- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

When Vivian Adamah lost her husband in 1990, she found herself looking for work to support their infant child. Because no child care was available in Ashaiman, her village in Ghana, she began a day care service by looking after a couple of toddlers in her living room.

Today, she runs a school with 360 students. The transformation was made possible with support from Opportunity International, a pioneer in microfinance.

Development agencies operating in sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly turning to women as would-be entrepreneurs, who often prove effective in Africa’s difficult business environment.

As a result, gender equality has become a tenet for many international development institutions such as the World Bank.

The bank launched in February 2007 a Gender Action Plan, which commits the global lender to “intensify gender-equality work in the economic sectors over four years, in partnership with client countries, donors, the private sector and other development agencies.”

To date, some $36 million has been pledged for implementation.

“Gender Equality is also smart economics,” said bank President Robert B. Zoellick in the foreword of a recent report titled “Doing Business: Women in Africa.” The report compiles success stories of female entrepreneurs in Cameroon, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

For example, Kah Walla, a young executive who returned to Cameroon after completing graduate study in the United States, created a management consulting firm, Strategies, with annual sales of $500,000.

“I wanted to help my country,” she said in the report.

As vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Cameroon, Ms. Walla is also a strong advocate of female entrepreneurs in her country, a nation ranked by the World Bank as No. 137 out of 154 countries in a gender-equity index.

“Many studies suggest that incomes put in the hands of women are more likely to positively impact family welfare, nutrition and girls’ education,” Amanda Ellis, the World Bank’s lead specialist on gender equality said in a recent interview.

“The private sector also recognizes this gender differential,” she added. She cited Starbucks in Kenya and Rwanda, where the world-famous coffeehouse chain focuses on female managers and employees.

Agriculture is another area where women can excel, said former U.N. World Food Program chief Catherine Bertini, now with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Efforts at reducing poverty by boosting agriculture in the developing world should be aimed more at women,” Ms. Bertini said on the sidelines of a recent conference.

“I propose that when we talk about farmers in these programs, we say ‘she’ rather than ‘he,’” Ms. Bertini said.

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