numerous barriers such as pay gaps, contractual status, and seniority.

The main facilitator - Entrepreneur and Motivational Speaker Ibukun Awosika, exhorted the participants to leverage this network of women in business from the Caribbean and the African Diaspora.

"You [the participants] are the first cohort of the Yemanja Collaborative and that means you have become a sisterhood that supports one another, upholds, and facilitates each other and thinks of how you all can grow together. Your sister's success is your success and becomes available to you as a tool because you never know which day you will use it," she said.

The workshop, which was facilitated in three languages — English, Spanish and Portuguese — also featured site visits to businesses in the food processing and creative and cultural industries in Jamaica for knowledge exchange between women entrepreneurs who shared their successes and lessons learned in a post-pandemic environment.

On the final day, the participants pitched their business investment needs for an opportunity to be sponsored to TIWLC in Dubai to an all women panel of experts.

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