With commitment partners Women Presidents' Organization (WPO) and WEConnect International (WECI), the African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) will develop strategic mentoring and partnerships between U.S. women-owned firms and AWEP members, which include more than 1,600 businesses and 22 chapters throughout sub-Saharan Africa. WPO and WECI member firms will indicate their interest in mentoring and making purchases from AWEP companies matched according to product needs and willingness to mentor. AWEP entrepreneurs will experience first-hand the multiple components of exporting to a developed market, including manufacturing, product/packaging specifications, quality control, export pricing, and logistics.
The State Department will provide core funding for the AWEP program along with USAID for the third-party commitment manager, Small Enterprise Assistance Funds (SEAF); WECI, and WPO will provide support in matchmaking; Deloitte will provide pro bono technical assistance, and Western Union Corporation and Foundation will provide training and access to AWEP participants seeking grant funding and/or bank financing for the operation and expansion of their businesses.
Launched by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2010 as a U.S. State Department initiative, AWEP provides firm-level technical support to African women entrepreneurs to help them access the networks, knowledge, and capital needed to grow their businesses, export their products, and create jobs and economic growth in their countries. Now, for the first time, AWEP will specifically target supplier development as a key objective by improving internal capacity of AWEP companies and preparing them to become qualified suppliers.
The WECREATE Centers, launched in a separate 2014 CGI commitment by the U.S. State Department, will be instrumental in helping AWEP entrepreneurs learn and adopt practices that will be crucial as they aim to join global supply chains. Given that many AWEP entrepreneurs will not be able to immediately meet all the qualifications that corporate purchasers require, AWEP has developed the Supply Chain Missing Middle approach.
October-December 2014- Launch mentoring and pilot purchase program as well as workshops for Western Union/USAID grant competition for expansion capital. Provide preparatory training by WECI for the mentoring in the U.S. while SEAF focuses on training for the grant application process. Collaborate with partners working to establish WECREATE centers for African outreach and with small business and women-focused organizations in the U.S. for mentoring and pilot purchases.
January-June 2015-USAID, Western Union, SEAF will launch program implementation for entrepreneur business/supplier plan development and grant awards. As technical assistance and support begins, Deloitte will provide firm-level technical support on supplier development and other operational needs for achieving business success.
July-September 2015-SEAF and Deloitte will connect awardees and AWEP pilot groups to resources including financing opportunities.
October 2015-September 2016-Build out of AWEP partnerships in the U.S. with partners and programs in Africa.
Entrepreneurs in Africa face the same challenges as entrepreneurs everywhere, but for women entrepreneurs in Africa, success becomes even more elusive. In a region where economic, political and cultural history have long been dominated by men, women entrepreneurs can find it difficult to establish the financial and social capital they need to build their businesses. They need networks, mentoring and training as well as access to market opportunities and appropriate financing to fuel growth. Yet women entrepreneurs in Africa are not the only ones facing challenges in this field. Companies and investors also report equally significant challenges in finding a pipeline of women-owned firms that can be cultivated into reliable, cost-effective suppliers and reliable borrowers. At the African Leaders Summit this August 2014, a variety of companies and banks with women sourcing and financing initiatives noted publicly that there is a need to first identify such women-owned or women-managed firms and then to provide a variety of services and training opportunities to make them supplier ready and bankable.
The State Department and USAID seek partners to provide two types of support. Financial support is needed for the implementation of the program - from a larger grant pool, to administrative funding, to partners in providing debt and equity financing to the women entrepreneurs in the pilot procurement program and other AWEP entrepreneurs. Nonfinancial support is critical for the mentoring and pilot procurement program. AWEP needs partners who represent women entrepreneurs in the U.S. and other countries who are both willing to mentor the AWEP participants as well as make pilot purchases of the AWEP members' products and services.
The State Department and the AWEP team are offering to partner with other organizations serving women entrepreneurs in a variety of capacities in Africa. In particular AWEP can become an effective pipeline of suppliers for companies seeking to expand their procurement from women-owned firms as well as a pipeline for investors seeking to invest in women-owned companies in Africa that are poised for growth.. Financial institutions seeking to attract borrowers from this growing segment of successful African SMEs would also be welcome partners.