A group of African women entrepreneurs participating in the fourth annual African Women Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) arrived in Washington, DC at a time when the nation’s capital – and the world – couldn’t be more focused on Africa with both the African Leaders Summit and the Young African Leaders Initiative taking place. “So we are here, of course, as part of the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit -- the largest gathering any American President has ever hosted with African heads of state and government,” President Obama said during his remarks at the African Leaders Summit in August. The entire group of 29 women were grateful for the opportunity to attend such a historic event at the very beginning of their AWEP program and were pleasantly surprised by the rewarding events that would follow during their three-week visit to the United States sponsored by Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).
This engaged group of women hit the ground running in New York City with an opening lunch featuring Nancy Ploeger of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and her panel. The panelists discussed angel investing, crowd funding and shared lots of useful web resources with the participants. From New York to Washington to Los Angeles, California and Chicago, Illinois, the visitors were enriched by a wealth of professional development meetings and networked with U.S. policy makers, public and private sector companies, and industry associations.
In addition to the summit in Washington, the participants met with State Department’s Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, Catherine Novelli, who stressed the importance of the AWEP program as it promotes business growth and increased trade both regionally and to U.S. markets, including through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). She reassured them she would work to get AGOA renewed when it expires in 2015 and encouraged the group to meet with AWEP chapter people in their home countries to address the obstacles they shared with her such as a lack of processing plants and business.
Other highlights included interactive workshops on how to pitch ideas and a Kaizen workshop where the visitors learned to use Kaizen principles with Lego blocks to understand how to implement the method into their work both personally and professionally. All of this led up to the culminating moment of the Washington leg of the program – the B2B Showcase. The showcase allowed the visitors to share their products with potential customers and partners at the Ronald Reagan Building. A visitor from Togo commented that it was the first time she met Americans who were interested in her products.
Supporting economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa is a policy priority for the United States. As the President remarked at the U.S. African Summit, “there is broad bipartisan agreement that a secure, prosperous and self-reliant Africa is in the national interest of the United States.” The AWEP program empowers thousands of African women entrepreneurs to create better business environments, spur economic growth and become voices of change in their communities. Through AWEP, the State Department seeks to dismantle the obstacles to business opportunities and economic participation that African women face. Suzanne Abrogoua, a visitor from Cote d’ivoire, summed up the AWEP experience saying, “We were given all the keys, now it’s up to us to open the doors.”
To learn more about the AWEP program, visit the Bureau Educational and Cultural Affairs website.