2018 African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program

Shelly Bell poses with AWEP Participants
Shelly Bell poses with AWEP Participants

For the eighth year in a row, Meridian had the distinct honor of administering the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP). As a flagship project of the International Visitor Leadership Program, AWEP is scheduled to coincide with the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Conference held in Washington DC every other year. This year’s cohort, consisting of 22 entrepreneurs from 13 Sub-Saharan African nations, opened their program with a focus on the landmark legislation and its impact on small and medium sized businesses. In addition to meeting with representatives from the AGOA Civil Society Network and the U.S. Department of State, the group met Congresswoman Karen Bass to explore how trade has evolved in the 18-year history of AGOA.

While in D.C. the group discussed global trends and access to capital with a roundtable from the Small Business Administration. They were also exposed to local issues through a keynote from Shelly Bell, discussions on building eco-systems to support women entrepreneurs with the BEACON DC Initiative, and networking with local small business owners. The group reflected on their leadership and advocacy goals with Stephenie Foster of Smash Strategies. The week concluded with the much-anticipated AWEP Product Showcase where the women displayed their work products and engaged with Meridian’s network of global leaders.

Next, the visitors traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Their trip coincided with the International Folk Art Market and gave them an opportunity to talk with importers in the craft business. The group also visited Albuquerque where they met with business owners of social enterprises and representatives from the local Trade Alliance. For many, a highlight was the practical workshop from The Women’s Economic Self-Sufficiency Team (WESST).

From New Mexico, the group divided into three splits based on their work sectors. The agricultural group traveled to Portland, Oregon; the accessories group to San Diego, California; and the apparel group to Atlanta, Georgia. Each city focused on industry-specific business visits, marketing best practices, and the regulations governing the production and distribution. Highlights included Bob’s Red Mill in Portland, prAna in San Diego, and AmericasMart in Atlanta. The sub groups also had an opportunity to volunteer and spend time with locals as part of home hospitality.

For the last days of the program, participants reunited in Chicago to visit incubators and a co-working space for food and art businesses. They had a communications and synthesis session with Laurie Glenn of Thinkinc., an inspirational meeting with Luxe Bloom, and a final showcase with community members. The visitors departed over the weekend, grateful for the connections they made with their U.S. counterparts and eager to leverage the important inter-African relationships they forged as AWEP alumni.

Project Timeline

Project summary

2018 African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program | July 2018
Number of Visitors: 22
Regions: Africa
Countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Zimbabwe
Impact Areas: Entrepreneurship, Cultural Diplomacy, Education, Business and Trade, Empowering Women and Girls, Foreign Policy
Program Areas: Exchanges
Partners: Private Sector