The Benin Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI-Benin) has been in full swing since 2022. The institution has implemented numerous initiatives for Beninese businesses, promoting gender equality, female entrepreneurship and export preparedness. That’s why TFO Canada is delighted to have partnered with the CCI-Benin for the “Women in Trade for Sustainable Inclusive Growth” (WITSIG) project, and to have contributed to strengthening these themes at the institutional and SME levels.

From July 5-9 2021, TFO Canada provided training on Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) to 20 managers and consular representatives of the Benin Chamber of Commerce and Industry, including 13 women. Through this familiarisation with the concept of gender issues, the staff noted that although there were efforts regarding gender in the activities of their establishment, the methodology and internal organisation could be reviewed to better include women.

“Promoting gender and aligning with the vision of the Beninese government, which has made the promotion of women and gender empowerment a priority in view of the many challenges facing women in the business world, is now a priority for Mr Arnauld Akakpo, President of the Benin Chamber of Commerce and Industry,” explains Ms Cellia Akinhola Amoussougbo, WITISG National Project Manager. “After the GESI training, women are much more at the heart of many activities to boost their self-confidence. By way of example, women have been promoted to decision-making positions so that their skills can be put to greater use. In addition, the composition of our strategic decision-making body is dominated by women (6 women and 4 men).

On the recommendation of TFO Canada, the Benin Chamber of Commerce and Industry sought and obtained support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for the development of a gender policy and gender action plan for the Chamber, the terms of reference for which were drawn up and validated in collaboration with the UNDP.

In February and March 2022, CCI-Benin organised training for SMEs run mainly by women on export preparation as part of the WITSIG project. 107 SMEs benefited from modules on packaging and conditioning standards, quality product development, sanitary measures and certificates of origin, among others. They left with a better understanding of the international market.

But the actions did not stop there. The CCI-Benin has run training courses enabling businesses both in Cotonou and in rural areas to flourish and build their capacity on topics related to their areas of activity. For example, 40 entrepreneurs with low literacy levels attended capacity-building sessions on the basics of business management in the Fon national language. Business leaders (men and women) have been trained in Mandarin (the language commonly spoken in China) and in business English, to help them better exchange ideas and establish economic partnerships with their English-speaking and Chinese counterparts, and to take foreign markets by storm. “We also emphasised the need for companies to take part in trade fairs to raise awareness of their products and establish business relations,” said Ms Akinhola. CCI-Benin has encouraged Beninese SMEs to take part in the Africallia fair organised in Burkina Faso. This year, the CCI-Benin has drawn up an annual gender work plan to meet the specific needs of Beninese business owners in various areas. In April, 50 business leaders took part in a training workshop on “Gender, Social Inclusion and the Importance of Gender Strategy in Business”. These business leaders were made aware of the issue of gender equality in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, with a view to taking gender into account in business strategy and operations as a key to success. They also learned about the tools of good business management and the skills they need to make their mark
in the business world.

These projects include initiatives to help Beninese SMEs obtain marketing authorisation, with the aim of making Beninese products a brand that can stand out in the local and international markets. In this context, capacity-building sessions have been organised for heads of companies run by women operating in the agri-food sector. The sessions cover good hygiene practices, good manufacturing practices, the HACCP method and obtaining bar codes with a view to obtaining marketing authorisation, with the collaboration of the National Agency for
Standardisation, Metrology and Quality Control (ANM).

In the digital field, the COVID-19 pandemic has anchored the importance of the Internet in sharing these various modules and experiences across the country. SMEs can now take advantage of webinars, electronic media developed by CCIBenin, and forums on WhatsApp and various social communication media such as Facebook, YouTube, etc. to inform SMEs about existing opportunities for developing their activities. In addition, as part of the mon project initiated by CCI-Benin, a partnership agreement was signed in February 2022 to help businesses create a website and e-mail addresses. The aim of the partnership is to provide 1,000 businesses registered in the CCI-Benin database with a modern communications tool free of charge for the first year. To date, 653 companies of the 1,000 expected have received support. These include more than half of the SMEs benefiting from training in export preparation services. Finally, to enable SMEs to strengthen their resilience, counter the various shocks and recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, CCI-Benin has obtained a grant from Expertise France to develop, over a period of 20 months, the digital transformation skills of 1,000 formal and informal SMEs, 50% of which are women, through the “E-TCHITE” project for the digitalisation of SMEs in Benin. The fundamental objective is to support the digital transformation of MSMEs in order to make them resilient.

CCI-Benin’s commitment and quick interventions to support small and medium-sized enterprises in Benin to access
international markets is highly commendable. TFO Canada is proud of this partnership and wishes CCI-Benin every
success in its future endeavours!