The Nigeria chapter of the Pan African nonprofit New Faces New Voices (NFNV) is exploring partnership opportunities with the United Parcel Service (UPS), the US-headquartered global logistics company, in respect of the second and third phases of their project focused on “Raising Voices for Cross Border Traders in West Africa.”
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By Adam Alqali
New Faces New Voices Nigeria had in 2014 successfully implemented the first phase of the Raising Voices for Women Cross Border Traders in West Africa Project with the support of UK Department for International Development’s Supporting West Africa’s Regional Integration Program (SWARIP) implemented across five ECOWAS member states of Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Niger, and Cote d’Ivoire.
The “Raising Voices” project which was supported through DFID’s Regional Policy Fund (RPF), was designed to improve knowledge and policy dialogue on regional integration.
As part of plans for the implementation of the second and third phases of NFNV-Nigeria’s Raising Voices for Cross Border Traders in West Africa, the country chapter recently hosted a delegation from the United Parcel Service (UPS) to series of meetings in Lagos, Abuja and Kano.
“We have successfully completed the first phase of Raising Voices for Cross Border Traders in West Africa and now working towards the implementation of the second and third phases of the project,” says Aishatu Debola Aminu, Country Director of NFNV Nigeria during a meeting with the UPS team in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.
“Our women have the potential to succeed in cross-border trade but lack the training and capacity to access global market. 85% of our women cross-border traders in the region are in the informal sector; we want to move them to the formal sector.”
Aminu said the 1st phase of the women cross-border project had successfully moved 11% of the region’s women cross-border traders to the formal sector, despite the critical nature of the process adding that the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC) has keyed into NFNV’s vision of the country chapter through various forms of support to its members to compete in the global export market including supporting their participation at exhibitions in Istanbul, Cairo, and Cotonou, between 2014 and 2016.
Also speaking at the meeting Charles Adeogun-Philip, Chair, Board of Trustees of NFNV Nigeria described women’s lack of access to finance in the region and cultural impediments as major draw-backs adding that getting women cross-border traders to work with women micro finance institutions will be a step in the right direction since men won’t mind their wives dialoguing with female bankers.
While responding, Jean Francois Condamine, President of the Indian Subcontinent, Middle East and African (ISMEA) region at UPS decried the fact that women seeking to export through land borders to the outside world had to grapple with so many barriers and described access to funding and knowledge as critically important in the export business.
He therefore urged women cross-border traders in the region to improve their access to information as well as explore long export opportunities i.e export to Europe and not necessarily restrict themselves to export within African states.
Also part of the UPS team at the Lagos meeting were Mark Vale, President of Growth and Emerging Markets; Benoit Biard, Vice President for Human Resources in charge of ISMEA; and Mark Martyn-Fisher, GM of UPS West Africa. Others were Ralph Ozoude, Special Projects Manager for West Africa as well as Esther Ndichu, Vice President for Public Affairs Middle East and Africa.
Speaking during a similar meeting with women cross-border traders in Kano, the commercial capital of northern Nigeria, chair of the meeting and Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, who was represented by the Sarkin Shanu of Kano, Shehu Dankadai, thanked the UPS team for offering a helping hand to Nigerian women entrepreneurs, adding that there were vast opportunities in for women entrepreneurs in Kano.
“There is need for women entrepreneurs to ensure proper packaging and quality control. Kano being the most populous state in Nigeria offers vast opportunities including across the agric value chain,” says Dankadai.
Speaking at the meeting, Esther Ndichu, Vice President for Public Affairs, Middle East and Africa at UPS said her company which was founded 110 years ago as a bicycle messenger company and has grown into a multi-billion dollar logistics company was not only interested in moving goods from one point to another; instead, was also interested in the communities their messages pass through.
“We are not only interested in moving packages from point A to B but also interested in communities our messages move around,” says Ndichu. “We are working with disadvantaged communities around the world and interested in diversity; women are critical to growing communities. They need to be included in economic policy formulation and decision making processes.”
Also speaking at the meeting, Ralph Ozoude, Special Projects Manager for West Africa at UPS said money in the hand of a woman was money for the family adding that UPS was working on projects in the West African sub-region aimed at bringing benefits and values to various communities.
“We want provide you with capacity to practice cross-border trade, UPS delivers 19.6 million packages of everything and anything from one end of the world to another every day, we want to help you [better] package and transport your products, there is so much we can do in terms of empowering women by adding value to various products,” says Ozoude.
Zina Yahaya, one of the women cross-border traders at the Kano meeting who exports grains to Sudan Republic says they will be glad if UPS could help them with capacity building in terms of how to better package, insure and transport their products.
“We will be glad if they can come up with packages that will help safeguard our products, built our capacity on packaging and cost-effective means of transporting our products. Although there are risks in transporting our products, we don’t have insurance cover for them; it takes 21 days to transport grains from Kano to Sudan – UPS can help us bring the number of days down,” says Yahaya.
Another entrepreneur, Lami Damakka, a Director at L& Z Integrated Farms, one of the fastest-growing dairy producers and processors in Nigeria producing fresh milk, yoghurt and livestock said her company was interested in exporting their products to other West African countries for which she believe UPS support in the area of packaging and transportation will be “handy.”
Speaking at another meeting between the UPS team, NFNV Nigeria and the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC) – the apex Nigerian government’s agency for the promotion of non-oil export – in Abuja, the CEO of the Council who spoke through its Head of Trade Information Department, Princess Estelle Igwe, said the NEPC had in a move to ensure inclusion created the women in export division as well as set up gender desks at its various regional offices across the country.
“The Women in Export Division was set up for women exporters to promote women’s inclusion; we are mainstreaming gender in all our operations; Nigeria is the second African country to the SheTrades Initiative. We need to take the advantage of ICT to facilitate smooth cross-border trade for women,” says Igwe.
The SheTrades initiative is a network of the International Trade Centre (ITC) which seeks to connect one million women entrepreneurs to market by 2020.
Speaking to this correspondent at the end of UPS-NFNV Nigeria series of meetings in Abuja, Esther Ndichu VP in charge of Public Affairs (Middle East and Africa) at UPS described the meetings as “wonderful experience and good learning opportunity” adding that “We are specifically interested in leveraging our skillsets and expertise in logistics to help women expand into global markets”.
“A lot of Nigerian women are doing well, the women are very ambitious, they want grow; we want to help them reduce risks, access the [global] market. We have also talked about a possible centre of excellence for women entrepreneurs, just to name a few. Nigeria is definitely the right place for us to start this program,” says Ndichu.