#AGOA2016: Women and Trade Dialogue Sparks Action for Emerging Entrepreneurs

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.

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 continue to promote women entrepreneurs through policy and programs like the new partnership we announced today. 

About the Author: Catherine Russell serves at Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues at the U.S. Department of State.
 
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U.S. officials stand with female entrepreneurs from African Women Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) during joint opening session of the 2015 African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum. [State Department Photo]
September 26, 2016

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