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The African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) is a State Department initiative set up by the then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and launched in July 2010 to identify and build networks of women entrepreneurs across Sub Sahara Africa. AWEP is poised to transform communities by aiding women entrepreneurs own, run, and operate small and medium businesses, and drive social and economic progress in their communities and countries. AWEP supports the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), to create better business environments and promote U.S-Africa trade, with a focus on strengthening the capacity of women entrepreneurs so that they can benefit from the trade provisions of AGOA.
Supporting economic growth in Sub Sahara Africa is a policy priority for the United States. In Africa, women are the backbone of their communities and the continent’s greatest potential for unlocking economic growth as they provide the majority of labor with the least amount of resources. Through AWEP, the Department of State advances the Secretary’s ‘Policy Guidance on Promoting Gender Equality’ through economic and civic participation in Sub Sahara Africa.
In strengthening the efforts of women entrepreneurs in the 39 Sub Sahara countries which are eligible to participate in AGOA, AWEP Country Chapters have been established in many of those countries, of which the AWEP Ethiopia Chapter is one. Capital’s Eskedar Kifle interviewed Samrawit Moges, President of the Ethiopian AWEP Chapter, on AWEP’s participation at the AGOA Forum. Excerpts: Capital: How many women entrepreneurs is AWEP representing at the AGOA Forum?
Samrawit Moges:
The AGOA forum, which Ethiopia is hosting this month from August 9 to 13, has four different parallel forums taking place – the Ministerial forum, the private sector forum, the civil society forum and the AWEP forum. The AWEP Ethiopia Chapter is hosting the AWEP forum. An AWEP delegation from 12 countries has accepted to take part and about 50 AWEP forum participants are expected. Apart from this delegation, speakers and moderators have also been invited from different countries, including speakers from African countries, the US, Canada and the UK.
Capital: What is AWEP’s participation in the Forum and what does your program consists of?
Samrawit:
AGOA legislation mandates an annual AGOA Forum, an event that brings together senior officials from the U.S. and AGOA member countries to discuss a range of trade and investment-related issues. The AWEP forum, being one of the parallel forums hosted by the AWEP Ethiopia Chapter, focuses on the theme – “Queen of Sheba: The Entrepreneur’, and takes place from August 10 to 11 at the African Union Complex in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The AWEP forum will bring together 100 women entrepreneurs involved in four major sectors – agribusiness, textiles and garment, home and fashion accessories and services. The event will showcase the expanding businesses of AWEP alumni, their entrepreneurial abilities and capacities for trade and investment and will enhance the program’s visibility among investors, members of civil society, U.S. policymakers, and African ministers. AWEP’s forum sessions cover a range of issues focusing on; sharing of the best practices of countries in trading through the AGOA trade provisions with a focus on the experiences of women entrepreneurs; existing regional initiatives empowering women entrepreneurs in Africa and access to finance for women entrepreneurs; technology, social media and business; business to business (B2B), AWEP: the way forward.
Capital: What other outcomes are you expecting after the Forum?
Samrawit:
All AWEP sessions are organized in a manner that could allow participants to actively take part and discuss their concerns openly.  In designing these sessions, the AWEP Ethiopia Chapter strongly believes that this way of interaction will enhance knowledge sharing, networking among existing AWEP Chapters, in particular to lead us to a Pan-African unity where we will have strength, and to advocate in one voice.
Capital: How do you think AWEP’s participation would benefit the Association?
Samrawit:
The participation of the AWEP Ethiopia Chapter, by mainly being the host, will make the association visible, creating business opportunities to its members. This will also be a great opportunity for AWEP Ethiopia Chapter members to share their best practices and experiences with sister organizations and also learning from the best practices of other AWEP Country Chapters.
Capital: The theme for 2013 has been chosen to be Queen of Sheba, the entrepreneur. Why was it designated as such?
Samrawit:
Queen of Sheba was chosen as the main theme this year in order to reflect Ethiopian culture, a women entrepreneur, an independent successful icon and to demonstrate that Entrepreneurship was first introduced in Ethiopia through the Queen of Sheba.