In honor and celebration of this year’s International Women’s Day, the Organization of Women in International Trade (OWIT) – Toronto Chapter partnered with Casa Foundation for International Development, the World Trade Center Toronto and the Toronto Region Board of Trade to host the Women in Business and Leadership Forum. The Forum was focused on supporting women-owned businesses, while empowering women to run businesses through connecting resources (social, capital, human) to ideas, providing a platform to showcase lessons from Canada’s businesswomen and leaders who inspire and empower other women.
Aligned with the 2020 IWD thematic focus on “Each for Equal: An equal world is an enabled world”, the Forum also served as a knowledge-based learning platform to share successes, best practices, lessons learned, networking, with robust debates on how to cultivate new partners, new relationships and new markets for business growth. Providing welcome remarks, Olutoyin Oyelade, President, Casa Foundation, spoke about her vision for the Women in Business and Leadership Forum, noting, “The Women Inspire Forum is so important when one recalls the gaps in mentorship that women experience and how mentorship and sponsorship can fast-track the journey for other women”.
Farah Mohamed, Senior VP, Strategic Initiatives, Policy and Public Affairs, at the Toronto Region Board of Trade opened the Forum highlighting the work done by the Toronto Region Board of Trade and World Trade Center Toronto in supporting women entrepreneurs. This included their first all-female Trade Accelerator Program cohort helping women-led or owned businesses create a custom export plan. “If all women were given the opportunity to work in Canada, the GDP would go up by 6%,” she noted. Jill Andrew, MPP, Toronto-St. Paul’s, provided keynote remarks emphasizing the unique opportunity that the IWD celebrations provided in acknowledging and celebrating women and their purpose, as well as challenging the status quo to ensure that innovative women are able to lead, amplify and inspire others especially the young women on the rise in business, trade and entrepreneurship.
Hon. Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, delivered keynote remarks highlighting the outstanding efforts made by the Government of Canada in uplifting women, supporting more inclusive trade agreements and investments in affordable child care. Additionally, the roll out of the first Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, a $2Billion investment to double the number of women entrepreneurs by 2025. “According to a report by the McKinsey Institute, Canada can grow our economy by $150 billion by 2026 by simply including women,” she noted, “And yet, women today still face unique barriers to business success, and they remain underrepresented in our economy – with only 16% of Canadian small businesses owned or led by women, and only 11% of women-owned business currently exporting.”
Hon. Ng further highlighted the Government’s work during a fireside chat on supporting women in business with Wendy Cukier, Founder, Diversity Institute and Professor of Entrepreneurship, Ryerson University. She underscored the Government’s mandate to apply Gender-based Analysis Plus in all decisions made which required analyzing the best way to implement policies and programs based on evidence and an intersectional approach to benefit all Canadians.
She also elaborated on the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy’s role in advancing women entrepreneurship in Canada, the set-up of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub to engage women business support organizations across the country (with organizations including OWIT-Toronto); to challenge stereotypes and build awareness of women’s entrepreneurial success; to improve access to financing, talent, networks and expertise; and to promote internationalization and engagement of women in international trade. “Women-owned businesses are still helping to drive the Canadian economy – they represent over $117 billion of economic activity and employ over 1.5 million Canadians.” She noted, adding that, “Investing in women entrepreneurs and fostering export opportunities for women-owned businesses is an investment in the Canadian economy as a whole.”
OWIT-Toronto President Helen Hemmingsen moderated a case studies session on connecting and enabling women leaders in trade and business. Key takeaways from this session included effective use of trade shows to gain access to new markets, and with support from the Trade Commissioner Service, women entrepreneurs are able to exhibit in foreign trade shows gaining new global markets. An example is Anita Agrawal, CEO, Best Bargains Jewellery. Her business was able to access and thrive in the Tokyo and Seoul markets. Providing further insights, Anita also noted the challenges and opportunities, “It’s hard to navigate as a small business, how can I grow more, how can I export more… networks with other women that support women like OWIT-Toronto and WEConnect Canada are invaluable for peer learning on export strategies, branding and leadership.”
The full house celebration of the Women Inspire showcase emceed by Emily Mills, Founder, How She Hustles, had a fantastic line-up. With male and female participants from different industries, business, academia, corporate, public and private sectors engaging in interactive panel sessions, a fire side chat and case studies, as well as engaging in fun business games on Kahoot. It was an empowering event, a testament of what happens when women collaborate and connect. The women trailblazers in entrepreneurship and leadership shared many insightful tips on empowering and advancing women in business including in global trade and in leadership. They also recommended practical steps to help forge a more gender-equal world.
Many thanks to our members for celebrating with us.