About the Author: Carrie LaCrosse is a Foreign Affairs Officer in the Bureau of Economics, Energy, and Business Affairs.
For the past week, I have had the pleasure to accompany the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) during their meetings in Washington, DC. These dynamic women have incredible stories. One of the participants, Ms. Candide Leguede from Togo was inspired to share her thoughts on the AWEP Program and the future of African businesswomen. Here is her story, in her own words:
"I am very impressed and grateful to the U.S. Government to have initiated the African Women Entrepreneurship Program in connection with the AGOA Forum. This shows how important women in business are in the eyes of the world. They are the foundation stone on which lies the economic growth of our countries.
"Meeting counterparts from different other countries in Africa, women and men of the U.S. Congress, and top professionals who work in business is a great privilege and is a key to enlarge my vision and enhance my capacity. It has boosted my knowledge base to encourage, support and assist in what I am already doing on my own.
"I now realize the full power of networking as a means to share experiences, enlighten our vision, and generate thinking. This opportunity has connected me to people I did not know and has resulted in a valid connection. What I mean by a valid connection is that these people will help me make a concrete difference in my life.
"There is a sharp growth of women entrepreneurship in every country worldwide. There are an increasing number of SMEs and women entrepreneurs who are launching new business opportunities every day. This significant economic and social development is generating great interest from economic operators, government officials, and international organizations. All of these people are becoming more conscious of the economic and social role that women play in the sustainable development of nations.
"However, women are often subject to constraints that men do not encounter when they desire to establish an enterprise. They work hard, probably more than others and their efforts are generally invisible and their voices are silent due to social inequalities. Yet, Africa requires the potential business dynamism and wealth generated by women to enhance its development.
"The impact of this global phenomenon and most especially the sensitization campaigns and advocacy by women associations have compelled African policy makers and the different stakeholders to recognize the fact that the continent cannot effectively develop without the involvement, input, and empowerment of women who account for more than half of the continent's population. This active participation cannot be achieved without strengthening the economic capacity of women and improving their access to factors of production, labor markets, commodities and services markets, technology, and financing.
"In order to ensure the overall economic development of the society, there is vital need to put in place enabling conditions for a more effective integration of women in economic and social activities. Much is being done but the journey is long, and some governments still lag behind. Until they awake, we women will continue our fight for economic empowerment and continue to be the vital voices for change, thanks to those who believe in us."