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Ellen Johnson, Nobel Peace Prize winner and strong advocate of women’s entrepreneurship

SEECEL joins its partner organisation European Training Foundation (ETF) and the scores of international organisations in congratulating the 2011 Nobel Peace laureates on their incredible achievement. Ellen Johnson, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman were awarded the prize for their contribution to peace-building work. Through its decision, the Nobel Prize Committee underscored how achieving democracy and lasting peace in the world requires women to obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.

Of the three laureates, Ellen Johnson is singled out for her lesser known efforts in empowering women through improvements in education, employment and entrepreneurial potential of women - hallmarks of a determined effort to break with tradition, prejudice and inequality.

'Ellen Johnson is best known as the first elected female leader on the African continent and for her international positions within the UN and World Bank,' says Efka Heder, Director of SEECEL. Lesser-known entries in her bibliography include holding the post of the Minister of Finance in Liberia, her work as an international banker and her time spent as political prisoner. 'However, it is her efforts in promoting women's entrepreneurship which provide inspiration for all those working on women’s empowerment and entrepreneurial drive,' adds Heder, referring to the Sirleaf Market Women's Fund (SMWF). The SMWF, Ellen Johnson's brainchild, aims to empower women through entrepreneurship and provides financial support, technical assistance, education and training to women in Liberia.

The SMWF project involves a packaged and comprehensive support system which recognises that women entrepreneurs very often continue to be mothers, home managers and carers to a wider family while actively engaging in business development. The project includes childcare facilities for budding women entrepreneurs', start-up training and credit facilities. ‘If we take the SMWF project to a policy level, the key learning point is that women’s entrepreneurship promotion requires an integrated policy approach, involving a host of support agents who can ensure that economic, social and education policies can be effectively interfaced,’ says ETF’s Anthony Gribben. He argues that a segmented policy approach to female entrepreneurship by even the most developed economies fails to address barriers to active engagement of women into the economy such as early childcare provision. He adds, 'while circumstances differ between countries and continents, it is this integrated and inclusive approach to women's entrepreneurship of SMWF that the developed world could learn and benefit from.'
SEECEL and ETF cooperate in the sphere of female entrepreneurship in the EU’s pre-accession region set against the Small Business Act for Europe in cooperation with the Regional Cooperation Council – an intergovernmental body representing the interests of the countries with perspectives to join the European Union. The thrust of the efforts centres on encouraging the countries to adopt a set of indicators to bring forward a systematic and strategic approach in policy making to female entrepreneurship . The indicators were developed by the ETF in 2010 in partnership with experts from the region and include provisions for more gender sensitive policies (e.g. education, employment, fiscal, economy) that make for a more integrated and inclusive policy environment conductive to improved female entrepreneurship.
The ETF indicators presently feature in an on-going strategic review of enterprise policies in all EU pre-accession countries involving SEECEL and ETF experts. The outcomes of the strategic review will review the functionality of the indicators and define a number of follow-up actions to improve women’s entrepreneurship. This work will be led by SEECEL with the financial support of the SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
Read more on Ellen Johnson's work and the Sirleaf Market Women's Fund.
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