In a week focused on boosting trade and investment in Africa, the State Department in collaboration with Meridian, welcomed to the U.S. two delegations of more than 100 African entrepreneurs from across the continent. The entrepreneurs were part of two separate State Department programs: an International Visitor Leadership Program delegation of African women entrepreneurs and the President’s Initiative on Young African Leaders. Both programs were designed to promote the work of African business and social entrepreneurs from a wide variety of fields by exposing participants to new networks and skills training. The delegates in both groups were also honored to be addressed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who hailed Africa as one of the world’s fastest growing economic regions and promoted greater ties between the continent and the U.S.
The African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program’s U.S.-Africa Exchange, an annual State Department program led by Meridian, brought approximately 70 Sub-Saharan African women entrepreneurs to spend three weeks in the United States to exchange best practice with American business people and network with U.S. policy makers, non-profit organizations, and industry associations. The group convened at Meridian for a networking event to celebrate the participants’ accomplishments as entrepreneurs and provide an opportunity to learn from other women-led businesses. Ambassador Sharon Wilkinson, Diplomatic Advisor to Meridian, introduced two inspirational women entrepreneurs living in the U.S.: Nancy Goodman, Co-Owner of Main Event Caterers and Marga Fripp, Founder of Empowered Women International.
Ms. Goodman shared her experiences growing her catering business from two women to fifty full-time staff with a message about the three necessities for successful business, “tenacity, networking, and the ABC’s or ‘Always Be Closing’.” She urged the women to continue standing tall and to advance their business at every opportunity. Marga Fripp shared her story of how her experiences as a well-educated but economically disadvantaged immigrant to the U.S. inspired her to establish Empowered Women International to support immigrant and refugee women and families through the promotion of their arts and entrepreneurial successes. Ms. Fripp encouraged the women to follow their passions and left the participants engaged and inspired about what they could achieve.
The second delegation called Young African Leaders involved more than 60 young African business and social entrepreneurs. The Young African Leaders Program is part of the President’s Young African Leaders’ Initiative and coincided with the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Summit in Washington. The program builds upon previous youth engagement, including the President’s Young African Leaders Forum (August 2010), First Lady’s Young African Women Leaders Forum (June 2011), and more than 2,000 subsequent youth programs conducted by the Department of State in Sub-Saharan Africa. The group participated in a Meridian-led two-day innovation summit in Washington which featured keynote speakers and breakout sessions designed to cover a broad range of topics in entrepreneurship. The program also exposed Americans to the business challenges and economic opportunities in Africa. Topics included utilizing technology, gaining access to capital, promoting foreign investment, messaging and branding, building public-private partnerships, financial management tools for SMEs, and expanding networks and cultivating talent. In a reception for the delegates hosted at Meridian, Meridian’s President and CEO, Ambassador Holliday introduced the keynote speaker, Tara Sonenshine, the newly appointed U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs who outlined the importance of expanding engagement with young African leaders. The group went on to participate in a Mentoring Partnership placing them in nine U.S. cities to connect them with businesses and organizations to generate innovative solutions that address economic and social development opportunities in Africa and potentially expand markets through U.S. investment.