Turning the tables: using advocacy training to shape entrepreneurial systems

Our Senior Advocacy Advisor, Sini Maria Heikkila, reflects on our inaugural leadership, influencing and advocacy training in Nigeria

My first five months at the Foundation were buzzing, busy and inspiring. One of the most inspiring part of my role has been working closely with the Enterprise Development Centre, the Foundation’s programme partner in Nigeria, and Shireen Motara, coach and advocacy expert in South Africa, to develop and deliver our inaugural leadership, influencing and advocacy training ‘Women Entrepreneurs Influencing Change’ with women entrepreneurs in Nigeria.

There are many reasons why the Foundation is now undertaking advocacy work. According to our Annual Audit survey, a whopping 92% of entrepreneurs responded that they would like more knowledge about their rights as business owners. This is far from the first feedback the Foundation has received from the women entrepreneurs we support about their desire to learn more about how to tackle the structural barriers undermining their economic empowerment.

Advocacy also remains an essential tool to achieve long term changes in the ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ – a term describing the web of interconnecting organisations, institutions, processes and practices which form the space for businesses to operate. While our other programmes address the effect of gender inequality in entrepreneurship by working directly with entrepreneurs, advocacy is a particularly critical tool to address more underlying and structural root causes of gender inequality, such as discriminatory laws, policies and practices.

Our new training, which was delivered in February and March, equipped women entrepreneurs in Nigeria with skills and ideas to enable them to influence their communities and business environments, and create positive change. I was delighted to celebrate the training’s success by virtually joining around 100 women entrepreneurs who gathered both in-person in Lagos and online on International Women’s Day in March, where we heard from women’s rights advocates and recognised the achievement of the women who had completed the training.

Uche Uzoebo, one of our training participants
“It’s been weeks of extraordinary coaching and I now have a 360 degrees insight on advocacy so let the work begin!” - Uche Uzoebo, one of our training participants

When women entrepreneurs are able to advocate for themselves and shape their communities and entrepreneurial ecosystems, this can lead to sustainable change not only for the advocates themselves but for women entrepreneurs in their communities and more widely.

The ‘Women Entrepreneurs Influencing Change’ training with women entrepreneurs in Nigeria also helped the Foundation to learn more about the challenges and opportunities women entrepreneurs face, which will help us to amplify their calls at global level. For instance, we are currently undertaking advocacy to influence the upcoming G7 meeting in June which we can use to centre the voices of women entrepreneurs we met in Nigeria in our advocacy calls.


What we learned and the way forward for successful advocacy

 Our global advocacy work is expanding. We have new research plans to support our policy work and there are new leadership and advocacy strengthening trainings in the pipeline. Whilst we work on,and learn from, these initiatives, the key takeaways from the advocacy capacity building training in Nigeria will be invaluable.

First of all, shaping our communities and entrepreneurial ecosystems through advocacy requires long-term commitment and long-term partnerships, both for programmatic advocacy work and the Foundation’s own advocacy on a national and global level. There is power in numbers: as the saying goes, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together.” The Foundation continues to advocate as part of other global and national advocacy coalitions focusing on women’s economic empowerment.

Secondly, we must centre the voices of women entrepreneurs in everything we do. At the Foundation, we are planning to establish an Advocacy Advisory Council consisting of women entrepreneurs in different countries who can advise, challenge and provide recommendations to us so that their interests are deeply integrated into our global policy work.

Finally, advocacy work is important at all levels: in homes and communities but also at national and global level. According to the latest Women’s Economic Forum Gender Gap report, we are a disastrous 267.6 years away from economic equality between women and men.  This is an urgent call for feminist advocacy to promote  economic empowerment for women everywhere. We will not be able to close the global gender gap without strengthened concerted, coordinated feminist advocacy efforts, and that needs to start now.

Pressing for change

We play an active role in engaging in high-level advocacy and influencing work to promote women’s economic empowerment and to close gender gap in entrepreneurship. Why? Because empowering women economically – including empowering women to fulfil their entrepreneurial potential – is a critical human rights issue and a matter of gender justice.

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