Few of us could have imagined the impact of the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program, or AWEP, when it was launched in July 2010. Last month in Praia, Cape Verdean AWEP alumnae hosted female entrepreneurs from across the continent of Africa and established the AWEP Alumnae Network. The founding of this network is another great example of how the tiny Atlantic archipelago nation of Cape Verde plays a key role in the development of democracy in Africa.
Two Cape Verdean AWEP alumnae, Maria de Ressurreição Graça and Fátima Almeida, worked tirelessly to establish a preliminary network, to book the venue, and to facilitate logistics and travel for their guests. Public Affairs Officer Rebecca Marquez and her staff offered moral and technical support along the way, but this event truly evolved through the force and resolve of the AWEP alumnae. Conference participants hailed from Angola, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Sao Tome, Senegal, South Africa, and Swaziland. Their objective was to create a network of businesswomen in Africa who espouse the values of the AWEP program - -to encourage and support female participation in economic and social development of their respective countries, and to promote commercial activity by women across national borders.
Quickly getting down to business, the AWEP group elected officers for their organization: an Anglophone President, Nonkululeko Ntshona from South Africa, a Lusophone Vice President, Maria de Resurreição Graça, from Cape Verde, and a Francophone Secretary, Die Maty Fall from Senegal. The cultural and linguistic diversity of the elected officials was both symbolic of the kinds of obstacles the network may face going forward and of their commitment to overcome cultural differences as they encourage and mentor female entrepreneurs across the continent.
In addition to the AWEP grantees, some 80 female entrepreneurs from Cape Verde attended, eager to be part of the continental network. Cape Verde's Prime Minister delivered keynote remarks at the conference and the Africa Bureau's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy, Michael Pelletier, also participated. A big surprise to me was the standing ovation during the opening ceremony, when former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's efforts in promoting global women's issues was mentioned. was proud to see a U.S. Secretary of State recognized by such a diverse group of African women.
After the formal proceedings concluded, the women celebrated by performing a minute or two each of their own local dance steps to the drum beats of the Cape Verdean popular dance, Batuque. There was a palpable sense of pride and camaraderie in the room as the women shared their distinct cultures with one another. U.S. Embassy Praia, along with our colleagues on the continent, will continue to encourage and support this initiative, and I look forward to seeing the next steps these inspiring women take.