Says Shark’s CEO at the UN Women, Coca-Cola launch of the NEXT LEVEL and 5BY20 joint initiatives to support women’s economic empowerment
Mrs. Eyvonne Bright-Harding, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Shark’s Entertainment Incorporated, a Liberian-owned business, says in order for women to thrive in business, they need a combination of hard work, financing and policies designed to advocate and support women entrepreneurs in the country.
Those policies, she said, must be fully implemented and monitored to demonstrate that they are having an impact in society.
“We all know that governments, especially in such gatherings, are quick to advocate policies, but are weak on implementation. It makes no sense to have laws on the books when the government entities entrusted to implement them fail to do so,” she said.
Mrs. Bright-Harding made these remarks yesterday, May 31, when she served as guest speaker at the official launch of the partnership of the NEXT LEVEL and the 5BY20 joint initiatives to support women’s economic empowerment, held at the Monrovia City Hall.
Other partners included the Liberia Coca-Cola Bottling Company (LCCBC), UN Women, Gender Ministry and the Swedish Embassy in Liberia.
It can be recalled that in 2014, the Legislature passed the Small Business Administration Act, which guaranteed 25 percent of all government procurement contracts for Liberians. Of the 25 percent, five percent is reserved for women-owned businesses.
Based on that, Bright-Harding said since the act was passed, Liberian women have received US$8 million in contracts compared to US$30 million for men. Most of the contracts awarded to women were for catering and traveling services.
“We need diversity of women businesses,” she said in reference to the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC), adding: “We must ensure that women are bidding for other contracts besides catering and travel services.”
Mrs. Bright-Harding is also the CEO of Shark’s Ice Cream and Catering, the largest producer of ice cream in Liberia, located on the James Spriggs Airfield road on the edge of Sinkor. She has established outlets in central Monrovia and other parts of the city. However, efforts to have Shark’s Ice Cream sold at supermarkets have been undermined by biased placement of her products in favor of imported alternatives.
She said women are involved in construction and engineering businesses. “Why aren’t they in the running for government contracts?” she asked while noting that research has shown that women will continue to drive Africa’s economy.
“When men and women become more equal,” she said, “economies grow faster, fewer people remain in poverty, and overall well-being increases. And raising female employment to male levels can have a direct impact on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate by as much as 34 percent in some countries.”
She said some countries’ productivity can increase by as much as 25 percent, if discriminatory barriers against women are removed.
Mrs. Bright-Harding said when women are empowered to earn income, accumulate assets and increase their economic security, they improve industrial capacity and spur economic growth by creating new jobs, as well as expanding the pool of human resources and talents available in a country.
“We must also develop a mentoring program that will enable successful female entrepreneurs to mentor younger women.
“Women in business must support each other. For example, for my catering business, I buy pastries and desserts from women who have expertise in that area. I buy the fruits for some of my ice cream flavors from women’s association such as the Bentol Mothers Association,” she said.
“The business climate in Liberia is still an ‘old boys’ club, so women must support each other, but not tear each other down.”
She said Liberian women entrepreneurs need to catch up with digital and technological advances and asked them to use Quickbooks or other accounting software to track their income and spending. Small scale entrepreneurs need to be introduced to smart phones and access the internet so they can trade on their own, she said.
She, therefore, urged the government, international organizations and others to support women entrepreneurs to be the drivers of their own enterprises.
After commending UN Women and Coca-Cola for their commitment to women’s economic empowerment, she said: “We’ve seen how the government is not good on implementing polices, so we need to assert ourselves, be bold and confident so that we can be successful in our enterprises.”
Mr. Ramon Garway, program manager for UN Women, who spoke on behalf of Mr. Peterson Magoola, the Country Representative, said UN Women remains strategically positioned to respond to the needs of women entrepreneurs, and is also committed to strengthen partnership with institutions in the private sector to improve and diversify livelihood options for market women.
He said partnerships are important levels for sustainable development, and empowering women contributes to building sustainable communities. “We know that a woman’s income immensely benefits their children’s education and other family needs. Empowering women entrepreneurs will benefit communities and future generations,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the general manager of LCCBC, Mrs. Amanita Kamara, Human Resource for Business Support Manager, said the 5BY20 is the Coca-Cola Company’s global commitment to enable the economic empowerment of five million women entrepreneurs by 2020.
Specifically addressing the most common barriers women face when trying to succeed in the marketplace, she said that the initiative offers women access to business skills training courses, financial services and connections with peers or mentors.
She said since its inception in 2012, the brand has been able to economically empower over 2,000 women through several activities.