Melissa De León, founder of Panama Gourmet, a company which produces gluten-free foods, won the 2012 UNCTAD Empretec Women in Business Award. The prize honours businesswomen from developing countries who have founded successful firms, created jobs, and become role models in their communities.
The award was announced at a gala dinner Monday that was the culmination of a “Women in Development Day” staged on the third day of the UNCTAD XIII quadrennial conference. The prize also marked the conclusion of the UNCTAD World Investment Forum. The forum was held in Doha and overlapped with the beginning of UNCTAD XIII.
Second prize went to Patricia Paz Silva Giordani of Brazil, who founded the firm Moura e Paz – Soluções Ambientais, which provides the safe transport and treatment of dangerous industrial and medical waste for business clients in one of the poorest states in Brazil .
Third place was won by Rahda Kurdi of Jordan . Her company, Advanced Pharmaceutical Services, works as an association providing economies of scale to small pharmaceutical businesses so that they may compete with the large chains in the Jordanian pharmacy sector.
All ten finalists for the awards are graduates of the Empretec programme, which offers training in entrepreneurship through centres in 33 countries. The Investment and Enterprise Division of UNCTAD administers the programme in cooperation with national partners.
Ms. De León devised a flour making use of the entire tubers of locally grown Panamanian crops, enabling her supplying farmers to sell their harvests with no waste — and thus earn steady incomes. Her goods have a shelf life of up to 12 months and do not have additives or preservatives. There is a growing international market for gluten-free foods, which provide healthy nutrition to diabetics, persons with celiac disease, and persons with digestive problems. The intent of the firm is not only to expand sales but to support Panamanian agribusiness, “which is underutilized,” Ms. De León says. The company has helped to establish a national reputation for innovative and healthy products from Panama . It now has 10 employees, eight of whom are women. Ms. De León states that “The Empretec programme allowed me to obtain intense and hands-on feedback about how to improve my business project, and how to get the best out of my ability.”
She received the prize from Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage of Qatar, and Chairman of the National Preparatory Committee for UNCTAD XIII. Presenting the second-place award to Ms. Giordani of Brazil was Tarja Kaarina Halonen, former President of Finland and currently Co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability. Ms. Kurdi of Jordan received the third-place award from Aisha Alfardan, Vice Chairwoman of the Qatari Business Women’s Association and Personal Advisor to the Chairman of the firm Alfardan Group Holding. Ms. Alfadan also is Head of the Qatar hub of the Middle East and North Africa Businesswomen’s Association.
UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi describes the Empretec programme and the Women in Business awards as “having had a very real impact on the lives of recipients, on their access to education and resources, and on their motivation to continue developing their enterprises.” Both are part of UNCTAD’s package of technical assistance on entrepreneurship development, which also includes the Entrepreneurship Policy Framework (EPF) launched at WIF. The EPF helps developing country officials design policies that encourage business start-ups and unleash entrepreneurial talent.
The potential of women entrepreneurs – such as the ten finalists for the awards – for building successful companies and creating jobs in developing countries is increasingly being recognized by governments. Many of the award finalists tell compelling stories of overcoming social and cultural obstacles to their business careers, as well as surmounting financial challenges.
Hence both Empretec and the biannual Women in Business Awards – which were inaugurated at the UNCTAD XII conference in Accra , Ghana , in 2008 – are seen as ways to promote the empowerment of women in society. In many developing countries, women face obstacles to obtaining the education and technical training necessary for founding and expanding successful businesses. Most entrepreneurial education offered is not tailored to women’s needs. UNCTAD’s Empretec programme strives to overcome these challenges. Besides providing training to women entrepreneurs, the programme also reaches out to youth and to promising entrepreneurs in all sectors of the economy, including in rural areas.
During the dinner, Master of Ceremonies Laila Al Shahili of the Al-Jazeera television network encouraged those attending to set up business partnerships and networking arrangements with the finalists. The German firm Vecoplan, represented by Ulrich Schulte, announced the offer of a study trip for Patrizia Paz Silva Giordani, the second- place winner, to Canada to a specialized corporate training centre for waste management. Mr. Schulte also extended the offer to Carlota Guevara of El Salvador , another of the finalists, whose firm also works in the waste-management sector.
The first-place winner, Melissa de Léon, will receive a travel grant of US$6,000.
The firm Pikolinos of Spain offered gifts to all 10 finalists.