In November 2018, the International Trade Centre implemented an initiative to support women-owned businesses in Africa expand into international commerce. Nairobi, Kenya-based Eldo Tea has already grown its market beyond Kenya’s borders as a result of this initiative.
The International Trade Centre (ITC) in Geneva, Switzerland is a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization with the purpose of supporting entrepreneurship in developing countries. ITC’s mission is centered around supporting the international growth of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. ITC has 300 employees in Geneva and dozens more in the field.
Fabian Staechelin, an International Consultant with ITC, oversees the Kenya initiative and brought his background in e-commerce to the effort. In 2016, during his tenure at EBay, he traveled to Kigali, Rwanda where he attended the World Economic Forum and met local small business owners whose income far exceeded the national average of $500 per year.
“Ever since I joined Ebay I’ve been quite passionate about the potential e-commerce has to transform trade globally,” Staechelin said. He then pitched his idea of training small business owners in developing countries about e-commerce business practices to EBay’s government relations team. In mid-2016 an EBay executive supported the initiative and a partnership with the United Nations began. In October 2018, Staechelin joined ITC’s Women in Trade department, which strives for equality between men and women.
Initially, a pilot project was implemented in Northern Morocco; and then the Kenya pilot project was implemented, assisting 50 female entrepreneurs. Staechelin has helped them to set up their business pages on EBay and forged their relationships with DHL Express and the Kenyan Export Association. He continues to advise them on marketing practices while acting as a liaison with EBay and Facebook to help direct traffic to the sellers.
ITC provides also online courses through its SME Trade Academy covering export development, sustainability, trade support, and entrepreneurship. Additionally, United Nations trade experts fly into Nairobi every few months to host workshops; and occasionally the entrepreneurs are flown to trade shows to meet customers.
Key priorities are increasing the market and making the product more appealing to consumers, said Staechelin. Doing so involves making packaging appealing and strengthening a company’s online presence, he added.
“The women I work with in Kenya are all engaged, they’re sharp, and entrepreneurial; it has been a really good experience,” Staechelin said.
Eldo Tea, which was established in December 2013, applied along with many other local businesses to be part of ITC’s initiative and was chosen in November 2018. Co-Founders Caroline Turmoi and Collins Sainna were already using their connections with local independent smallholder tea farmers to provide organic tea to clients in Nairobi, Kenya, including restaurants and hotels. Staechelin has helped Eldo Tea to expand its clientele to include the international market. This is the company’s first foray into international trade.
Turmoi said, “Since working with ITC and being a woman enterprise beneficiary of their support through SITA (Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa), the Mitreeki Initiative and the SheTrades Initiative, we have been able to enter the export market very smoothly. Through the SME Trade Academy we have gained knowledge and skills in export and international trade and work closely with consultants who have coached our enterprise.” As a result of ITC’s support Eldo Tea has acquired international tea supply contracts and has expanded into supplying herbs and spices; thus supporting local economic diversification and development, poverty alleviation and gender equality.
The co-founders’ next goal is to own and operate a tea processing facility so they will be able to process and pack tea, thereby being able to oversee each step in-between source and cup. They have acquired two acres of land and are currently in the midst of the approval process with the Tea Directorate of Kenya, which has to provide a manufacturing license before construction can commence. Sainna anticipates progress will ensue within the next three months.
They also intend to increase the number of farmers from whom they source goods while continuing to develop into an international brand supplying traceable, single origin, sustainably produced specialty teas.
Sainna said, “We’re very grateful to the UN through the ITC platform for the process they’ve given us allowing us to access the international market. We will continue to work with them and the farmers and continue to send good products to the market. Economically and socially everybody is happy.”
The ITC initiative will expand to six Central American countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama where Staechelin will work with 60 women-owned companies.
“I really think it’s time for technology to be used for the benefit of more people. It’s not quite there, but it’s getting to a better place,” Staechelin said. “We just need to keep pushing and keep going and see where this is in 15 years.”
The online EBay stores for the Kenyan women entrepreneurs can be found at: https://ebay-discoveries.com/africa/
Visit Eldo Tea’s Twitter page @eldotea and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/eldotea/.