Meridian Showcases African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program

(L to R) H.E. Kenichiro Sasae, Ambassador of Japan; Heather Higginbottom, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State; Michele Sullivan, Caterpillar Foundation; Cathy Russell, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues; Ambassador Charles Rivkin, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs; Kathryn Dickey Karol, Caterpillar, Inc.; Ambassador Stuart Holliday, Meridian’s President & CEO
(L to R) H.E. Kenichiro Sasae, Ambassador of Japan; Heather Higginbottom, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State; Michele Sullivan, Caterpillar Foundation; Cathy Russell, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues; Ambassador Charles Rivkin, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs; Kathryn Dickey Karol, Caterpillar, Inc.; Ambassador Stuart Holliday, Meridian’s President & CEO

Meridian was honored to once again administer the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. AWEP is an outreach, education, and engagement initiative that targets African women entrepreneurs to promote business growth, increase trade both regionally and to U.S. markets through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), create better business environments, and empower African women entrepreneurs to become voices of change in their communities.

Following an opening in New York — which focused on leadership, empowerment, developing social media skills, and visits to businesses in their sector-AWEP participants arrived in Washington, DC where they engaged in a Meridian-led "Perfecting the Pitch" session on August 6, 2014. Meridian’s Senior Vice President, Susan Cabiati, shared welcome remarks and turned the program over to Rahama Wright, the Founder and CEO of Shea Yeleen International, a unique social enterprise that includes a 501(c)3 nonprofit and a commercial entity that sells shea butter products. Ms. Wright illustrated what constitutes an effective pitch and was joined by facilitators who offered feedback and constructive critique to the participants on their individual pitches. Facilitators included members of the Young African Professionals (YAP) network — Jay Nwachu, Mellena Haile, Seun Oyewole, Andrena Sawyer and Laura Ingabire — along with Meridian staff, Meg Poole, Michelle Byusa and Hajira Khan. The session closed with role play scenarios of various audiences the entrepreneurs may encounter and how to best pitch to these funders, media, supporters and buyers.

That evening, AWEP participants put their pitches to the test during a Business-to-Business Showcase and Reception, hosted by Meridian and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, along with the State Department and USAID. Participants’ businesses and products were on full display in the Reagan Building’s Pavilion for an audience of over 250 guests, comprised of members of the private sector, U.S. Government, investors, and distributors. Special remarks were given by Heather Higginbottom, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources; Cathy Russell, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues; His Excellency Kenichiro Sasae, Ambassador of Japan; Ambassador Charles Rivkin, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs; Michele Sullivan, President, Caterpillar Foundation and Kathryn Dickey Karol, Vice President of Caterpillar, Inc. Useful connections were made, business cards exchanged, and the diverse businesses of the AWEP participants were highlighted throughout the celebratory, lively evening.

With overall goals of understanding the political, economic, and social factors that influence and encourage the development of private enterprise in the U.S., the Washington, DC schedule for AWEP participants included meetings with Ms. Catherine Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment; Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and the U.S. Small Business Administration.  And, due to fortuitous timing, the group was able to attend the signature U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Civil Society Forum. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) organized a half-day workshop for the group, introducing the Kaizen concept and approach: a method to improve quality and productivity by continually making small efforts that add up to a big result. Following their DC visit, the participants had “city splits” to Los Angeles, California; Portland, Oregon; Santa Fe/Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Seattle, Washington, before reconvening and closing in Chicago, Illinois.

 

Project summary

Meridian Showcases African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program
Regions: Africa
Impact Areas: Business and Trade, Empowering Women and Girls, Entrepreneurship
Program Areas: Exchanges, Forums
Partners: Public Sector, Private Sector, NGOs
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