Women entrepreneurs are building connections, sharing ideas and doing more business as the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program continues to connect business leaders, members said after meetings at the 10th annual AGOA Forum. AWEP was launched by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at last year’s AGOA Forum.
Comfort Adjahoe (left), Ghana AWEP Ambassador, discusses trade with Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Florizelle Liser.
“The meetings were very constructive and encouraging,” said Comfort Adjahoe, the AWEP Ambassador in Ghana.
At this year’s forum (see related story
), held in Lusaka, Zambia, Clinton announced US$ 2 million in support for the program and impressed leaders with her passion and awareness of the issues they face – and personal experience with those issues.
“I well recall what it was like in my own country not too long ago – women couldn’t get credit,” Clinton said at the Forum in Lusaka, Zambia, referring to the oft-cited obstacle for women entrepreneurs in Africa. “I remember when I was a practicing lawyer and my husband was the attorney general of our state of Arkansas, I was making roughly three times the money he was making in the 1970s. I could not get a credit card in my own name.
“Now, I will not mention the company that refused to give me a credit card in my own name, but I will hasten to add I’ve never done business with them since,” she added to laughter.
Women entrepreneurs face obstacles that require a multifaceted approach – and are sometimes double-edged, said Fatoumata Bouare, who manages Mali Chic in Bamako, Mali.
“The hardest part is the time business takes away from my family,” Bouare said recently, taking a few minutes for a phone call after meeting with clients. “There are days when I leave the house early and return late, after the children are sleeping.”
Already, leaders are building on the momentum coming out of Lusaka. In Ghana, Adjahoe has convened leaders to establish AWEP locally as an NGO, which is the first step toward conducting outreach to women entrepreneurs across the country.
“This helps women network, share ideas and gather information to launch initiatives,” she explained. “We’re starting small after obtaining the mandate to organize a chapter in Lusaka. Then we’ll undertake a membership drive.
“Everyone was excited about AWEP in Lusaka,” she continued. “AWEP is something different that we feel will work. We feel as though it’s a mission – as though we’ve been called to do this.”
Women’s business and economic success is critical to alleviating poverty, repeated studies have shown. An April 2011 OECD study
sums up the situation: “Women’s economic empowerment is a prerequisite for sustainable development, pro-poor growth and the achievement of all MDGs.”
Higher female earnings and bargaining power translate into greater investment in children’s education, health and nutrition, which leads to economic growth in the long-term, according to the OECD report.