Drawing from a pool of over 15,000 plus applicants from women-owned SMEs across Nigeria, 200 women entrepreneurs and 50 special participants have graduated from the 3rd cohort of the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), a U.S. government initiative that supports women entrepreneurs around the world.
The program has been designed as access for Nigerian women entrepreneurs to gain university-level business and management training, strengthen their networks, and grow sustainable businesses.
Working with a local partner, Ascend Studios Foundation, founded by Inya Lawal, an alumna of the Fortune-U.S. Department of State Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership program, the U.S. Consulate has successfully supported the training of 470 women entrepreneurs *since 2019* through the AWE program to date with plans for future cohorts.
As part of the goals of the AWE program to support the comprehensive rehabilitation and reintegration of returned migrants, 50 returned migrants from Libya, Italy, Lebanon, Saudi with an entry-level educational background and business skills were also selected to participate.
During the intensive 4 months of the program, training sessions were facilitated by industry experts and mentors. The participants were also privileged to learn through to DreamBuilder, a blended business training course developed through a partnership between Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and global copper mining company Freeport-McMoRan. There are 13 courses, and they are all core business courses. The platform teaches everything related to business from finance to management, to marketing.
On the final days of the program, participants were camped at the Ife Grand Resorts & Leisure, Ile-Ife, where they experienced a series of activities including networking sessions, debates, pitch competition, product showcase, mentoring sessions and a celebratory dinner.
Speaking at the graduation ceremony, The U.S Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard expressed her pride in the women’s dedication and hard work to strive to be outstanding in their businesses. She further revealed that the 2022 call for applications is in the works and encourages the graduates to spread the word and potentially become mentors for the cohorts to come.
To wrap up the in-person program and graduation, Inya Lawal, President of Ascend Studios Foundation said that women entrepreneurs rank low in financial management despite their hard work and resilience. She also noted that some of the growth opportunities that the participants had discovered during the program, would still require adequate funding.To address this, she called for more financial training for women entrepreneurs, especially in financial management.
“I think it is very important to train women in that aspect. It is not all about giving them money, it is about teaching them how to sustain the money they have been given as well. The two have to go side by side,” she averred. She added that the Lagos State Empowerment Trust Fund is supporting Lagos Based participants with funding.
She expressed her utmost joy to have been able to host the women at the graduation ceremony which was put on hold last year due to pandemic restrictions. She thanked the US Consulate for their partnership, as well as all speakers, facilitators, and mentors – Joke Silva, Yemisi Ransome Kuti, Bada Akintunde-Johnson, Emmanuel Tarfa, Naomi Osemedua, Sola Owonikoko, Yetty Ogunnubi, Adebisi Odeleye, and all others who made the journey to celebrate with the women.
Participants who graduate from the AWE program become a part of the U.S. government exchange alumni community, providing access to a vast network of like-minded and highly regarded professionals across the world.
Participants got support from Yamaha during the AWE pitch competition where they shared their business projections and pitches. The winner, Pamela Odan of Krylbry Spices was awarded 2 dispatch bikes, 2 dispatch boxes, and 2 helmets while Adaora Akojuru of Bera Tomato who was the first runner up went home with 1 dispatch bike, 1 dispatch box, 1 helmet, cycle oil, servicing contact for 6 months and Esther Abumchukwu Mgbemeje, the second runner up received 1 dispatch bike, 1 dispatch box, and 1 helmet.
See more photos from the event: