I recently wrote a blog entry about U.S. Department of State efforts in support of African businesswomen under the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP). This week, I am delighted to put the spotlight on our efforts to strengthen women's entrepreneurship in our own hemisphere. At the Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas Ministerial in the Dominican Republic earlier this month, we had a chance to connect with 30 dynamic and enthusiastic businesswomen from Latin America participating in a range of Pathways Women's Entrepreneurship programs. Meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Jose W. Fernandez, Assistant Secretary of State for Economics, Energy and Business Affairs, they showcased their accomplishments and shared some of their experiences since joining the initiative. Reaffirming her commitment to the Pathways women, Secretary Clinton stressed that such U.S. backed programs are not just about helping women because “where women are involved in economies, everybody does better.”
A core principle of Pathways is ensuring that the benefits of economic integration and social opportunity are broadly shared -- so that groups typically marginalized share an opportunity to put their talents to use. Empowering women offers one of the most effective means of closing the gap and lifting people out of poverty. It is clearly common sense and smart economics to allow women greater access to resources, technical training and opportunities to participate more fully in our economies.
The initiative was launched in October 2009, in Washington, D.C., at a conference that brought together nearly 80 aspiring women entrepreneurs with more “seasoned” or established businesswomen who committed to become mentors. Since then, the Pathways to Prosperity women's entrepreneurs mentoring initiative has blossomed into a regional network, with offshoots in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru, and now more recently in the Dominican Republic.
Pathways alumnae are not only benefiting directly through individual successes and business gains, they are also enabling other women to compete and participate in local economies, break into more prosperous industries, and reap the benefits of economic integration and globalization. In Colombia, we are building partnerships with the Bucaramanga and Buenaventura municipal governments to tap the potential of Afro-Colombian and indigenous women entrepreneurs. In Panama, the Pathways network has not only encouraged more women-run businesses, it has also sparked mentoring programs in support of education and English training. In Guatemala, members of the Pathways network are shining examples of how women are changing lives, and developing some unique business incubators to create jobs for entrepreneurial local and rural women.
We are also stepping up efforts and partnerships to support women in taking their rightful place in the global supply chain. At this year's Ministerial, the group of women entrepreneurs was joined by a panel of senior representatives from Coca-Coca, the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Program, Walmart, and WEConnect International. State Department is partnering with companies and groups like these to help the women tap into their expertise and grow their potential as entrepreneurs. One program in Peru helps women earn business ownership credentials through a recent, innovative program called the “Pathways Access Initiative." The Department of State and USAID have joined forces with WeConnect International to connect female Peruvian business owners to business opportunities with major U.S.-based corporations.” One of the first women business owners to be certified through the initiative, Milagros Johanson, CEO of the Lima based Fidenza Disegno, for example, is an internationally recognized leader in the design and production of fine jewelry. Her clients include major international companies such as Avon and her participation has given helped her build relationships with buyers from Limited, Macy's, and JC Penney to expand her client base. The connections and partnerships being formed under Pathways help further promote a robust women entrepreneurs network in diverse corners of our hemisphere.
However, as the recent meeting in Dominican Republic showed, barriers to women in business remain and success is still elusive for many aspiring entrepreneurs. As the group gathered in Santo Domingo exchanged best practices and concerns, one of the common themes to emerge was that women still face obstacles in growing their businesses. Even today, women struggle with lack of access to training, finance, markets, and often face discriminatory laws and practices. This is why we must continue to push toward creating enabling environments for women and eliminating discriminatory practices that keep them off the economic playing field.
It is remarkable to see that Pathways has offered such a dynamic platform for women entrepreneurs at various levels, helping women to make tangible economic gains and forge an array of partnerships. Women who have participated in Pathways also have discovered they possess leadership skills, the ability to innovate, and other talents that not only benefit them in their business pursuits, but in all that they do.
When women come together in a common cause, they often become a powerful force for action. As more women join the Pathways to Prosperity network, they will play a vital role in paving avenues to broader economic opportunity, partnerships and social progress for all of our neighbors in the Americas.
Note: Pathways countries include Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, El Salvador, Uruguay, and the United States. Participation is open to all democratic countries in the hemisphere committed to open markets.