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Solutions next door

by Berthold Hoffmann
Organisations of women entrepreneurs are cooperating across borders in South Asia and southern Africa. InWEnt is lending a helping hand. [ By Berthold Hoffmann ]

Due to smouldering conflicts between India and Pakistan, regional cooperation in South Asia is difficult to achieve. Nonetheless, SCWEC is making sure there is open dialogue and exchange. SCWEC stands for the SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council, a Council of the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a subdivision of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Indira Dutt is the current SCWEC ­president. From India herself, she is proud of what she has accomplished in the past two years with colleagues from Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives. During more than 50 workshops, training sessions and panel discussions, participants from different communities were actively engaged. Dutt’s enthusiasm is reminiscent of the people engaged in early European rallies for closer cooperation after World War II.

SCEWC events focus on the challenges women entrepreneurs face in South Asia. Often, sensible solutions in neighbouring countries can serve as models. An innovative initiative is the SAARC Chamber Crafts Village in Nepal, which Indira Dutt talked about in November at the InWEnt Winter School for organisations of women entrepreneurs in Mamallapuram, India. This groundbreaking model is the first step towards marketing handcrafted products from all over the subcontinent collectively.

According to scholar Rajiv Kumar (2009), the time is ripe for stronger cooperation efforts in South Asia. Even India, the largest economy in the region, would benefit. No one has to explain to the SCWEC women that strengthening mutual cooperation makes sense. However, they also understand that, without political backing, success will stay limited.
At the political level in southern Africa the situation looks more promising. A Gender Protocol has been decided on by SADC (the Southern Africa Development Community). To enforce its rule, SADC member states can appeal to the SADC ­tribunal in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek. There is also an “Action Plan” in place to ensure gender equality. Magdeline Mathiba-Madibela, director of the SADC Gender Unit office, is proud of these achievements. The Gender Unit advises member countries on implementation and advocates for equal participation of men and women in decision making.

Because southern Africa is mostly ­heterogeneous in terms of community, culture, politics and religion, lingering resentments or the fear of losing one’s cultural identity sometimes thwart regional cooperation, Magdeline Mathiba-Madibela admits. Networking among regional organisations of women entrepreneurs is vital. Motivated by discussions with South Asian colleagues and the example of SCWEC, she has decided to increase exchange in the SADC through training programmes, group trade fairs et cetera.

In turn the SCWEC women are impressed by the SADC Gender Protocol. They want to increase pressure on their governments to prioritise gender issues on the SAARC agenda. Moreover, the SCWEC and the SADC Gender Unit intend to keep one another up-to-date about their activities. The InWEnt programme CHANCE (Chamber and Advisory Network and Cooperation for Women Entrepreneurs) will lend a helping hand.

CHANCE supports organisations of women entrepreneurs and trade intermediaries at national and regional levels through training, dialogue and networking. Managing increasingly successful organisations and meeting the rising expectations of their growing membership will require further knowledge and skills.