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As a partnership between Vital Voices, the Africa Businesswomen’s Network and the International Labor Organization, Betsy Ings of the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa and Helah Robinson of Vital Voices Global Partnership facilitated a training for Women’s Entrepreneurship Development (WED) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The ILO-WED project is a global program improving women’s entrepreneurship development with an overall objective to promote decent employment and poverty reduction through the economic empowerment of women.

Among the training’s participating organizations was the Uitenhage Despatch Development Initiative (UDDI), a development agency driving local economic development in the towns of Uitenhage and Despatch in the Nelson Mandela Metro of the Eastern Cape Province. When first established, UDDI specialized in substantial skills building workshops, working with students through all stages of development, from training to job placement. Guiding program graduates through job searches, UDDI’s skills building center had higher than a 70% placement success rate-helping participants find gainful employment. One unique outgrowth of UDDI’s original skills building offerings was the Greater Uitenhage Sewing Cooperative (GUSCO, pictured below).

GUSCO members had been part of UDDI’s skills building center and programming. Following trainings, UDDI worked with the women of the cooperative to find supporters, donors and business partners in an effort to create a sustainable model. As a result, GUSCO was able to become an independent organization, holding all required expertise-material acquisition, product production, order tendering and procurement, and shipping-all in house. Currently, GUSCO is the sole provider of all reusable shopping bags for Woolworths in South Africa.  

Nafeesa Dinie, Business Unit Head, UDDI

UDDI continues to offer a plethora of development initiatives, including numerous environmental and Urban Renewal Initiatives in the townships and the creation of the first interactive Science Center in the Eastern Cape. The first of its kind, the Science Center will serve as a high potential source of income for Uitenhage and as an educational gold mine for less advantaged schools across the province.

Drawing on past experience, UDDI realized the vast potential their programming could have once they take gender-specific barriers and issues into account. Business Unit Head Nafeesa Dinie identified the gap in their current offerings, identifying a need for a gender specialist and practitioner.  After completing the ILO-WED training, Dinie recognized the huge potential impact mainstreaming gender through UDDI’s programming could have.