Supporting Women Association

Project Description


In the fight for gender equality and women’s empowerment, it is important to foster an environment that encourages women to empower themselves and to assist with the concerns that are most relevant to women. To this end, women must, themselves, be an integral part of the discussion and the decision-making process for any project that wishes to effect sustainable and valuable change. One such mechanism is to foster women’s associations and networks, as these spaces allow women to work together, learn from one another and develop support networks that are able to assist them during difficult or tumultuous periods.

The NEPAD Spanish Fund prioritised projects which supported women's associations and networks that promote women’s empowerment and advocate for the reform of laws and policies to ensure gender equality. For example, the Foundation for Community Development (FDC), played a pivotal role in establishing national network organisations to address women’s issues in Mozambique, Angola, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. They, furthermore, formed strategic partnerships with organisations for female entrepreneurs, helped establish a network for women in the financial sector, and assisted women to participate in international and regional forums, such as the World Economic Forum. The Graça Machel Trust was instrumental in forming the Network of African Business Women (NABW) and further sponsored members of NABW to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya and the 2014 African Women's Economic Summit.

In Ethiopia, the Centre for African Women and Economic Empowerment (CAWEE) organised women’s groups and consultative forums to promote women’s entrepreneurship. A direct outcome of these consultative forums was the establishment of ENAT Bank that focuses on providing financial products and services to women.

Other project interventions included the creation of women’s networks that provide personalised legal and psychosocial counselling services to victims of GBV; capacity training; launching a Gender Protection Network (GPN); establishing partnerships and collaborative engagement with organisations such as the Network of Women Economists and UN Women. An important event that supported women's associations and networks was the second African Gender Forum that was held in Senegal in December 2007. A core issue that was deliberated was the harmonising and strategising of the activities of women networks on the African continent. 

These initiatives promote the attainment of an integrated continent, politically united, and based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance, as outlined in Aspiration 2 of the AU’s Agenda 2063. They further underscore the UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015, and more specifically the subsections of Goal 17 that call for multi-stakeholder partnerships wherein knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources are shared and effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships that build on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships are advocated.

The Good practice Approach and Success Stories

The following two NSF-funded projects outline the success that was achieved through projects which supported women's associations and networks advocating for law reform, policy reform and gender equality.

Graça Machel Trust (GMT): Empowerment of African Women Project

The project undertaken by the Graça Machel Trust (GMT) focused on the economic advancement of women in Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Specific objectives included strengthening national networks of African businesswomen, launching the Network of African Business Women (NABW), supporting women to run their businesses, strengthening women’s rights and advocating for opportunities and resources.

Through the Network of African Business Women (NABW), the Graça Machel Trust strengthened and expanded the influence of women’s business associations at national, sub-regional and Pan African levels. This was achieved by working with networks of businesswomen in 6 countries (Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, Angola and Kenya).   In collaboration with the Trust, each of these countries implemented and carried out independent activity programmes. GMT played a crucial role in coordinating with each country represented in the NABW, as well as providing opportunities for sharing information and learning between the various country networks. The Trust further helped to amplify the efforts of the national networks by reaching out to decision-makers to address the constraints and challenges facing women in business.  

Further accomplishments included holding annual NABW conferences and convening annual NABW country meetings. Members of the NABW met every November to discuss progress made in each of the country networks and to set the agenda for the following year.

A significant success of the project was the implementation of the portal of women entrepreneurs, the ‘Women’s Network Gateway’. The online NABW portal was used to communicate and share information and resources with network members.

Further successes included the training that was given to 292 women in financial literacy, communication and ICT skills. For example, training was provided to 30 Zambian women in advocacy and governance, 100 Ugandan women in financial literacy, 35 Kenyan entrepreneurs on the government's procurement system, and 27 Mozambican women in association building and management. The Trust additionally facilitated mentoring, albeit informally, within the networks. GMT members attended the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya and 12 NABW members attended the 2014 African Women's Economic Summit. Meetings were convened between the network and the Kenyan Ministry of Devolution and Planning and the National Treasury.

Lessons learned during the GMT project included being aware of the importance of good project management; knowing that network building is complicated, and that it can take at least 18-24 months to mobilise and bring networks to the table; language constraints can constitute a barrier to accessing some countries in Africa and ways have to be found to overcome such obstacles; it is important to map the environment in which networks operate to obtain a better understanding of what is required to improve the services offered and to ensure that networks engage with their constituencies; businesswomen in the networks need training in advocacy and they should partner with women-focused policy institutions;  geographical spread should be taken into account as it contributes to the slow process of consolidating the networks and providing them with the necessary support and monitoring; and networks need sufficient funding for operational costs, longevity and sustainability.  

