KARACHI: There is a dire need to facilitate women-run small and medium enterprises through skill development and easy access to cheaper finance to help businesswomen expand their outreach to regional and international markets, stressed participants of a consultative session held on Wednesday.

The public-private consultation on the development of ‘Women National Business Agenda’ was organised by the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and USAID Pakistan Regional Economic Integration Activity (PREIA) in collaboration with the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI).

The aim behind this women-specific agenda is to give them a voice – ‘a first step towards their participation in the economic policy advocacy process’.

FPCCI Vice-President Mosooma Sibtain highlighted the need for encouraging and empowering businesswomen. “Women entrepreneurs face a number of challenges which hamper their growth and survival. These include limitations pertaining to access to finance, networking opportunities, relevant business and marketing trainings and lack of an enabling environment,” she noted.

Recommendations to the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) included allocation of 25 per cent budget/quota for women exporters to ensure their participation in TDAP-sponsored trade delegations/exhibitions, establishing of platforms for knowledge sharing, and increasing formal exports by women entrepreneurs in online business.

It was also suggested that the SME policy document be revised with a gender angle and the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority needs to build a stronger outreach network and take initiatives to encourage more women to participate in the economic system and prepare business guidelines for themselves.

One glaring problem identified was that the 24 districts with concentration of women-led businesses were excluded from the State Bank of Pakistan’s Credit Guarantee Scheme, with the current policy being too stringent and little support from the commercial banks.

The central bank was asked to improve coverage of the credit scheme and simplify the requirements for businesswomen to become eligible for obtaining loans. On the occasion, a TDAP representative said the authority was launching the National Exporters Training Programme next month along with SheTrade trainings for women.

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2017

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