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LAW, JUSTICE AND DEVELOPMENT WEEK 2020 | Legal, Policy, and Institutional Solutions for Food and Human Insecurity: Female-Owned SMEs, Fragile Regions, and COVID-19

November 17, 2020



Watch the replay on World Bank Africa Facebook.


Survivalist micro, small, and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of Africa’s economy, as they hire around 80 percent of the continent’s labor force.  They, however, contribute less than 2 percent of GDP in most African nations, as more than 50 percent of them are in the informal sector and over half of them are in unproductive and fragile service sectors, including agri-business and food retail.  Women comprise over 50 percent of SMEs in most African nations and their livelihoods as well as that of their children depend on the productivity of their businesses.

Lockdowns caused by COVID-19 have undermined female-owned SMEs’ already troubled productivity and security in both conflict and non-conflict regions of Africa.  Particularly, women in IDP camps of the Lake Chad region face a heightened challenge of Boko Haram, climate change, as well as food, water, and human insecurities.  Their continuously increasing fragility creates a heightened urgency to aid them by enhancing their productivity and economic viability.  This session explores and proposes legal, policy, and institutional solutions to address food insecurity and lack of productivity of female-owned SMEs in the fragile Lake Chad basin and beyond.

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    Esther Dassanou

    Head, Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa Programme African Development Bank

    Esther Dassanou manages the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA), an initiative of the African Development Bank, to reduce the 42 billion USD access to finance gap for Women Empowered Businesses in Africa.  Prior to joining AfDB, Ms. Dassanou led the International Finance Corporation’s work on advancing women’s inclusion in the insurance sector as head of the Women’s Insurance program.  Previously, she had managed the Secretariat of the Global Banking Alliance for Women, a consortium of financial institutions dedicated to promoting the growth of women-owned enterprises.


    Dorte Verner

    Lead Agriculture Economist, Agriculture and Food Global Practice, World Bank

    Dorte Verner is a Lead Economist in the Africa Region in the Agriculture and Food Global Practice (Ag GP) of the World Bank where she leads the food security agenda and is the global lead for FCV.  Previously, Ms. Verner served as Principal Economist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) where she led the global evaluation of IDB’s climate related interventions for a decade.  She had previously been the Climate Coordinator in the World Bank’s MENA Region, and led the Latin America and the Caribbean region’s work on the Socioeconomic Implications of Climate Change.


    Frank Samolis

    Partner and Co-Chair, International Trade Group, Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

    Frank R. Samolis is co-chair of Squire Patton Boggs’ International Trade Practice.  He advises clients on international trade matters, including trade law, trade policy and legislation, and international trade negotiations.  Mr. Samolis is also chair of Squire Patton Boggs’ India Practice Group and leader of the firm’s Colombia Desk, Latin America Task Force.  Appointed by the US Trade Representative and Secretary of Commerce to an Industry Trade Advisory Committee in 1992, Frank had consulted regularly as a private sector advisor with senior US government officials on policy issues and solutions.


    Valentina Okaru-Bisant (Moderator)

    CEO, Founder, and General Counsel, Afrocosmo Development Impact, LLC and Adjunct Professor, The Catholic University of America

    Okaru-Bisant has over 15 years of high-level advisory and work experience in economic development, business, trade, water and gender sectors.  She is the CEO, General Counsel, and Founder of Afrocosmo Development Impact, LLC, a company with a mission to achieve impactful, inclusive and long-term sustainable development through the delivery of quality advisory, due diligence, research, training services to SMEs and governments in Africa.  Ms. Okaru-Bisant is also an adjunct professor at the Catholic University of America and previously taught for several years at the Elliott School of International Affairs of the George Washington University.


  • FORMAT: Panel Discussion
  • DATE: November 17
  • TIME: 1:00 - 2:00 PM ET
  • ACCESS: Public