In August, 30 women business leaders from 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa bid farewell to the Meridian and Department of State program planners, and to one another. These women were participants of the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, more often referred to by its acronym, “AWEP.” This marked the fourth annual iteration of AWEP, part of the International Visitor Leadership Program, which entailed three weeks of professional meetings, workshops, cultural activities, participation in volunteer activities, and networking in Chicago, Portland, Ore., Seattle, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, New York and Washington, DC.
Ms. Femi Olayebi from Nigeria, CEO of My World of Bags, showcases her company’s line of high-end, handcrafted, leather handbags during a welcome reception at the Joffrey Ballet Residences in Chicago, prior to her subsequent visits to New Mexico, New York and Washington, DC.
AWEP, launched by the U.S. Department of State in July 2010, identifies and builds networks of women entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa with the goal of transforming their societies by owning, running, and operating small and medium businesses, and by becoming voices of social change in their communities.
Meridian and Department of State staff alike were moved when one of the visitors, Ms. Talle Amaou, an artisan and small business owner from Togo, shared a poem she had written about her visit to Santa Fe, a place in which she found comfort in its natural beauty and the warm welcome she received by its residents. She wrote, “Santa Fe, you bear my hopes,” describing the city as, “the place of my long-awaited rest,” and “my eternity.”
Ms. Teta Isibo of Inzuki Designs in Rwanda, a company that infuses the traditional craftsmanship of its products with contemporary design, also felt a close connection to New Mexico. She noted that New Mexico was, “So rich in culture, history and architecture, everything was hand-made and there was literally Turquoise everywhere I turned, I absolutely loved it…especially Santa Fe! It was also the city most relevant to my business as we visited a lot of businesses similar to our own that both inspired us and provided a platform for future collaboration.”
Mr. Cael Chappell, owner of Baskets of Africa in Albuquerque, provides insight into exporting goods to the United States during a meeting with African women entrepreneurs from Gabon, Guinea, Nigeria, Rwanda and Togo.
While in Albuquerque, the program participants from Gabon, Guinea, Nigeria, Rwanda and Togo met with Mr. Cael Chappell, founder and owner of Baskets of Africa. During the meeting, Mr. Chappell described the partnerships he has formed with local weavers in Africa to import their baskets. He also provided the women with insight into some of the practical logistics of exporting goods to the United States. Mr. Chappell was able to look at the visitors’ products, ranging from handbags, to handicrafts, to accessories and home décor items, and provide them with them feedback. The group agreed to be in touch with Mr. Chappell to explore opportunities for future collaboration between his and their companies.