The following was reported on the success of the project at an NBW the meeting:

“One of the highlights has been the endorsement of the governance guidelines which had been in development since May 2014. The guidelines provide guidance to the networks on how to constitute themselves and to set-up a NABW chapter in their respective countries. The guidelines also detail and elaborate on the core values, objectives and strategies of the NABW network.

The women left daunted by the task ahead and also excited to realize the enormous potential the NABW platform holds for their economic advancement. From our communications with the Zimbabwe, DRC, Uganda and Mozambique network partners they have put great plans in place, identifying key stakeholders and partners, engaging and mobilizing resources to kick-start some amazing initiatives. They are certainly meeting the conference key resolution for the networks to identify the common purpose and mutually beneficial projects, galvanise and work together - ‘move in waves’ - as Mrs Machel puts it for their success”.


FDC (Foundation for Community Development): Economic Empowerment of Women - Women Entrepreneurs Network

The objective of the Federation for Community Development (FDC) project was to establish national, regional and continental networks to empower women entrepreneurs and women in business. Despite women being pivotal to the survival of African families, they continue to be marginalised and lack access to resources to develop business ventures. Challenges included lack of access to information on business issues; impeding government laws and regulation; weak professionalisation; inadequate networking; and a lack of financial support.

Key outcomes of the project included establishing a Continental Network of Women in Business and identifying and creating strategic partnerships with the most representative women entrepreneur organisations in Mozambique, Angola, Zambia, Angola, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, and further, establishing national network organisations to address women’s issues in these countries. In the process, FDC engaged with 250 entrepreneurs.

In Mozambique, FEMME (Mozambique Federation of Associations of Women in Business) was established to provide a unified platform for businesswomen to create a more conducive environment for entrepreneurship. It further contributed towards creating awareness among women of the importance of collective action to bargain for their rights and to overcome the various obstacles that impede the development of their business ventures.

In Zambia, a national meeting for women in business was convened to establish and strengthen the Zambia network of women in business, provide an opportunity for women working in different areas, including government departments to exchange ideas and experience and promote interaction with their counterparts across the continent. The Angola Network was launched during a meeting held in Luanda in August 2010.

The Uganda Network for Women in Business (UNWE) was launched in November 2010 and its main objective was to foster and strengthen the visionary leadership of women in business in Uganda.

The Tanzanian Network was initiated at the Conference of Women in Business that was held in December 2010. A specific feature in Tanzania was that the majority of participants were from rural areas and were involved mainly in agriculture or agro-processing.

In Kenya, the Kenya Women Holding was the convener of the meeting of women entrepreneurs. Participants specifically referred to the need to pool efforts to reduce the inequalities of access to opportunities that women face. The participants specifically expressed a keen interest to mentor young women in business and provide mutual support.

A crucial and continuous activity of the project was to engage with the women entrepreneurs and to obtain information regarding issues that concerned them. For example, it was established that women entrepreneurs often import raw materials because they are not aware of local availability at a much lower cost, and in Mozambique women, entrepreneurs are mostly involved in catering businesses, events organisation and the sale of flowers.  The information collected was shared among members of the Network and other women entrepreneurs by means of FDC’s website.

Further successful outcomes of the FDC project related to the advocacy initiatives they engaged with and which resulted in the reduction of interest rates for women in Mozambique; participation of women in international and regional forums, e.g. the World Economic Forum; and the launching of a network for women in the financial sector.

The major lessons learned during the project where that women are stronger, more persistent and resilient when united and by working together they can overcome misconceptions regarding the role that women can play in development and business. Women should, therefore, work together in a cohesive manner and be encouraged to develop synergies among themselves and particularly with Government institutions. For example, they should lobby for inclusion in delegations visiting other countries in search of markets.

The success of the project has been outlined as follows by FDC:

“It has been possible to bring together women entrepreneurs who once acted individually and in isolation into a critical and homogenous and class-conscious mass. Women entrepreneurs are now realizing that a combination of effort can and should result in added-value for all women operating in the business field.

