Implementers and graduates of the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) in Barbados, Saint Lucia, and Antigua and Barbuda shared their business success and challenges with U.S. House Committee on Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters and members of the U.S. Congressional Delegation both in-person and virtually at the Barbados Hilton on Thursday, April 21.
AWE Barbados implementer Cardell Fergusson of the Barbados Youth Business Trust (BYBT) explained, “AWE matches very well with what we do at BYBT. Year after year, we’ve taken lessons learned from training cohorts of about 30 women to provide them both in-class and personal development support to help them build out their ideas, to move from paper to implementation.”
Chairwoman Waters shared her own observations from her work in public service and business. She said, “Of course, we encounter some of the same problems in the United States that women encounter all over the world – and that is lack of access to capital. When I became Chair of the Financial Services Committee, I created a Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion.
Prior to establishing the subcommittee, I led the effort to establish Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion at the Treasury Department and our financial regulators, and it was about what we do to create equal opportunity for women and minorities. And so I’m so very pleased to be here, as there is nothing better than a woman who has experienced success, and they’ve learned an awful lot, and then they’re able to share it with other women.”
AWE implementers Michelle Samuel in Saint Lucia and Janese Henderson in Antigua and Barbuda explained how their participation in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) entrepreneurship fellowship was a springboard to their own business success and their mentorship of others. Delegation Representative Joyce Beatty applauded Janese Henderson’s mention of her partnership with the ECDI Women’s Business Center in Cleveland, Ohio, Beatty’s home state.
Rhanda Williams, 2021 AWE valedictorian and founder of Momo’s Coco Loco Coconut Punch, explained candidly, “We always talk about women stepping up and women going places, but many of us still need the information that it takes to run a business. That’s why programs like this are important. We won’t have sustainable businesses unless we have entrepreneurship training.”
The group discussed identifying sources of funding, constructing sound financial plans, and selecting talented mentors to move businesses forward during the hour-long exchange. AWE participants Kimberley King, founder of Soul Fire Wellness Center, and Alisha Headley, owner of Suga x Li, also shared their experiences. King said, “Everyone has that self-doubt of ‘Can I really do this?’ I say, ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’.”
The AWE program is an initiative of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs which supports the growth of women entrepreneurs in more than 80 countries around the world, including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, and Saint Lucia.
The program includes in person mentorship as well as an online training program with Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Management titled DreamBuilder. Through AWE, the U.S. Embassy remains committed to addressing the inequalities faced by female entrepreneurs and empowering women to improve their entrepreneurship skills and grow their businesses.