ABOUT 1,500 women engaged in informal trade across Liberia and Sierra Leone’s border will soon receive training and mentorship to formalise their businesses, increase and stabilise their incomes, and create safer trading environments.
The Mano River Union Secretariat will receive a $4.2 million grant from the African Development Bank through the Transition Support Facility, to boost the Union’s commitment to support and empower women traders via the Bank’s Building Inclusive Business Ecosystems for Stabilisation and Transformation in the Mano River Union project.
‘This project is an innovation that delivers upon the Bank’s gender mainstreaming commitments and aligns with our Gender Strategy – specifically on enhancing access to finance and technical assistance to women entrepreneurs,’ said Amel Hamza, the Bank’s Acting Director for Gender, Women and Civil Society.
The grant from the African Development Bank will boost business formalisation among women traders and fuel new programmes designed for gender-responsive, climate-resilient, and low-carbon cross-border value chains.
The project will benefit women entrepreneurs at two border points, namely Koindu-Foya and Jendema-Bo Waterside, where they will receive access to finance and existing market opportunities. The project will make information on trade rules and regulations accessible with a user-friendly guide on trade rules and regulations. It will also stimulate business linkages, for example, between transporters and women aggregators. Women traders will also receive business capacity building that will be paired with soft-skills development, including decision-making and negotiation. At least 1,200 women are expected to report new or improved opportunities to earn more money or work higher-quality jobs. The project will also build the institutional capacity of the Mano River Union Secretariat.
‘This intervention has everything that the African Development Bank likes,’ said Marie-Laure Akin-Olugbade, the Bank’s Director General for West Africa. ‘It brings change for women and capacity development for the Mano River Union. I can’t wait to see the results. I will have my eyes on the project, to see it scaled up and replicated in other contexts,’ she added.
Women make up 65 percent of the cross-border traders living along the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone. This critical yet largely informal sector encourages entrepreneurship and regional trade, contributes to food security, and enhances income and employment opportunities for financially deprived households and women. However, cross-border traders often suffer from unreliable income streams, lack of social safety nets, and other barriers, such as bureaucracy, safety risks, and gender-based violence. According to the ILO work in progress series , 70 percent of the Union’s women informal traders said they have experienced all of the above factors and want more organisation and representation to build their businesses.
‘This project is the beginning of getting women to do what they enjoy best – to trade, innovate, and be entrepreneurs. We look forward to the project taking off and, most importantly, mainstreaming gender in the business model of the Mano River Union Secretariat,’ said Ambassador Medina Wessey, Secretary-General of the Mano River Union.
The Mano River Union is named after the Mano River, which begins in the Guinea highlands and forms a border between Liberia and Sierra Leone. In February 2022, the Union signed a grant agreement with the Bank’s Transition Support Facility on the funding.