Trade fairs, bustling events where businesses gather to showcase their latest products and innovations, have long been recognised as catalysts for economic growth.
The just-ended Ongwediva and Okakarara trade fairs and the Windhoek Show, currently taking place, are examples in the Namibian context.
These events provide a platform for networking and business expansion and an opportunity to drive positive change within local communities.
Let’s look at the transformative potential of trade fairs and how they can be reimagined to empower youth and women while fostering year-round engagement.
One way they can have an impact on community development is by harnessing the potential of the youth.
Trade fairs should recognise that the younger generation holds the key to innovation and progress and introduce a dedicated ‘Youth Entrepreneurship Pavilion’.
This would allow young entrepreneurs to exhibit their businesses at affordable rates, giving them exposure and access to a wider market.
But the benefits extend beyond a mere display of products.
Imagine workshops buzzing with youthful enthusiasm, teaching essential skills like manufacturing, marketing, financial management, and product development.
These educational sessions could empower the youth with the tools necessary to thrive in a competitive business landscape.
Moreover, mentorship programmes, where accomplished entrepreneurs share their experiences and insights, could guide young minds toward success. Additionally, competitions within such a pavilion would enable budding innovators to pitch their ideas to potential investors, giving them a chance to secure funding and vital support.
Empowerment takes many forms. Another crucial avenue is promoting women’s entrepreneurship.
Trade fairs could establish a ‘Women in Business Zone’. This could provide a stage for women-owned businesses to shine, break down barriers and help promote gender equality.
Beyond showcasing products, this zone could foster a sense of community among women entrepreneurs, inspiring collaboration and shared growth.
To truly empower women, trade fairs could organise seminars and panels featuring accomplished women entrepreneurs and leaders.
Such sessions would offer a platform to share experiences, challenges, and strategies for success.
Networking events tailored to connect women entrepreneurs with potential clients, partners, and investors could help create a supportive ecosystem that nurtures their endeavours.
Skills training, covering negotiation, communication, and leadership, would arm women with tools needed to excel in their chosen fields.
Why limit the positive impact of trade fairs to a single annual event?
Leveraging the infrastructure and expertise developed for the flagship event, trade fair organisers could venture into hosting smaller, niche-specific fairs throughout the year.
Specialised events could focus on various industries like agriculture, technology, or artisanal crafts, drawing in participants with tailored interests.
Trade fair grounds across Namibia generally only come to life for a few days a year.
Apart from private functions such as weddings or meetings, investment in these facilities becomes under-utilised.
Moreover, cultural and art fairs celebrating local traditions and crafts could preserve cultural heritage while providing local artisans with a platform to showcase and sell their creations.
Job and career fairs could bridge the gap between job seekers and employers, facilitating connections while offering workshops on crucial career development skills.
Educational expos could guide attendees towards various educational and vocational paths, helping them make informed decisions about their future.
The numerous Vocational Training Centres across Namibia could partner with the Namibia Training Authority to bring together vocational trainees to showcase their products while earning an income and networking, providing a platform for customers and future employers to access the talents of these bright minds.
To remain relevant and accessible, trade fairs should embrace technology. Virtual components could extend participation beyond physical boundaries, ensuring no one is left out because of geographical constraints.
Online platforms could facilitate networking and interaction, maximising the benefits of the event.
Collaboration with non-governmental organisations and community groups is paramount for effective engagement.
By partnering with local organisations focusing on youth development, women’s empowerment, and community well-being, trade fairs can ensure their initiatives align with the needs of the community they serve.
Trade fairs are not just marketplaces; they are dynamic forums that could be catalysts for transformative change.
Through innovation and collaboration, they could expand their roles as beacons of change for the communities they serve.
- Tuhafeni Vaino Hangula is a consultant with a background in marketing and communications. He is a civil activist and board member of Viset Namibia, an NGO representing vendors and small business entrepreneurship. The views expressed here are entirely his own; firstname.lastname@example.org