Africa and the United States: Partners for Women’s Economic Empowerment

August 8, 2014
AWEP Participants Pose for a Photo in Front of the Lincoln Memorial

This week during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, I was proud to join with colleagues at the Department of State, as well as other public and private partners, to announce the launch of three entrepreneurship centers that will provide mentoring, resources and other support for aspiring African women entrepreneurs.

The AWEP-WECREATE Centers in Africa are the result of a joint initiative of the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs (AF) and Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB), and partnership with the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI), to further leverage two successful programs that seek to foster local entrepreneurship, trade, and investment through training, mentoring, and networking. 

One is the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), a trade and investment program that is part of the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).  It provides professional networking, business development, export promotion, access to capital, and access to market opportunities to African women entrepreneurs, connecting them with U.S. policy makers, companies, industry associations, nonprofit groups, and multilateral development organizations. 

The other is the Women’s Entrepreneurial Centers of Resources, Education, Access and Training for Economic Empowerment (WECREATE), a flagship program that will work with other public and private partners (including from the State Department to create women’s entrepreneurial centers around the world.

With funding and in-kind services from the State Department, Caterpillar Inc., the Caterpillar Foundation, and the Government of Japan, the three Centers will launch 563 new startups, create 7,206 new jobs, certify 915 female mentors and coaches, train 97 female entrepreneurial champions, mentor and train 6,075 women entrepreneurs, and propel 725 existing women entrepreneurs to the next level.  Additionally, the program will train 105 “Agents of Change” men and boy champions who will learn about the economic benefits of empowering their wives, sisters and mothers.  One of the goals of these centers is to leverage the existing, vibrant network of AWEP chapters to serve as force multipliers for other women who may not have the opportunity to participate in an international exchange.

Further funding will come from local communities, corporate engagement and diaspora so that ongoing generations of aspiring women entrepreneurs can continue to harness their economic potential through entrepreneurship.

Our partners recognize -- as we do -- that economically empowered women are a powerful key to growth and prosperity in economies. Support for women entrepreneurs is particularly critical because women entrepreneurs don’t just face the same barriers any businessman would. They must also deal with gender-based, cultural and societal discrimination that they face as women. As women in their private lives, those barriers are there all over again. 

But as countless studies and statistics confirm, empowered women don’t just help themselves.  They lift their families -- making sure their children eat healthy food, go to school, and productive citizens.  They also network with other businesswomen, so they can share best practices and build stronger regional networks.  As they move forward, they serve as engines of social change, lift communities, and strengthen economies; even continents.

For example, in 2012, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reported that 126 million women in 67 of the world’s economies started business ventures, generating millions of jobs and contributing substantially to their domestic gross domestic product.  This is in addition to the 98 million women already running established businesses.

Despite the significant contributions women entrepreneurs have made to the global economy, the statistics show they are not employing large numbers of workers.  That is why the State Department remains committed to women’s economic empowerment across so many of our regional and functional bureaus, our embassies, and our offices.  It’s why AWEP’s work in Africa continues.  And it’s why WECREATE will continue to work with partners to create more centers around the world, such as the first WECREATE Center in Pakistan in November.  That venture came from EB’s partnership with S/GWI, the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (S/SRAP) and the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council (USPWC).

As we often say at the State Department and in embassies around the world, supporting women isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.  And with the AWEP-WECREATE and other WECREATE Centers, that smart work continues.

About the Author: Charles H. Rivkin serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs. Follow @AmbRivkin on Twitter.


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