About the Author: Jillian DeLuna is a Program Analyst in the Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs.
I recently sat down with three participants of the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP). These women traveled to Washington, D.C. and Kansas City to meet with policymakers, African ministers, companies, and non-profits to enhance their business network and skills. We discussed their African businesses, trade under AGOA, and what they plan to do when they return to Africa.
Can you tell me a little bit about the business in your home country?Ms. Matsimane from Lesotho: I am project development officer for Abelanang Basotho which is a company I founded myself, based on the needs I saw of women artisans in my community. I work in business development, and I share my knowledge with the ladies, and they share their knowledge on how to use their hands and create products. They have expanded from making only traditional items, and now make fashion and decor items.
Ms. Umurerwa from Burundi: I started a communication agency three years ago, and I provide services regarding media and communications planning or public relation. I also organize events for different private sector organizations and international organizations.
Do you find exporting under AGOA challenging?Ms. Matsimane from Lesotho: It is not easy, as there are many forms and often you have to go from the villages to the city -- there is a whole lot that is required. I find that there are a lot of cultural issues that prevent women from doing more business as well. So it is challenging, but these are things that we can overcome; they are not obstacles, they are just minor blocks and something we can work on. AGOA has helped my business a lot, and it has given us hope that if AGOA continues we will be able to do more.
Ms. Hoy from Swaziland: To be honest, in the beginning, when we didn't know what to do, it was quite difficult but that was just for the first export. After that, once we knew what we needed to do, it's much easier. I wouldn't say it is quick; it does take time, but we haven't really found any problems. USAID has helped with our technical knowledge and we are trying to help more of the small growers in Swaziland expand their businesses.
How will you be able to use the information gathered from the AWEP program when you return to Africa?Ms. Umurerwa from Burundi: I am really excited to be able to go back home to provide lots of information and work hard to implement the lessons I've learned from AWEP. I am going to try my best and will specifically focus on working with the U.S. Embassy locally for organizing an afternoon of presentations for what the embassy and the State Department can do for women entrepreneurs in our country. I hope to use my skills in communication to provide this to a wider audience in Burundi.
Ms. Hoy from Swaziland: I would like to go into the more rural areas and try to speak to groups of women, and speak to them about what they can do. There are many women who make handicrafts, and they're very good, and I think they could export. Especially if they all got together, and did it together as a group, so they could meet the demand. I'd like to help make that happen.