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Supporting Women Entrepreneurs in Africa

In partnership with USADF, Concordia Global Patron Member

MARCH 11, 2021  |  DIgital

9:30-10:30 AM EDT


In support of W-GDP, the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) was created in 2019 and launched in 26 countries, with the goal of enhancing female empowerment and gender equality in the developing world. One of Concordia’s Global Patron Members, U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), has partnered with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) to expand the AWE Program. This conversation, co-hosted by USADF, engaged with three graduates of the AWE Program, to highlight female entrepreneurs in Africa and the importance of supporting an ecosystem that enables them to thrive.


  • As explained by Manuel Pereira Colocci, the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) was created by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) in 2019 to provide women entrepreneurs with the skills, resources, and networks needed to start and scale successful businesses. AWE is typically centered around the training program DreamBuilder, a massive open online course developed through a partnership with Arizona State University’s School of Global Management and global copper mining company Freeport-McMoRan.
  • According to Melvenia Gueye, the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) recognizes that for women it may be more difficult to secure funding and to both launch and maintain their businesses. For this reason, they have partnered with ECA since 2020 to expand the AWE Program. Gueye also spoke about the achievements of this collaboration: in 2020, they reached out to 44 women businesses across 10 African countries to the tune of USD 880,000; in 2021, they expanded AWE to 14 African countries, and they are hoping to provide a similar level of funding.
  • With the month of March spotlighting many prominent women in their field of expertise for Women’s History Month, Gueye asked each panelist—all graduates of the AWE Program—to highlight the most relevant factor when starting their businesses. 
    • For Pamela Mutale Kapekele, it was the networking that AWE allowed her to have and the opportunity to learn from the stories of success and failure of other women entrepreneurs. Even after the program, she continued to research women entrepreneurs in the energy field. By learning about how other women got to where they were, Kapekele was able to steer her own path to victory.
    • For Cecilia Sewera, it was her past experiences that gave her an idea of how to move forward, as she began her entrepreneurial path with two failed businesses. She believed that these first two attempts did not succeed because she was not passionate about the products she was selling. She realized her true passion for manufacturing once she began working at her first startup. As she watched it grow from the ground up, she received the experience she needed to start her own small business. 
    • Finally, for Johanna Mbengue it was the motivation that AWE gave her to fulfill her mission of serving others. Through the DreamBuilder’s courses, she was able to  reaffirm her purpose in the world.
  • Gueye pointed out that even though laws exist for women to protect their businesses and their inheritances, they are sometimes difficult to access, understand, and apply. To tackle this issue, Mbengue founded JudiMap, a mobile application that shares legal information and offers education around legal issues throughout Senegal. By joining technology and law, her company contributes to nation-building and democracy. 
  • According to Sewera, the DreamBuilder program is very good at giving participants a path into entrepreneurship. Nevertheless, she thinks there is a gap on the practical side. She identified opportunities for improvement by presenting real-life female entrepreneurs to students and adjusting the taught content to a non-U.S. context. 
  • People who do not live in Africa can also support African women-owned businesses. For example, Mutale stated that the best way to do it is by joining networks of women. As remarked by Mbengue, giving entrepreneurship projects visibility by talking about them is also a way to support them. Sewera highlighted that exchange programs for women in business can be good for this purpose. 
  • The AWE Program aims to provide women with the opportunity to push societal boundaries and begin filling in the gap of the “missing middle”. It has educated these three female panelists, and many others, on how to start a small business, as well as given them the funds to grow their businesses from the ground up.
  • COVID-19 has boosted the digital and remote interaction between companies and customers. As exposed by Mutales, the pandemic has led to the creation of the website of Ngweru Solar Services, which has increased its clients base to other countries. Sewera closed the conversation talking about how G&C chemicals turned to online platforms and new telephone services for communicating with clients given the sanitary emergency.

Partnering Lesson

Global development work must consider project or partnership sustainability as a core indicator of success, and design for it. This requires the meaningful inclusion of local populations, partners, and beneficiaries throughout a project conceptualization and into implementation and evaluation periods, in order to ensure an expressed need is being met and that the continuation of activities will be prioritized once initial project funding exits. AWE is in a constant state of expansion and evolution in order to reach new geographies, industries, and entrepreneurs, based on their commitment to stakeholder engagement. This may challenge scale in the short term, but helps support sustained impact in the long term.

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