African, Turkish women entrepreneurs merge at B2B conference

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MoU will make it easier for African women to access finance

Over three hundred fifty women, from thirty nine African countries converged in Istanbul, Turkey for a Business to Business meeting with 400 of their Turkish counterparts.

The WOWHOTEL Convention Center was the place to be, during February 26th to March 1 as it hosted the first ‘Turkey-Africa Women Entrepreneurs Trade Bridge Conference’.
The event was hosted by TUSKON, a non-governmental and non-profit umbrella organization representing 7 business federations, 211 business associations and over 55,000 entrepreneurs from all over Turkey, in collaboration with the African Union Commission, one of the largest non-governmental trade and business organizations in the Asian-European region. 
Ethiopian business women were also among those who attended the conference. Nigist Haile, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for African Women’s Economic Empowerment (CAWEE) facilitated the trip. She said she was delighted with her visit and thrilled to see the Ethiopian business women, who took part in the B2B meeting, successfully obtain trade deals and valuable contacts, useful not only for importing and exporting their products to Turkey.
The Ethiopian businesswomen Capital spoke to at the event were also pleased with the results, Sara Mohamed, founder and owner of Next Design and Bethelehem Tekeste, Marketing Manager of Entoto Beth Artisan were both glad they came because they managed to attract new business opportunities, shared experiences with global players and gained contacts giving their companies new suppliers and clients to enhance their imports and exports.  
At the event, a Memorandum of Understanding [MoU] was also signed between the African Union Commission (AUC) and TUSKON, forming a strategic partnership which would focus on trade between female entrepreneurs on the continent with their counterparts in Turkey.
After signing the agreement on behalf of Africa, the Deputy Chairman of the AUC, Erastus Mwencha, said it would enhance the investment of Turkish companies in Africa.
“It is difficult for women in Africa to access capital for investing and what we have done here will also address this.”  
Mwencha said that women represent over 50 percent of Africa’s population; and not including them in the economy is like flying with a one engine plane.
The Vice President of TUSKON, Rana Tetcan, agreed with Mwencha, she feels women bring special qualities to management.
“One might think that when it comes to business, it does not matter if it’s a woman or a man in charge, but we know women have skills that contribute to better business.”
Mwencha says under the new partnership African businesswomen will come together with Turkish businesswomen and act as marketing and distributing agents for Turkish as well as African products. “This joint venture is important,” he stressed as it will enhance investment opportunities to boost trade between Turkey and Africa.
Tetcan, said Turkish women were ready to share their know-how and experience with their African counterparts in a quest to become global players.
“We strongly believe that women entrepreneurs in the emerging and developing world are important because women can truly make a difference; women entrepreneurs bring a unique approach to business,” she added.
According to Mwencha the one billion strong population of Africa represents a vast potential for both global traders and investors. As it is expected that half of Africa’s population will live in cities by 2030 and the top 18 cities would have a combined spending power of USD 1.3 trillion, this makes Africa the home for future prospectors, he said.
Agriculture, tourism, mining, infrastructural development and Information and Communication Technology (ICT), are potential areas, he listed, that Turkish investors could consider.
Although Turkey’s trade volume with African countries has increased from USD 4 billion in 2000 to USD 20 billion in 2012, the trade balance is very much in favour of Turkey. AUC’s Deputy Chairman reminded Turkish businesses. “We believe the prevailing commercial ties between Turkey and Africa should be strengthened to assume momentous growth.”
Turkey is a strategic partner and a friend because they share a common vision with Africa for a prosperous future, Mwencha said. 
Doing business with Turkey opens doors to the European market, said Litha Musymu Ogana, Director General Women, Gender & Development at the African Union Commission.
However the trade imbalance is mainly caused by the developed world importing cheap raw material from Africa which, in turn, leads to Africa importing processed, finished goods at a very high cost.
“What African businesses should now focus on is value addition, producing high quality processed products that are good for export,” Ogana noted. She pointed out that the role of African women in leadership positions are rising, with three women head of states – Malawi, Liberia and Central Africa – as well as the first woman to head the AUC – Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. “Our women are organized, resilient, grounded and that is what it takes for a good business,” she said. 
Turkey’s exports to East Africa are worth USD 813 million per year, while imports from the region to Turkey amount to USD 160 million annually, according to 2013 figures. The country also announced it is planning to invest up to USD 400 million in Africa just this year.
In Ethiopia, five, export oriented Turkish textile companies have already been set up, creating significant employment opportunities.
President of TUSKON, Rizanur Meral was inspired by what he saw.
“TUSKON has hosted several business conferences over the years with many partners and countries, but this one is the most colorful, and the most focused on obtaining tangible business results,” he said.
Africa is the most promising continent in the world, according to the economic growth record of 5.6 percent in 2013. There has been a remarkable amount of foreign direct investment channeled to the continent to take part of a market volume of USD 1.2 trillion, with a population also ranked the fastest growing middle class in the world, said Meral.
The African countries represented at the conference include; Ethiopia, Liberia, Ghana, Senegal, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Congo, Angola, Sudan, Gambia, Zambia, Guinea, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Togo, Nigeria, Somali Land, Uganda, Niger and Benin. Their delegates represented textiles, clothing, manufacturing, information, communication technology, tourism, interior designing and leather sectors.
The second ‘Turkey-Africa Women Entrepreneurs Trade Bridge conference’ is expected to be held in Africa.
Tuskon is now organizing the next trade bridge to be held in Istanbul in June this year, gathering businesses from all over the world. The focus this time will be on construction, machinery and related areas. Over 3,000 participants are expected from 140 countries and 25,000 B2B meetings are planned.
TUSKON has hosted several regional and worldwide trade fairs in the last few years alone.
Besides organizing trade shows and bringing companies together, TUSKON also encourages Turkish companies to come and invest in Africa.
TUSKON has five representative offices in Brussels,Washington, Moscow Beijing and Ethiopia as well as partner organizations in 140 countries. The, recently opened, Ethiopian office works in partnership with Nejashi Ethio-Turkish International Schools.