Empowering women in international trade through one-on-one coaching


In working toward their shared goal of connecting women-owned SMEs to international markets, ITC SheTrades and Twill by Maersk today launched a new coaching programme for women-owned SMEs in Kenya, Nigeria, Mexico and India.

Over 95% of companies are SMEs – but only one-in-five exporting businesses are owned by women and they are more likely to face obstacles to trade, highlighting the need for real change. Kick starting the push for better representation and empowerment, the programme involves women entrepreneurs receiving one-on-one coaching from Twill employees. This as part of Maersk’s journey to help connect 100,000 SMEs, including women-operated business, to international trade by 2025.

During the four-week pilot phase in April 2020, four Twill employees based in the Netherlands were paired with four SheTrades women-owned businesses from Nigeria and Kenya. Together, they explored various areas of support, while discovering new ones along the way. Here is what they experienced:

Caroline Chepkemboi Tormoi, owner of Eldo Tea Enterprises Ltd., Kenya

Prior to her coaching sessions, Caroline found it challenging to establish favourable rates for Eldo Tea customers. With her Twill coach, Matt Gielkens, Caroline was guided on how to use Twill’s own platform to quote and find favourable rates for her customers in a transparent and cost-effective way.

Caroline expressed that “Having a logistics partner with an international presence, gives us a credible image and more trust by our customers”. In the future, those who have been coached will be able to become coaches themselves, to keep the ball rolling, share new knowledge and good practices, and help empower other women entrepreneurs in their communities.

Hyelni Hassan, owner of Sheelda Enterprises Limited, Nigeria

With female empowerment at the core of her social enterprise, Hyelni not only wished to boost her sales, but also her vision and impact in equal measure. Sheelda Enterprises’ Steak Seasoning/Yajin Kulikuli (Suya Spice) is made by rural women, supporting the local communities and empowering women to be drivers of social and economic change, and agents of resilience.

During their sessions, Hyelni and her Twill coach, Daisy Zhang, broke down ways of utilising different sales channels to successfully enter the international market. As a result, Hyelni has now embarked on a journey to re-brand, re-vamp and renew her business, to adapt it to the international market and the ‘new normal’. Hyelni said she has “gained confidence/clarity in the possibility of greater sales, which would lead to more women being empowered through the Sheelda initiative. I am now 100% convinced that with the right mentorship, Sheelda can do more and be more”.

Adetoun Ajeigbe, owner of Joel Lani, Nigeria

Communications was a key focus area for Adetoun whose company manufactures handmade leather fashion accessories. Adetoun’s coaching sessions involved a return to the drawing board to map out the specific brand values of Joel Lani, and in turn, a company strategy. From speeding up the company website to harnessing social media channels, Adetoun and her Twill Coach, Menno Veen, identified the importance of maintaining effective communications with customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and adapting the business to a post-COVID world.

Like many business owners at this time, Adetoun has strived to seek new opportunities during the crisis, namely in digital transformation, shifting her focus towards e-commerce. She believes this new strategy and focus will increase Joel Lani’s competitiveness in international trade. “I have learned that you can never stop learning. I can keep pushing myself to get better results for my company and also for my personal growth and improvement” said Adetoun.

Aisha Achonu, owner of Aisha Abu Bakr, Nigeria

As a driven and independent woman entrepreneur, Aisha had previously found it difficult to spend time expanding her team and delegating her tasks to other people. This formed much of the work she undertook with her Twill Coach, Esteve Hartensveld. Together they discovered a new approach to the recruitment process, which Aisha defines as “not meddling if not necessary, allowing them to appraise themselves, showing what they have achieved and how they can apply it at my company rather than giving them unrealistic mandates”. Post-coaching, Aisha has now successfully hired a remote team with the right expertise. Like for many, the COVID-19 pandemic has also shown Aisha that several tasks previously done on the ground can be done perfectly well remotely, and become less costly to her business.

Not only did this four-week pilot phase reveal areas of reflection and improvement for these four women entrepreneurs, it resulted in some major developments, at a time where millions of businesses are having to take a step back to re-think and re-purpose in order to meet the post-COVID world with confidence.

The offering is now officially open to women entrepreneurs in Nigeria, Kenya, Mexico and India. Women can apply to participate in the programme and if successful, they will be matched with a Twill Coach to work on an eight-week project to improve an area of their business.

If you’re a female entrepreneur in one of these countries, looking to enter international trade or get support to upscale your current export/import capacity,


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