Two hundred and fifty women across Nigeria have received funding and mentorship support from the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) – a U.S. Government initiative set up to empower female entrepreneurs all over the world.
Following the selection of 200 participants from the 17 southern Nigerian states and 50 female migrant returnees for the 2022 cohort, the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos once again supported small and medium-sized businesses run by women in collaboration with Ascend Studios Foundation and Venture Garden Foundation, marking the fourth year of AWE.
Inya Lawal, President of Ascend Studios Foundation and program partner for AWE Lagos, said that through the program, women are given the structure necessary to run a successful business. She was speaking during the presentation of certificates to participants following the training.
“We have a lot of participants who are already into business and some of them lack proper training to sustain the businesses that they have started and that is the value of the programme. These women have access to training, they have 13 courses that covers various businesses. Afterwards, they have facilitators who would come and dissect these courses even further by giving them more information on the courses that they have learnt and then give them access to mentors who would then help them scale their businesses and give them advice,” Lawal said.
Apart from these advantages, she also said there are partners who provide the women access to fund as well.
She however mentioned that more importantly for the Academy is the network that the women have.
“This year, we have 250 women, if you are one of the 250 person’s, you have 249 other people you can network with. Some of them become partners, some who are distributors then get producers and some who are producers get distributors and they do business together as well. So the support that is needed for every woman is what this offers.
“For this year, we have been running this for over two months. We had the virtually facilitated sessions and now we are having the in-persons session. We usually start with the virtual programme that runs for about two months, then we end it with the three days conference. We have had the fair and people have come in to buy from them and now they have graduated,” she explained.
Also speaking at the event, Kunmi Demuren, co-founder Venture Garden Foundation said women’s capacity and competency have been demonstrated over time, but because society only gives this a cursory nod, Venture Garden Foundation had to provide financial support.
According to Demuren, he believed it was time to grow this approach because evidence has shown that businesses run by women perform better than those run by men.
“The consulate gives us an outlet to allow this product to have global presence. We love the model and we hope this programme can scale from 250 to over one thousand. Imagine what this will look like in 10 years,” he added.
Elamah Masahide, one of the mentors at the event said “Among the participants for this programme, we have women in tech and women are doing a great job. I haven’t seen the energy in this room anywhere in the world. I was opportune to mentor a group and I saw that they are the future. There are women here into recycling, some into technology and so on.
“The mentorship lasted for three days and some had questions that we helped them address. We just created a WhatsApp group for the team we mentored and we are going to follow up.
They have started sharing their ideas and we will see how much we can help them in terms of mentorship and grants,” Masahide added.
Jennifer Foltz, U.S Consulate Public Affairs Officer said AWE started in 2019 with 100 women in Nigeria, the next year 120, last year 250 and this year, another 250, more than 700 women have graduated from the academy.
Foltz said she had the opportunity to meet with the over 250 women to find out about their businesses, their products and services, and was very impressed.
“These women were selected from over 16,000 women. In 2019, Nigeria was one of the pilot countries but now the programme is in many countries across the world but Nigeria is an amazing place to be having AWE because of the dynamism and innovation of Nigerian entrepreneurs,” she said.