By Rachel Keino
Grace Malinda moved to Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali with a dream of acquiring a job that would enable her acquire university education which would open doors to the corporate world she knew held the key to comfortable living.
As fate would have it, her first job, and subsequent others in a clearing and forwarding companies opened her eyes to a world of entrepreneurship she had never contemplated.
Telling her story at an East African Community Conference for women in Business Grace exudes the confidence befitting the Managing Director of Royal link, a cargo clearing and company with presence not only in the major East Africa capitals and port cities but also in Dubai, China and Hong Kong.
When the curtains came down on THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN SOCIO-ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND WOMEN IN BUSINESS CONFERENCE in August 2015, the message from the 400 strong delegation of women entrepreneurs from diverse sectors in the entire region was that women, like Grace were out to grab and run with the mega business opportunities availed by the East African Community integration process.
Whereas one of the key objectives of the three day conference, was to “identify sources of affordable financing for women in business”, speaker after speaker however seemed to affirm that the East African woman was steadily climbing out of the informal sector and small and medium business entrepreneurship that financial constraints had confined her, to claim space in Construction, Manufacturing, Clearing and Forwarding, Transport.
Ms Maida Waziri could not have also put it better than a video documenting of her rise from hawking clothes in the back streets of Dar Es Salaam to owning one of the biggest construction companies in Tanzania. Mrs Waziri attributes the growth of her Ibra Construction Company to infrastructure developments catalysed by the increased movements of persons, goods and services within the region in the recent years.
The EAC Secretary General Dr. Richard Sezibera acknowledges that women were breaking new ground and making their mark in the world of business, reiterating that, within the EAC framework, gender equality and, especially, the enhancement of the role of women in business was not only a core objective but also a fundamental principle of the integration agenda.
He says sustainability of development in the region was guaranteed if women fully participated in integration process and were informed on all steps being undertaken by the Community through policies, programmes and projects.
EAC integration process will progressively be achieved through the accomplishment of a fully-fledged Customs Union, a functional Common Market, a Monetary Union, and ultimately, a Political Federation. Access to affordable credit and financing, inadequate knowledge on EAC’s Trade Regime and Regulatory Frameworks, partial inclusion of business women in trade negotiations and policy development, information on market access were cited as some of the challenges that hinder women in the region from achieving their full potential.
The three day conference, held at Kenyatta International Convention Centre was organized, in support of Ministry of Devolution and Planning and the Ministry of EAC Affairs, Commerce and Tourism, Kenya, EAC Secretariat, GIZ, International Labour Organization and Trademark East Africa), and coordinated by Women in Business Platform, an organization set up under the East African Business Council, to promote effective participation of women in the EAC integration process. The platform targets women headed businesses for mentorship and access to information they need to grow their business. The Deputy speakers of National Assembly of Kenya Dr Joyce Laboso was the guest of honour during the official opening ceremony