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I just spent the last week in Accra, attending meetings sponsored by Vital Voices Global Partnership, the Africa Businesswomens Network (the ABWN) and the ExxonMobil Foundation.
These organizations aim to build and support a network of businesswomen organizations in Africa to expand the number of women succeeding as entrepreneurs and leaders in the corporate world; to raise the profile and credibility of women in business; to foster global networking opportunities among businesswomen; and to advocate for policies that expand economic opportunity for women. The ABWN addresses some of the unique barriers women entrepreneurs face in Africa, including negative and unsupportive policy and social environments; poor access to input and output markets and technologies; and inadequate access to information. Attending these meeting were leaders, staff and key members of the six founding ABWN members from businesswomens organizations in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and South Africa.
When I landed the first set of meetings was just finishing it was focused on supplier diversity. The 20 women (and one man) attending were just finishing a four day intensive session on how women-owned businesses can prepare themselves to make the best business case possible for supplying goods and services to large companies and governments, focusing on how these business can add value and reach new consumers for products and services.
Elizabeth Vazquez, CEO and co-Founder of WE Connect International energized the group. WE Connect is a global non-profit organization founded by corporations committed to doing business with women-owned businesses; the current members of WE Connect represent over $700 billion in annual purchasing power. Elizabeth, who has extensive experience working with women-owned businesses talked about this potential and the need to ensure that women-owned businesses are part of the competitive process. She stressed the importance of working with suppliers to major companies and learning the internal structure and needs of potential corporate partners. You can read more about the organization at www.womenconnectinternational.com
We then visited an inspirational businesswoman, Matilda Amissah, who runs Matamiss Enterprise, a pottery business. She has previously provided products to Pier 1 and is currently shipping a new collection of 500 pots for market testing to a buyer in Italy. Matilda is an amazing woman who worked first as a street vendor and now has developed this business with beautiful products. We were all so impressed with what she has been able to build.
The next four days were spent with the hub leaders discussing how to maximize services to members; create effective advocacy for a better business environment and create a strong base of hubs to grow. I worked with the group on how to communicate your advocacy message in the most effective way, and how to develop strong media relations.
It was an impressive group and an impressive week. I look forward to so much progress.