The project helped in giving accrued visibility to women entrepreneurs through an increased awareness that their struggle could be an incentive not only to other women but to any person interested in starting his own business. A growing number of women entrepreneurs have been attending workshops, seminars and conferences on entrepreneurship and this has greatly contributed to the building of self-confidence among women and establishing strategic alliances and partnerships for the advance of the cause of the women in business.

Funding Institutions that were once rigid and sometimes antagonistic towards women entrepreneurs have been increasingly malleable in their dealings with women entrepreneurs.

Since the establishment of the networks, the media has been working hands in gloves with women entrepreneurs in the dissemination of the activities of the networks and has been exerting efforts to attract more women into the work of the networks.”

Key Lessons Learned from the Supporting Women's Associations and Networks Advocating for Law Reform, Policy Reform and Gender Equality Sector Projects

Develop a good project plan that takes into account the complexity of network formation

Good project planning and strategizing are key components to ensuring successful network formation. The experience of the NSF/Graça Machel Trust project team was that network building is not only complex but that the process is further compounded by problems with mobilisation and gaining consensus. They found that it took at least 18-24 months to bring networks to the table.  The focus of this project was on developing the Network of African Business Women (NABW) and strengthening networks of African businesswomen in Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

It was further found that language constraints create an added barrier to accessing many countries. This was a factor that not only surfaced in the Graça Machel Trust project, but also in the Foundation for Community Development (FDC) project that facilitated the formation of associations that addressed women’s issues in Mozambique, Angola, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.

Establish participative and multidisciplinary partnerships with different network stakeholders

The Cape Verde Institute for Gender Equality and Equity (ICIEG) reports that successful network formation is directly related to establishing participative and multidisciplinary partnerships with different network stakeholders. The NSF/ICIEG project was instrumental in creating women’s networks that provide legal and psychosocial counselling to victims of gender-based violence. The ICIEG, amongst others, collaborated with the Network of Women Economists and UN Women. A number of the projects found that forming strategic partnerships make it possible to bring together various actors around a common vision, evaluate the roles and responsibilities of executing partners, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure smooth implementation of the project. The Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya indicated that collaboration with other stakeholders, for instance, the government, was an important factor that promoted women’s awareness and participation in community forums.

Assess the environment to ensure that networks engage with their constituencies and offer relevant services

The Graça Machel Trust found that conducting a mapping exercise to assess the environment in which networks operate was an important precursor to network development. Such an exercise helps with network capacity building and obtaining a better understanding of what is needed to improve the services offered.  It further ensures that networks engage with their constituencies. The Cape Verde Institute for Gender Equality and Equity, likewise, stated that obtaining knowledge and information of participating partners and of organisational realities is essential to achieving optimal network effectiveness. This assists in defining the roles and responsibilities of the constituent members and making the necessary readjustments to ensure smooth network implementation. The focus should be on the learning process and exchange of experiences as key factors in strengthening the network framework.

Overcome the challenges of operating remotely and in multiple countries

Developing networks in multiple countries in Africa has many challenges. The Foundation for Community Development (FDC) learnt how difficult it is to influence the agendas of organisations of women entrepreneurs in the different countries they operated in. They had to adopt a wide variety of approaches and strategies, as well as forge relevant partnerships to assist in the development of women entrepreneur networks. They, however, also paradoxically state that despite the distance separating countries, the problems affecting network formation are often very similar.

The Graça Machel Trust reports that they had to overcome many obstacles that relate to operating remotely and being far from the centre of a networks’ activities. This contributed to the slow process of strengthening the national networks of African businesswomen they engaged with and consolidating the Regional Network of African Businesswomen. This further challenged them to effectively provide the necessary support and monitoring that the networks needed.

Effective advocacy is important to overcome potential issues of lack of interest and apathy towards the need for a network

The lack of interest and individuals or organisations not perceiving the need for a network or the benefits that can derive from forming such associations were challenges that faced many of the organisations. The Foundation for Community Development (FDC) found that they could alleviate such problems by means of well-designed lobbying and advocacy actions and by encouraging women entrepreneurs to develop synergies among themselves. FIDA (Federation of Women Lawyers) record that their nation-wide public awareness campaigns were very effective in motivating communities in Kenya to form community forums to exercise participatory governance and transparent oversight of funds received for development and poverty alleviation.  They further argue that it is important to have IEC (information, education and communication) materials in local languages to assist with advocacy campaigns. All these interventions helped to motivate the various women constituencies to work together in a cohesive manner.