Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to a group of 34 women entrepreneurs nominated by their embassies for the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP). These women are proven leaders, policymakers, and representatives of business and non-profit organizations in their communities, and have traveled to the United States to meet with policymakers, African ministers, companies, and non-profits to enhance their business network and skills. The program aims to foster greater integration into the national and global network for women entrepreneurs and will inform them about the trade opportunities afforded through the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA). Throughout the next two weeks in Washington, D.C. and Kansas City, MO, these women will visit with Members of Congress and other government officials to better understand the goals of trade and economic policies like AGOA, and they will also meet with business associations and NGOs to learn innovative ways to expand market capacities.
AWEP is taking place in conjunction with the AGOA Forum, which builds on the law signed by President Clinton in 2000 to open U.S. markets to greater trade with Africa. Through AGOA, women-led businesses have received greater access to training in product design and development and have also had opportunities for networking with international buyers. This year ExxonMobil has committed to contributing $200,000 to support business training programs in Africa.
I found it particularly inspiring to be speaking at this occasion because of the immense contribution women make in our global economy. Estimates show that women contribute to over one-third of African countries' GDP, and the Goldman Sachs' 2008 Global Economic Report found that narrowing the gender gap in employment could push income per capita up by as much as 14 percent for 2020 global baseline projections. Gender inequality acts as a resource constraint in Africa and we are working to support efforts that accelerate and diversify growth by including women in the entrepreneurial process. We have a long way to go, but these women showcase the progress that is already taking place in many African countries. It was clear to me yesterday that the 34 women participating in the program are not only leaders in their communities, but also voices of change for the future.