By Sotunde Busayo
‘…Because we understand one thing the rest of the world is only beginning to understand; and that is that women hold the key to the economic growth of Africa – just as they hold the key to the economic growth around the world.’ These were the words of the U.S Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton during the luncheon to honor the group of women from the thirty- six nation of Africa who are undergoing a three weeks professional development-training program.
The group of forty African Business women from Angola, Botswana, Benin, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Burundi, Comoros, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Sao tome and Principe, Senegal, south Africa, Sudan, Zambia Swaziland, Mozambique, Togo, Tanzania and Zimbabwe will be given the opportunity to interact with American Business executive professionals, civil society, corporations, industry association, non-profit organization and Business alliances.
The training program, 2nd African Women Entrepreneurship Exchange Program (AWEP), is an initiative of the International Visitor Leadership program at the U.S Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. AWEP is a Department of State’s partnership among the Secretary’s office on Global women issue and the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs.
The program is also a follow-up on the 2011 African Women Enterprise Program held in Lasaka, Zambia in June alongside the 2011 African Growth Opportunity Act ( AGOA).
Since its inception in 2010, AWEP has empowered African Business owners and provided them with the tool to export to the U.S under the terms of AGOA, establish and expand business relationship with U.S partners, increase their export capacities and strengthen public-private partnerships to reinforce program goals.
One of the success stories shared at the luncheon from the first set of the AWEP program include the story of a Liberian woman who set up a business incubator with her own seed money that now works with more than 300 Liberians while enlisting the help of government to help her fellow country women start their own business.
Overall, the initiative seek to empower African women entrepreneurs by expanding opportunities for exports and the U.S investment in the sub-Saharan desert, instituting follow-up programs so that participants in their role as community leaders can pass on what they learn and to recognize and expand the roles women play as advocates for strengthening national business climates for all women.
According to the U.S Secretary of State, if women are empowered to work, to build business, to have credit, to have an ownership interest in the lands they farm and the crops that they harvest, to be given a chance to compete, women will be able to make huge contribution to the economy.
She encouraged nations to change the laws that prevent women from realizing their full economic potential.
The women entrepreneurs in this year’s program have travelled around the country under the sponsorship of the state department to meet U.S official’s business representatives and civil society groups.
In Washington, they are slated to attend the small business partnerships program at the U.S-Africa Business summit sponsored by the corporate council on Africa and the U.S Agency on international development.
The program in a welcome initiative considering the recent prediction by the IMF that there is a big possibility of a global recession in 2012.