Women Entrepreneurs Explain How to Do Business

The International Trade Centre (ITC) in Geneva has created in Ulaanbaatar its 14th SheTrades hub to support women’s role in business and trade. Two Women entrepreneurs, one Mongolian, the other Rwandan, explain their business.

Annegret Mathari

Over 600 business people, policymakers and development experts from more than 60 countries gathered at end of June at the World Export Development Forum (WEDF) in Ulaanbaatar to talk trade, do business, and drive development. The conference was organized by the Geneva-based International Trade Centre (ITC) and the Government of Mongolia. A Forum highlight was the launch of the SheTrades Mongolia hub, which joined the International Trade Centre’s global network to support women entrepreneurs. As a joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations, the ITC is a development partner for small business export success. Women entrepreneurs in Mongolia are set to play a bigger role in the country’s economic growth and efforts to diversify trade.

Mongolian women are highly educated and own more than two-thirds of the small businesses in the country, but they’re constrained by challenges related to ownership rights, financing and equal pay,” pointed out Pamela Coke-Hamilton, ITC Executive Director. “With the opening of the SheTrades Mongolia Hub, we look forward to building on our global network of public and private sector partners, so Mongolian women can play a stronger role in international trade.”

The SheTrades initiative at the ITC has changed the economic lives of three million women in 30 countries by connecting them to markets. Including Mongolia, the ITC has so far opened 14 regional hubs across Africa, Asia, South America, the Caribbean and Europe, and the project will continue to grow.

Erdene Naidan from Mongolia and Therese Sekamana present their business to Diva and international Diplomat.

Production of cashmere garments

Erdene Naidan is one of the Mongolian women entrepreneurs. She participated for the first time in the World Export Development Forum (WEDF) organised by the ITC in Ulaanbaatar this year, where she found networking opportunities for her company Zuzu.

She founded Zuzu for the production of cashmere garments together with her husband in 2013. They are selling their products under their brand name Dulaan. Previously, both of them worked for the Gobi Corporation, a major manufacturer specializing in cashmere products, her husband as a technology engineer, and she as a sales person. “So, when we started our company, we already had more than 20 years of experience in producing cashmere garments”, she says. “A further advantage was that we have a combination of complementary knowledge. They are working with Japanese and German knitting machines and have 6 employees, plus women doing mainly handmade work at home like buttonholes and handwork on garment borders.

Today, under an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturing) contract, Erdene Naidan and her husband are selling garments to a number of different countries, such as China and Russia, Mongolia’s two neighbours, as well as European countries like Germany, Sweden, and Belgium. Their garments are shipped by air cargo. Sometimes, when Gobi and other big companies have a work overload, Erdene Naidan’s company acts as a subcontractor. For her own company, Erdene Naidan has found clients, for example, with the support of Mongolians living in European countries, and she also carried on successful campaigns by online advertisement.

Energy for Development

One of the panellists at the WEDF in Ulaanbaatar was Therese Sekamana, the founder and CEO of LED Solutions & Green Energy Rwanda. She is also the chairperson of the Private Sector Federation Specialized Cluster, the host institution of the SheTrades Rwanda hub. As part of the diaspora in France, Ms. Sekamana was looking for an activity to help rebuild her country after the genocide. In 2010 she founded her company. “I was the first one to bring LED lamps to Rwanda, where I won the innovation prize in 2011”, she says. Subsequently the government decided to switch to LED lighting.

Some years later, when there was an opportunity for constructing micro-hydropower plants, Ms. Sekamana responded to the call for tenders, winning two projects for hydropower plants. “Energy is the backbone of development, she insists. Today, the plant in Kigasa in the north of the country is working, while the other one in the southwest, in Ngororero, isn’t yet connected to the national grid. The plants produce about 300 kWh. To put that into context, a small village in Rwanda uses monthly between 30 to 50 kWh. Usually, households don’t have refrigerators or TV.

The importance of quality

I was insisting on quality”, says Ms. Sekamana, who has a diploma in business administration and worked for a commercial bank in France. “And I’m persistent, I don’t give up once I have started», she is adds alluding to her success. She had asked a Swiss company to do the feasibility study. “A study might seem expensive, but it can save you money later”, she explains. It was the first time that Rwanda issued a call for tenders for independent energy producers. So, this expertise was lacking in the country.

This Swiss company, Stucky, in Renens on lake of Geneva, also called for bids for the equipment. Ms. Sekamana signed a tripartite contract with Stucky and a French equipment manufacturer. She also signed an agreement to ask the manufacturer of the mechanical part, the turbine, to supply the electrical part too. “Should a problem occur, I didn’t want to hear ‘It’s not me, it’s the electrical part,’ or ‘It’s not me, it’s the mechanical part.’” she explains. For this reason she wanted a single company to be responsible for both.

In addition, Ms. Sekamana concluded a maintenance contract with a Portuguese company in Rwanda that is building the new international airport of Kigali. And the French company HPP (Hydro Power Plant) trained the teams. If you invest in quality from the outset, you know from the start that you are building for many years. In general, power stations are built for lifetime,” she expounded, adding, “Quality is expensive.” But if there is a natural disaster, it pays off. “I’ve never had any problems with my project, the plant or the power station, not even last May, when we had heavy rains that affected a lot of infrastructure and also human lives”, Ms. Sekamana boasts. Her company Green Energy Rwanda today has two 25-year PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements) with the Government of Rwanda for the two hydropower plants.