The Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas (WEAmericas) initiative and exchange leverages public-private partnerships to increase women’s economic participation and encourage women’s leadership. Participants travel the US to explore the role of grassroots organizations in business, learn about the US private sector, and examine their unique position as women business owners. The program addresses four key barriers women entrepreneurs confront when starting and growing enterprises: access to capital, marketing, skills and capacity building, and women’s leadership. The WEAmericas initiative includes an annual International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) exchange to the United States. The WEAmericas IVLP exchange allows the women to explore a variety of mentorship, job shadowing, education, and skills development programs. Upon completion of the program, participants are also able to join the IVLP alumni-led WEAmerica network, fostering connections between diverse women leaders across industries and countries. In August 2015, the We Americas Association was launched in Santiago, an independent regional non-profit organization formed by WEAmericas IVLP alumnae to promote female entrepreneurship. With over 40 members from more than a dozen countries, We Americas Association provides additional peer-to-peer mentorship, leadership opportunities, and continuing professional education for alumnae.
Since 2012, women from Latin America have visited the United States to look at ways in which the U.S. fosters the advancement of women in business. Participants have discussed market expansion of their businesses via funding available from universities, corporations, businesses, and private sector associations. Locations and activities showcase programs and practices meant to provide access to business capital, technical skills, different markets, and women’s business networks.
WEAmericas participants in the past have met with organizations like the Cherie Blair Foundation and Wal-Mart Foundation, as well as smaller local businesses and organizations in Washington, Boston, Kansas City, and Las Vegas. Ana Valerie Mandri Rohen, founder of El Triunfo Conservation Fund in Mexico said, “these fascinating women have so much to share; we are learning so much from the program as well as each other.” Participant Luzmila Huarancca Gutierrez, a textiles manufacturer from Peru, said: “I will share everything that I learn with the women in my village.”
WEAmericas also includes a follow-on component funded by the private sector that encourages participants to apply what they learn while in the U.S. to their current business practices. During sessions in Nicaragua, Ana Katia Ferreira of Brazil and Director of Style for clothing label Apoena put together a particularly moving presentation. Her clothing label Apoena features hand-embroidered items for women produced by 168 women across Brasilia. “In the program I learned that women have difficulty deploying technology, and I also created a business plan for Apoena.” Having gained insights into how businesses in the US utilize technology, she is now challenging herself to use technology to improve her products and increase production.