A pan-African financial institution, Ecobank Nigeria, has introduced a new package called ‘Ellevate’, a female-focused initiative created to help women-owned businesses actively participate in the African Continental Free Trade Area which kicked off in January.
Ellevate is a women-focused initiative targeting women-led businesses, businesses that have a large proportion of their staff members as women, businesses that have a large number of their board members as women and businesses that provide products and services for women.
It is also the bank’s attempt at powering the economy through support for SMEs, particularly the ones run by women and for women.
In the African continent, women are reported to have a larger demographic than men and they dominate in sectors like agriculture, trading, services, fashion, and the core of the economy.
Women also own or manage about 22 million MSMEs out of about 40 million MSMEs present in Nigeria. But the challenge has been that these women have limited access to finance in order for them to fully transform to being pan African multinationals.
The Ellevate scheme, which somewhat complements the bank’s decision to earmark a N100 billion funding for MSMEs, seeks to provide women with good access to finance at discounted and preferential rates, said Patrick Akinwuntan, managing director, Ecobank Nigeria.
Akinwuntan said that via the programme, all women MSMEs, all women-led businesses, and all businesses serving women can approach them for capacity-building support; noting that as elevate subscribers, they will be put on the bank’s pan African digital platform so that they can export easily and earn foreign currency.
“The whole idea is to create a platform for our women to participate actively in the Pan African Free Trade Area,” Akinwuntan said.
“Due to our presence in 33 countries, we know the market. We know what is available, the conditions, all the micro-economic indices, we know the women in their businesses in Nigeria and therefore we’re able to link the two,” he said.
When Ellevate customers need capacity-building like information to know what the opportunities are, the best pricing, rules and regulations in other countries, the bank will provide it; and also host virtual bilateral discussions between the customers abroad within Africa, and the elevate customer in Nigeria so they can see who they are trading with.
In terms of payment and receiving money, he said Ecobank has a centralised digital platform that enables instant payment in dollars, which, therefore, enables them to facilitate pan African trade in any sphere of the economy.
“The Ellevate platform enables women to take their rightful position in pan African trade and increasingly, we will be seeing more female multinationals from Nigeria,” Akinwuntan said.
Speaking about the initiative in her welcome speech at the launch in Lagos, Ecobank’s executive director, and event host, Carol Oyedeji, said ‘Ellevate’ comes with networking opportunities for women to help them with sound knowledge of their businesses.
“We’re also able to facilitate access to markets as being a pan-African bank; we have expertise in cross-border trade. For women who have businesses in Nigeria and are looking for customers in other parts of Africa, we’re able to facilitate that process,” she said.