As Prepared For Delivery | May 28, 2015 | Gaborone
What an honor to help launch the Botswana Chapter of the African Women Entrepreneurship Partnership (AWEP). I know it has taken much time and effort for AWEP alumni to come this far to form the chapter and join this prestigious regional business network.
AWEP is a trade and investment initiative started by the U.S. Department of State in 2010 as a professional exchange program. In partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Develop, AWEP provides professional networking, business development and trade capacity building opportunities for networks of prominent female entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa. Since the inception of AWEP globally, the U.S. Embassy in Gaborone has sent five participants to the United States on short-term professional development exchanges under the International Visitor Leadership Program. The fifth Botswana AWEP-affiliated entrepreneur will travel in July 2015.
Over the past few years Batswana AWEP alumni formed a local chapter to grow the production capacities of women to export goods and services, especially in the fields of arts and crafts, agro-business, apparel and textile, hospitality and tourism, and cleaning services.
The Chapter is now a registered NGO with the Botswana government’s Registrar of Societies and boasts a membership of 60 female entrepreneurs, mainly youth. With the official launch of AWEP’s Botswana Chapter we look forward to even deeper engagement to increase Botswana’s exports, especially those spearheaded by women, through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
The African Growth and Opportunity Act and the Generalized System of Preferences together offer unilateral tariff-free access to approximately 7,000 export categories. The U.S. Senate voted to extend AGOA for ten years on May 14. We hope this will be passed by the House and signed into law soon. We are very pleased Botswana exports to the U.S. under AGOA increased by over 50% in 2014 and we hope this trend will continue to rise.
As President Obama said, “Where entrepreneurs succeed, their countries succeed.” And it is because of the importance of entrepreneurship that we are working very hard to support Botswana’s entrepreneurs by providing them access to markets and capital, and offering them mentorship and networking opportunities.
The U.S. government assists small and medium enterprises – otherwise known as “SMEs” – in accessing credit through a USAID Development Credit Authority agreement with Barclays Bank that allows SMEs to access up to $15 million in loans. We also provide technical assistance through USAID’s Southern African Trade Hub to streamline regional customs procedures and assist businesses.
Last year we brought a well-known U.S. entrepreneur, Peter Corbett, to provide practical advice and one-on-one mentoring to Botswana’s entrepreneurs and students. We have built on this program by inviting entrepreneurs, private sector representatives, and government stakeholders to workshops the first week of June with U.S. entrepreneur specialist Michael Goldberg that will address the question of how to create an environment that fosters entrepreneurship. We are also a proud sponsor of the Ideas Expo in June in Gaborone, created a few years ago by one of our 2014 Mandela Washington alumni, Tumiso Mabusela.
We are excited two Batswana are semi-finalists for the U.S. State Department’s Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Tech-I competition and hope Batswana entrepreneurs will participate in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya in July.
I am pleased to declare the AWEP-Botswana Chapter officially launched. I urge women entrepreneurs together with their various business advocacy networks and the government of Botswana to fully utilize this chapter to grow their businesses and take advantage of AGOA to export to the U.S. and globally.