By Marie Royce
Last year, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) committed over $25 million and reached over 150,000 women around the world in programs specifically designed to empower women and girls. Each year, thousands of amazing emerging women leaders come to the United States on ECA exchange programs, including TechWomen, Community Solutions, espnW Global Sports Mentorship, and Fortune Most Powerful Women, as well as our academic exchanges such as Fulbright or the Trainee Exchange Visitor Program.
On March 7, ECA launched a new initiative to empower women entrepreneurs around the world – the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE). AWE supports the White House-led Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative, which is designed to empower at least 50 million women world-wide by 2025 to fulfill their economic potential, and in doing so, create conditions for increased stability, security, and prosperity for all.
Through AWE, women in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America will have new opportunities to explore the fundamentals of business and learn new skills, including creating business plans and raising capital, with the goal of building a better future for their families and communities. The AWE curriculum will be centered around DreamBuilder, an online course on women’s entrepreneurship developed through a partnership between Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and global copper mining company Freeport-McMoRan.
This online method has already proven to be a tremendous success. U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Todd Chapman observed how women in Ecuador often had great ideas and motivation, but lacked basic business skills. To fill this gap, Mission Ecuador has conducted DreamBuilder courses in eight cities across Ecuador, reaching more than 200 women. Participants report that, as a result of the program, they have developed new products, increased their revenue, and established a national network of business advisors. Ambassador Chapman noted: “It’s a really important initiative that the United States government is accentuating, not only to build an economic future for women around the world, but also to narrow the gender gap when it comes to opportunities, income, and education. It is very important for the U.S. government to take a leadership role in all of these issues.”
The direct impact of ECA programs is real and tangible. Participants return home with new ideas and action plans they developed during meetings with Americans across our great country. Whether it be establishing a new business or non-profit, ECA alumni almost always cite their exchange experience as one of the leading catalysts. These alumni are truly remarkable individuals, generating positive impact on societies worldwide.
One great example is TechWomen participant, Loubna Lahmici from Algeria, who launched Algeria’s first coupon website providing limited, high-value printable and mobile coupons worth significant discounts to local consumers. She credits her success to skills she learned through her exchange. “The TechWomen program was an invaluable experience,” said Loubna. “I learned how to set up a vision and think big.” “My experience … gave me insights into cutting-edge technologies, connecting me with counterparts, and opening up new opportunities for the growth of my business.”
The U.S. innovators who devote their time to mentor exchange participants are just as remarkable and core to our programs.
At companies across the United States, senior staff members are carving real time out of their schedules to mentor these emerging leaders from across the globe. And often, for programs like TechWomen and Fortune, the companies and mentors make serious financial contributions as well, paying airfare and housing for mentees or paying their own way abroad on outbound delegations after the U.S. program finishes. As a business woman, educator, and exchange program alumna myself, I understand why they do it – they get as much out of it as their mentees.
Beyond sharing their wisdom, the U.S. mentors find they also gain new ideas, skills, and most of all, a network. At exchange events, they meet other mentors in their field and connect with them through the shared bond of mentoring. As a result, their organizations and the American people benefit greatly.
One of the most powerful statements about exchange programs came from Susan Cohig of the National Hockey League. According to Susan, the espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program helped NHL rethink their business challenges on a more global scale and take advantage of new opportunities. “It has helped make us better as an organization,” she said.
I am proud the State Department and other exchanges are making a real and lasting impact. We are making the connections that are solving the business problems of today and tomorrow.
As President Trump’s National Security Strategy states, “Societies that empower women to participate fully in civic and economic life are more prosperous and peaceful.” ECA will continue to empower women through our exchanges programs as a means to ensure greater peace, prosperity and stability, both in the United States and around the world.