VALUE4HER initiative influencing a gender-friendly business environment for women in agribusiness

One year after incorporating her fish processing company, Zaveda Fisheries, founder and CEO Eva Ndamono Shitaala was contemplating closing it. The Namibia-based business was doing well and had gained numerous clients of their fish and shellfish products across Africa, but things changed once the COVID-19 pandemic reached the continent in early 2020.

“We lost 80% of our revenue due to the lockdown brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Shitaala.

Yet, Zaveda Fisheries remains in business today and is back to its growth path following a timely interaction between the 31-year-old CEO and the VALUE4HER program. VALUE4HER is an initiative of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) that aims to increase value for women in agribusiness. This is accomplished through online and offline support to improve market access, knowledge, skills, networks and global advocacy aimed at addressing some of the key barriers for women's empowerment in agriculture.

Photo: USAID

The VALUE4HER initiative is powered by VALUE4HERConnect, Africa’s first women in agribusiness digital marketplace, that offers integrated business solutions to female-led companies. VALUE4HERConnect enables female agripreneurs to build visibility, business networks and collective capital across the continent, while facilitating easier connections with buyers, financiers and other service providers. The platform leverages the power of digital tools to bridge structural and gendered gaps in access to business resources, deliver real time information, offer relevant knowledge and amplify women’s voices through advocacy.

It is through the VALUE4HERConnect platform that Shitaala engaged with her peers and mentors to gain the critical, digital skills she needed to keep her business in operation throughout the lockdown period.

“The networks, synergy and accessibility brought about by VALUE4HER, as well as the chance to have others listen to you and share solutions, have been transformation[al],” she said.

AGRA took over the VALUE4HER initiative from the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation in 2020, and immediately embarked on an active recruitment of female entrepreneurs to a network comprising some of the best minds in business and leadership.

The VALUE4HERConnect platform has registered 1,200 female-led agribusinesses from 39 African countries so far, each with an annual turnover between $20,000 and $100,000. The members are free to interact with others through subnetworks within the platform. One such interactive segment is TalkCorner, which shines the spotlight on a leading agribusiness to boost its visibility, while using its success story to inspire other female entrepreneurs. So far, the TalkCorner segments have featured six female entrepreneurs and have been accessed by 676 participants.

Also running on the VALUE4HERConnect platform is the African Resilience and Investment Series for Women Executives (ARISE) project, which seeks to equip female-owned and -led subject matter experts (SME) from Africa with the practical management skills needed to recover from the damages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was launched in April 2021 through a partnership between AGRA and investment firm RENEW LLC.

“Our goal is to train 2,000 women agri-entrepreneurs how to come and grow into the market; we are going to teach 600 of them how to approach investors… and then take that capital to grow world-class companies,” said Matthew Davis, the founder and CEO of RENEW LLC.

Working with female-led companies within AGRA’s VALUE4HER network, the ARISE project is now offering practical tools and advice aimed at increasing female-led companies' access to capital from lenders, investors and donors. The female executives and managers who show readiness are prepared and matched with appropriate investors.

ARISE and similar initiatives on the VALUE4HER network are supported by the findings of research and conversations around the welfare of women agribusinesses. Recently, for example, AGRA convened national partners across 11 countries in a dialogue to explore the challenges and opportunities that define the transformation of the business landscape for women in agripreneurship. These country-level convenings reached 1,710 participants. The voices of women and key stakeholders from countries were then consolidated in an independent, continental dialogue of the United Nations (UN) Food Systems Summit, a session that was attended by 175 continental partners and stakeholders. The findings of the dialogue are being prepared for presentation at the UN Food Systems Summit pre-event in July.

Meanwhile, AGRA and other members of the Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA) will continue to transform VALUE4HERConnect into Africa’s center of excellence on female agripreneurship. The goal is to refine it to offer research, knowledge and insights into all aspects of female agripreneurship, while transforming the platform into a hub of integrated, digital resources and solutions for women in agribusiness.

This article was originally published by USAID.