Delali Tagboto works with hundreds of women farmer groups in Ghana who harvest and sell mangoes and dry cassava to make gari, a condiment popular with many Ghanaian dishes. But the company’s aspirations to export are limited by its technical abilities.
“When we just sell the mangoes, they are so cheap,” Tagboto said. “If we could do dried mango or juice, we could increase our profit. But we don’t know how to do that and we don’t have materials to start.”
Women entrepreneurs across West Africa tell similar stories. A $25,000 grant from the U.S. State Department to the Ghana chapter of the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program is aiming to address such issues. The AWEP program
, which has chapters in six countries across Africa, was launched by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in June 2011.
“The dynamism of Ghanaian women creating beautiful and functional products and expanding their markets into the United States is part of the reason that Ghana has captured the imagination of so many Americans,” said U.S. Charge des Affaires C. Pat Alsup at the U.S. Embassy in Ghana. “And as women create more and sell more of their products, they tell the story of Ghanaian creativity and show why last year, Ghana had one of the highest growth rates in the world.”
The USAID Trade Hub works with hundreds of women-owned businesses across West Africa led by dynamic entrepreneurs. USAID AGOA Services Manager Abou Fall presented on export issues at an AWEP training in Nairobi, Kenya, in October.
“It is well known that successful women entrepreneurs are key to economic vitality in every country,” Fall said. “The AWEP training allowed us to ensure these business leaders are aware of the advantages under AGOA and how to take advantage of them. And they in turn will take these lessons back to their countries’ women entrepreneurs.”
In Accra, Ghanaian women entrepreneurs participated in the first of a series of workshops to improve their business skills, thanks to a U.S. State Department grant to AWEP Ghana.
Presentations also focused on leadership, management, operations, marketing and communications and networking. The entrepreneurs were in the spotlight, too, presenting their companies and using their experience as the basis for further discussion.
“Providing focused training to women entrepreneurs is a critical means to helping them succeed,” said Fall.
In Ghana, the AWEP chapter is tackling the issue head on. More than 40 women participated in its first workshop recently in Accra.
“The AWEP program is to increase exports,” said Comfort Adjahoe, Ghana’s AWEP Ambassador who developed the grant proposal. “We need to build capacity of women entrepreneurs to achieve those gains.”
The AWEP Ghana initiative will involve up to 100 women-owned businesses in workshops addressing issues as varied as accounting, marketing, packaging and the technical aspects of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) law, which eliminates tariffs on products imported to the U.S. from eligible African countries. It was at the annual AGOA Forum that Clinton launched AWEP.
AWEP Ghana’s application was one of 50 chosen from nearly 700 the State Department received as part of its Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund
call for proposals. In West Africa, initiatives in Cameroon, Senegal, Benin, and Nigeria received support, too.
Increasing the capacity of women entrepreneurs holds significant potential to increase economic development – and create more jobs. In Ghana, as many as half of all registered small businesses are owned by women; the proportion in the informal sector is even greater.
Women entrepreneurs face primarily two challenges, an African Development Bank/International Labor Organization report said.
“The initial challenge is to legitimize and strengthen the base of economic activity for the large number of existing women-owned MSMEs, including those owned by women entrepreneurs with disabilities, so they can consolidate and expand their enterprises,” the authors said in Assessing the Enabling Environment for Women in Growth Enterprises. “The second challenge is to promote entrepreneurship and business opportunities with high growth potential among educated and skilled women, so their businesses are stronger from the start, and have the potential for high growth and employment creation.”
“Women-owned businesses are typically underachieving because they lack access to skills development activities,” Adjahoe said. “The workshops are very practical and will make them better business managers.”