September 23, 2011
NEW YORK – Nearly a dozen current and former first ladies joined RAND, the United States Department of State's African Women Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) and the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) today to highlight and promote women's leadership and economic empowerment across Africa.
First ladies in attendance were Mathato Mosisili of Lesotho, Penehupifo Pohamba of Namibia, Sia Nyama Koroma of Sierra Leone, Viviane Wade of Senegal, Sophia Martelly of Haiti, and Eloise Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as Ida Odinga, wife of Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
They were joined in dialogue by former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady of Arkansas Betty Bumpers and Cherie Blair, wife of former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair. Messages were also delivered from U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, former First Lady Laura Bush and Sarah Brown, wife of former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Now in its third year, the RAND African First Ladies Initiative (AFLI) partners with first ladies, supporting their efforts to become champions of change in their own countries on issues related to Millennium Development Goals.
Today's gathering brought together the successful RAND AFLI partnership, the support and convening authority of the U.S. State Department and the business connections of CCA to enhance the influence and visibility of first ladies to promote an issue that greatly affects women across Africa: access to credit, professional development and economic empowerment.
According to the U.S. Administration's "Smart Power" strategy, fostering economic opportunity contributes to peace and prosperity. For example, globally, women invest approximately 90% of their earnings in their families as compared to men, who invest 30–40% of their earnings. AWEP, founded by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is based on evidence that investing in women entrepreneurs is a strategic approach to building stronger communities, more stable societies and sustainable economies across the globe.
In addition to their work on Millennium Development Goals, Africa's first ladies are poised to take significant action to advance women's economic opportunities in their countries. Through this partnership, RAND, AWEP and CCA will work with first ladies from across Africa to develop guidelines and programming in support of gender equitable policies and opportunities, including increased access to credit, professional training programs and trade opportunities.
Proof of the valuable role first ladies can play in women's economic empowerment was seen during the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forum in Lusaka, Zambia, in June 2011. First Lady of Zambia Thandiwe Banda's patronage of the AWEP meeting during AGOA encouraged Zambian private sector funding for AWEP activities; raised the profile of the businesswomen of Zambia in that county's national media; led to the Zambian trade minister's commitment to launch a business incubator in Zambia; attracted the participation of high-ranking women from the Zambian Central Bank; increased global pressure on the Zambian government to enforce its recently passed gender discrimination laws; and inspired additional first lady involvement across Africa.
Today's event in New York convened members of The Corporate Council on Africa who represent 85% of all U.S. private investment on the African continent, successful African women business leaders from AWEP whose companies are changing the landscape of local markets, as well as Africa's first ladies, who through policy advocacy and leadership seek to foster social and economic development in their home countries.
The event will be followed by the second gathering of the African First Ladies Fellowship Program, an intensive five-day program created by the Pardee RAND Graduate School to help first ladies and their staffs develop skills for managing an effective first lady's office and learn practical policy-analysis techniques.
Other follow-up programming will include first lady-hosted AWEP meetings in their countries, continued business match-making between AWEP women and U.S. business leaders, as well as specific projects and policies aimed at increasing women's economic participation and driving economic growth across Africa.
The New York event was made possible by support from Fred Pardee, Exxon Mobil, Johnson & Johnson, General Electric, the Corporate Council on Africa and the Ford Foundation.
More on the program partners:
The RAND African First Ladies Initiative (AFLI): In April 2009, RAND co-hosted the "African First Ladies Health Summit" in Los Angeles, California. Since then, the RAND African First Ladies Initiative has co-hosted multiple international meetings of first ladies; worked closely with first ladies to refine and develop their platforms; and fostered strategic collaborations between first ladies and more than 20 public and private entities.
The African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), a program of the U.S. Department of State, is an outreach, education and engagement initiative that aims to empower African women entrepreneurs to become voices of change in their communities. AWEP goals: a) accelerate the growth of women-owned businesses; b) foster leadership for women's business organizations; and c) support advocacy for women's economic empowerment.
The Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) focuses on strengthening and facilitating the commercial relationship between the United States and the African continent. CCA is a key supporter of the AWEP program.