Today, the State Department announced a new partnership with the Global Entrepreneurship Network to help emerging entrepreneurs strengthen their businesses. Starting in Malawi, we will connect women to mentors, educators, and advisors so they can refine their ideas and get the support they need to launch and grow their businesses. The announcement came at the first-ever dialogue on women and trade as part of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Ministerial Forum. The dialogue was co-hosted by the State Department and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which brought the private sector voice to the discussion.
The dialogue focused on a universal truth now recognized in the African Growth and Opportunity Act: that women are essential to economic development. Women are farmers who feed families and communities, and job creators who train and mentor the next generation. Women are artisans who create beautiful products using traditional methods. Women are entrepreneurs with innovative ideas that move economies forward.
Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield is joined by two participants from the African Women Entrepreneurship Program during the 2016 AGOA Forum in this video. We need every farmer, job creator, artisan, and entrepreneur in our countries to have access to the resources they need to do their work. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Women are far less likely than men to have access to capital and to markets, to the networks and communities that will help them expand their businesses. If we address these challenges, we will see a tremendous difference in the economy, from the community level, where women invest in their kids’ education and health care and hire other women, to the national level, where the GDP will grow as more women enter the economy.
We’ve seen this here in the United States, where women own 30 percent of small businesses. They bring in $1.2 trillion every year in sales, and they do this in an environment that can be challenging. More often than not, even though they have the same business savvy and big ideas as men, women have a harder time. We know that’s not good for business, economic growth, or American families. But this problem is not unique to the United States. It’s a global problem.
As we move forward with our commitment to AGOA, it’s critical that we promote inclusive development and smart economies — and that means including women in our efforts.
That’s why the State Department has invested in initiatives like the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, also known as AWEP. This program builds networks of women entrepreneurs across the continent.
If you look at the numbers, the success is undeniable. In the six years since AWEP started, more than 1,600 women and 22 business associations have benefited from things like business development, financing, and trade capacity building. Together, they’ve created more than 17,000 jobs in the region. The State Department has also built women’s business centers in Zambia and Kenya, with a third on the way in Mali. In Zambia alone, the center has helped create almost 3,000 jobs and start nearly 40 new businesses.
We need to continue to build on that success, and that means we need to do more. It will take effort from all of us — governments, civil society, and the private sector — to eliminate barriers for women and promote women’s full participation in international trade. The State Department is committed to doing its part, which is why we will continue to promote women entrepreneurs through policy and programs like the new partnership we announced today.
Please note that this article originally appeared in the State Department’s blog and has been republished with permission.
About the Author: Catherine M. Russell | Ambassador-at-Large, Global Women’s Issues – As the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Cathy Russell leads the State Department’s efforts to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls around the world. In this role, she focuses on addressing gender-based violence, promoting women’s full participation in society, investing in adolescent girls, and integrating women’s issues into U.S. foreign policy. She also serves as co-chair of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council and the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council, and as a board member for the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Trust Women initiative, the Wilson Center’s Women in Public Service Initiative, and the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise.
Prior to assuming this position in August 2013, she served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden focusing on military families and higher education. During her tenure at the White House, Ambassador Russell coordinated the development of the Administration’s strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally. She previously served as a Senior Advisor to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on international women’s issues. During the Clinton Administration, Russell served as Associate Deputy Attorney General. She has also served as Staff Director of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senior Counsel to Senator Patrick J. Leahy. She received a B.A. in Philosophy from Boston College and a J.D. from George Washington University.
The views expressed by the author(s) of article(s) published in this newsletter are their personal views and should not be interpreted as the views of The Association of Women in International Trade (WIIT) or its individual members. See full disclaimer here.