Strengthening Global Networks of Women in Business and Security

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Strengthening Global Networks of Women in Business and Security

To help elevate the status of women around the globe, the U.S. Department of State recently convened more than 100 business owners, community leaders, and peacekeepers on two important International Visitor Leadership Programs (IVLP). The Women Entrepreneurs: Alumni as Economic Multipliers and Women Leaders: Promoting Peace and Security projects connected international leaders to foster economic growth and stability worldwide. The State Department advances U.S. security, prosperity, and American influence by promoting women’s full economic participation, creating people-to-people connections to ensure women and girls are safe, educated, and healthy, and become future leaders and active participants in their communities.

Women Entrepreneurs: Alumni as Economic Multipliers

More than one million people around the world are alumni of State Department-sponsored exchange programs. Exchange participants share a collective experience of travelling abroad to collaborate with their counterparts in other countries, bringing back new perspectives and tools to positively impact their communities. An inspiring subset of this network, over 40 international businesswomen and entrepreneurs, were invited back to the United States for a second exchange - Women Entrepreneurs: Alumni as Economic Multipliers - the first of its kind.

Before arriving, Marine Umubyeyi, who participated in the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program in 2010, said she looked forward to learning from experienced organizations in agribusiness on how to grow her business in Rwanda. Marine and the other women collaborated with leaders at all levels of development, from start-ups to major corporations, as well as business incubators, financial institutions, and NGOs, while in the United States.

They met, networked, and discussed best business practices with their American counterparts across the country. Steve DeBretto, Executive Director of the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, said that, “one of the things we’re excited about is getting [the participants] to form new relationships and start looking outside their country as a place to grow their business, because that helps our own economy here.”

Women Leaders: Promoting Peace and Security

Another IVLP kicked-off last month to encourage women to become skilled and strong peacebuilders. The program brought together 85 participants who engaged in workshops throughout the U.S. on how political, socio-economical, ethnic, religious, historical, and regional contexts impact peacebuilding. By sharing and crafting a dialogue around effective peacebuilding and security practices, this exchange provided new tools and opportunities for women leaders to strengthen global security.

Two IVLP participants ride the aerial tram at the San Diego Zoo.

“This project was a golden opportunity to live a unique and enriching experience,” said participant Nesrien Hijazi, a school principal from Jordan. “The opportunity to share the experience of others increased our confidence to deal with our problems and challenges.” Ms. Hijazi was especially inspired by meeting with the Mayor of Topeka, Kansas, Michelle De La Isla, a Latina woman who rose above many challenges, including homelessness.

Mateja Goncin, a participant from Slovenia, “learned a lot about women’s issues concerning their independence, leadership, capabilities, equality, and heroism.” These interactions helped the participants understand different challenges so they can build sustainable peace at home.

Societies that empower women to participate fully in civic and economic life are more prosperous and peaceful. Through the IVLP, the State Department is building a global network that empowers women at home and abroad to become leaders in their communities and in the global marketplace.

We invite you to learn more about the IVLP and its impact at the upcoming 2019 Global Ties U.S. National Meeting, January 23-26 in Washington, DC, and register to be a part of it. This year’s theme, “The Exchange Effect: Growing Impact at Home and Abroad,” aims to explore the effect international exchange programs have on participants as well as the Americans and local U.S. communities who host them during their visits.

You can follow the conversation about these programs online using the #IVLP and #ExchangeAlumni hashtags.

About the Author: BryAna Stearns serves in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.