October 4, 2012

African Women's Entrepreneurship Program


The U.S. Department of State’s African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) is an outreach, education, and engagement initiative designed to train sub-Saharan African businesswomen in leadership, promoting business growth, forging lasting business networks, creating better business environments, and becoming voices of change in their communities. The program supports the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) by highlighting trade liberalization and international finance movements in Africa.

AWEP participants spend three weeks engaging in general and industry-specific workshops at locations throughout the United States. During these activities, participants interact with private companies, U.S. policy makers, nonprofit groups, business incubators, and multilateral development organizations. Programming is designed to encourage AWEP participants and entrepreneurs in the United States to learn effective business strategies, advocacy and networking models from one another.

Long-Term Growth and Economic Development

In Africa, women are the backbone of communities and the continent’s greatest potential to unlocking economic growth as they provide the majority of labor with the least amount of resources. Launched in July 2010, AWEP has over 200 alumnae and has spurred the creation of over 20 women’s business associations and thousands of jobs in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Alumnae include women across a variety of industries, such as agriculture, fashion and design, and crafts and home goods. Each year around 30 entrepreneurs from different countries add to the strength and diversity of the AWEP network, collaborating as participants and connecting with alumnae upon completing the program. A Namibian participant spoke to the strength of AWEP connections, commenting, “Coming together [with other alumnae] and continuing to have these conversations is closing the gap in the business community and is helping us network together.”

Given the opportunity to make key business linkages and access new opportunities, AWEP helps grow businesses, encourage regional economic development, and showcase women entrepreneur’s products and leadership in Africa. One participant, a soap seller from Benin, integrated what she learned from a local department store in Chicago into a new marketing strategy.

Beyond improving their businesses and achieving greater individual success, participants also go forth to uplift their communities, using their newfound growth as a positive vector of local change. After a workshop on corporate responsibility, a participant from Madagascar shared her new insight into her role as an entrepreneur: “It’s about working on society’s behalf. I am looking at ways of integrating corporate social responsibility.” 

For more on the AWEP initiative, visit the AWEP on ECA.  To learn about the impact of this initiative based on a recent evaluation, see these key findings or read the full report