Why Tanzania should focus on women-led businesses

UNDP Resident Representative in Tanzania Shigeki Komatsubara responds to a question during an interview with The Citizen Managing Editor Mpoki Thomson in Dar es Salaam recently.  PHOTOI SAID KHAMIS

What you need to know:

  • With women-led ventures being underrepresented and underserved, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently partnered with the CRDB Bank Foundation to build a platform that will help women turn their ideas into business enterprises. In an exclusive interview, UNDP’s Resident Representative Shigeki Komatsubara addresses key development issues, responds to SDGs criticism, and also shares how calculated investments will help accelerate inclusive economic growth and safeguard the future.

The UNDP’s core role is to create wealth and reduce inequality. Tell us how these efforts have manifested in Tanzania over the decades, in light of the billions of dollars that have been spent to address these issues.

We support Tanzania in three main areas: good governance (institutional and economic), wealth creation, and climate change resilience. These areas have a cross-cutting focus on creating value for Tanzania through entrepreneurship and digital creation, with a particular focus on women and youth. Whether they have manifested or not, I’m still an observer at the moment because I came to Tanzania in October of 2023, so right now I’m observing the different areas. However, you can feel that things are happening; the economy is moving. This feeling is verified by statistics and data. Global reports indicate that Tanzania is on course to become the biggest economy on the East Coast of Africa in less than 10 years. So UNDP’s job is to invest in the future of Tanzania.

Does the current trajectory indicate sustainable growth?

We may need to rethink some of the ways we are working together. What is working now will have to evolve. 10 years down the line, the needs of the middle class will change. Tanzania is becoming a value-added economy. We will need different sets of skills and different kinds of talents. So we need to lay the foundation for what Tanzania may need 10 years down the road. Smaller investments now can make a big difference in the future. Tanzania should start making strategic investments and opening up new areas for the future.

In your line of work, what do you see as the biggest hurdles that are holding Tanzania from realizing its full potential?

I wouldn’t characterise them as hurdles but as opportunities. Tanzania has been making great progress and has overcome many hurdles. However, when you move into different stages of economic development, there are certain things that you will have to overcome.

Are you of the opinion that Tanzania has good strategies to improve people’s quality of life and also promote value addition in agriculture?

Even without me addressing this issue, many Tanzanians are now aware of the importance of having a value-added economy. Value addition can occur in many areas, such as rural agriculture, and then the produce is sold locally or to other African countries through the continental free trade area and even to Europe.

Let’s talk about the SDGs; they have been criticized, with some reports indicating that just 12% of the targets will be met by 2030. What is your general outlook, and what do you have to say about criticism such as the SDGs being non-binding (more like wishes than actual goals—no accountability), underfunded, and unequal?

The SDGs are not imposed on us. They came about after a global discussion. They are the commitment of every country that is part of the United Nations. If we criticize them, it means we are criticizing ourselves. They are aspirational in some ways because we always need goals to strive for. Indeed, we are not there yet, even though we are halfway to 2030. This poses a challenging question: How can we do more to accelerate that progress? We need to strategize better. But also, there are global issues that have impacted the implementation of the SDGs. We have climate change and global geographic events that have impacted economic value chains and supply chains. Covid-19 affected steady economic growth. Lots of countries, especially those in the developing world, found themselves in financial distress.

MSMEs are critical to Tanzania’s economy and contribute around 27% of GDP. UNDP recently entered into a partnership with the CRDB Bank Foundation to empower women and youth SMEs. Tell us more about this partnership and its financial structure.

It is wonderful to see one of the most prominent members of Tanzania’s private sector commit itself to continuing to invest in the economy and society, not necessarily for profit but for future potential. The private sector will continue to be the engine of economic growth. When it comes to the financial structure, we may be talking about $300,000–$350,000. But this partnership is not about money; it is really about opening the space and creating a platform for the private sector to make intentional investments for the future. The government has played its role and will continue to do so, but the private sector should also be taking the initiative to invest in the common good, such as supporting innovation and women entrepreneurs.

The MoU’s focus is to see more women and youth actively participate in seizing AfCFTA opportunities. In what other areas do you see women and youth thriving in Tanzania?

One of the focus areas is entrepreneurship. From our experience, we know that there are people with great ideas and others who are interested in making things happen. So if they are given a space to work together with some guidance and technical training, you will be amazed at how much they can achieve out of their ideas and initiatives.

Why a particular focus on women and youth?

Women are not given enough opportunities to share their ideas and test them to see if they work, yet more than half of the youth in Tanzania are women. We have a great number of young people with great ideas that would not only make our lives better but also keep them in business. And not by coincidence, many of them are women. In some of our other projects, when we open a call for proposals, we receive more proposals from women, even when the opportunity is open to all.

Overall, we know that women are good investors and finance managers. So if we know this from our gut feelings, then why don’t we create a space for them so that they can demonstrate to Africa and the entire world that this can happen in Africa?

Tell us some of the opportunities available for women and youth in the FTA.

The continental trade pact is still in its early stages; as such, we work at different levels. While we support the high-level framework, we need to translate it into nitty-gritty language and see who and how people can benefit from this new opportunity. That’s why we agreed with CRDB to bring our forces together and create more concrete windows of opportunity for wider sectors of Tanzania’s economy.

Tell us what the specific roles of UNDP and the CRDB Bank Foundation will be under this new partnership.

UNDP Resident Representative Shigeki Komatsubara and CRDB Bank Foundation Managing Director Tully Esther Mwambapa during the signing of a partnership to empower women and youth entrepreneurs.  PHOTO I COURTESY

We intentionally made it a broad framework. Our contribution will be guided by Tanzania’s economic development, and we know that there will be new opportunities that will come up here and there. We complement each other. We have a mutual interest in serving the public good. This MoU is really about combining our network, experience, and resources to create a space where people can come and create benefits for themselves.

CRDB represents the commitment of the private sector to extend a platform to develop the economy. I commend the foresight of their foundation because such a platform will foster the health of inclusive economic growth. We would like to encourage private sector partners to contribute to the wider environment as a legitimate part of their business.

Even though women-led ventures are underfunded in Africa, what do you see as opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the region?

Women-led enterprises are indeed underrepresented and underserved. But that is the best market with the best potential, precisely because they have not been supported enough or been able to access finance as they should. This is the biggest opportunity for building inclusive economic growth. Helping women turn their ideas into business enterprises is one of the biggest investments we can ever make for solid and accelerated growth in Tanzania.