On June 27, 2022, the First Edition of the African Union Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Annual Forum was held in Cairo under the theme “Economic Empowerment of SMEs, Women and Youth Entrepreneurs to Realize Africa’s Industrialization in the Context of the Integrated Market”. The Forum was convened under the auspices of the African Union Commission (AUC) and the Government of Egypt, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission addressing the forum underscored the need for increasing the role of women and youth enterprises. “This necessitates the design of innovative solutions aimed at providing sustainable financing solutions and interventions that are available, affordable and accessible. It is in this context that the African Union Commission’s novice Women and Youth Financial and Economic Inclusion (WYFEI) 2030 Initiative proposes a set of multi-level innovative, resilient and inclusive recovery solutions in the form of a10-point agenda that will assist women and young entrepreneurs to climb the ladder of change towards financial and economic inclusion. The 10- point agenda includes interventions at the personal level, systems level and environmental level which call for personal income enhancement, financial sector innovation and macroeconomic policy reform, respectively,” Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa stated.

The African Union Commission’s novice Women and Youth Financial and Economic Inclusion (WYFEI) 2030 was launched in March 2022. It seeks to unlock USD20 billion, to enable financing opportunities and parity in employment for at least 1 million African women and youth by 2030. While unveiling the initiative, the African Union Commission Deputy Chairperson, Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa emphasised that women and youth form the biggest part of Africa’s population at nearly 75 percent, yet they continually face significant socio-economic barriers that constrain their ability to contribute meaningfully to their communities, countries, and continental development. The initiative is aligned with the February 20202 Declaration by African Heads of State and Government, for years 2020 to 2030 as the Decade of Women’s Financial and Economic Inclusion. In this declaration, African leaders recommitted to scale up actions for the progressive gender inclusion towards sustainable development at the national, regional and continental levels.

According to a statement by the African Union, over 70% of women and youth are financially and economically excluded. Women and youth entrepreneurs operate predominantly in the informal sector with limited access to formal financial services. They lack the requisite skills to effectively manage and sustain businesses and take advantage of available financial services and products and other business opportunities where they exist. Addressing the meeting on the need for capacity building and training for women, the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) CEO Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki, called for synergies in developing strategies to empower women to avoid duplication of efforts among stakeholders.

“We cannot insert technical tools into a system that does not work. There is critical need for us to coordinate efforts so policies can be influenced. Without that we will be implementing short-term solutions and not reaping the benefits we want to see. The tools we are using must transform the system so we achieve gender parity,” he noted at the launch of Women and Youth Financial and Economic Inclusion (WYFEI) 2030.

During the launch of the first edition of the Africa SME annual forum, Albert Muchanga, AU Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Tourism, Industry and Minerals (ETTIM) underscored that the establishment of the Africa Small and Medium Enterprises Annual Forum is in line with the African Union Small and Medium Enterprises Strategy, which was adopted, in January 2019, by the Second Specialized Technical Committee on Trade, Industry and Minerals and endorsed by the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union in February 2019, as a continental framework on the development of these important segments of enterprise development across Africa.
The forum is a welcome step as SMEs form the backbone of the African economy, representing more than 90% of businesses and employing about 60% of workers, many of whom are women and youth. Regular organisations of such forums will go a long way in the integration of women and youth into the regional value chains system and in turn the continental trading system.

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