African Women's Entrepreneurs Program Illustrates Potential of Cultural Exchange

With a staggering set of challenges against them, African business women were offered a substantial helping hand late last month. At the end of September, the U.S. Department of State launched its second African Women’s Entrepreneurship Exchange Program (AWEP).

The program brought 43 African women from 36 countries to the U.S. to provide business advice, examples and resources for entrepreneurs to use with their own innovative businesses. The African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program only began last year, but already it has shown substantial results for many of its attendees.

“These three weeks have been a three-year master’s program,” Nadir Tati Nuhrmann, a fashion designer in Angola, told AllAfrica.com.

Sylvia Banda of Zambia attended last year and has since parlayed her experience into a new U.S. government-sponsored business incubator, along with a branch of AWEP in Zambia and plans for similar organizations in a half-dozen other countries.

The program offers a diverse array of options, featuring meetings with government, non-profit and business representatives from around the U.S., with a special emphasis on how to effectively run a business as a woman. The U.S. DOS reports that the representatives are offered the opportunity to travel to 17 different cities across the U.S., depending on their interests and specialization.

As helpful as the lessons they learned proved to be, the benefits of these cultural exchange organizations are not limited to just advice and hands-on experience. In an increasingly globalized world, the opportunity to create connections with major international companies can easily lead to a business relationship. Last year, ExxonMobil invested in further programs for the entrepreneurs. AllAfrica.com reports that one woman from Tanzania managed to use her time in the U.S. to negotiate a deal to sell her fabric through Macy’s.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also spoke with the entrepreneurs, assuring them that women in Africa have supporters in the U.S. and around the world who understand the impact they can have on the economy if given the chance.

The movement to support businesses on a small scale has grown dramatically in recent years, channeling attention towards the people most likely to spend the money productively in their own communities. But this support can only prove effective if people understand the system enough to take advantage of it, making cultural exchange organizations crucial. These institutions can offer career training opportunities and introduce people in developing nations to programs that are available to help them, many of which they may never have known about otherwise.