AFRALTI Conference Center
Hamjambo mabibi na mabwana. Habari zenu? Thank you and good morning.
Zohra Baraka, Chairperson of AWEP-Kenya; AWEP Board Members; Leaders of of the East African Trade Hub and the AFRALTI Center; Distinguished guests; Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am grateful for the opportunity to join you in launching this strategic plan for the African Women Entrepreneurship Program Kenya Chapter. I’d like to start by congratulating Zohra Baraka and her fellow AWEP Kenya board members for their hard work, dedication, and progress. These women represent values at the core of the fifty-year partnership between the United States and Kenya: free markets, economic development, and empowering women to become equal leaders in our societies.
Promoting women as leaders in all walks of life is one of the top priorities of the U.S. government. During the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit last week, President Barack Obama announced a number of initiatives that support both economic growth and women’s advancement.
Along with President Kenyatta, we were very pleased to welcome at the Summit many Cabinet Secretaries and other Kenyan guests who participated in events from energy to trade to gender equality. In addition to announcing plans for $33 billion in new investment in Africa, President Obama described programs that will help women become leaders in peacebuilding, governance, business, and other sectors. Specific programs for women include the clean energy business training program wPOWER – Partnership on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables – and exchange programs such as TechWomen. Many of these programs will complement the great work AWEP is doing.
The U.S. government has also just launched several new programs to end violence against women, including a public-private partnership to establish emergency response hubs across Africa. At the U.S. Embassy, we are deeply proud to see how AWEP-Kenya has grown.
I remember speaking at the launch of Kenya’s AWEP chapter just last year. The organization had only a handful of new members, no offices, and an uncertain future. Now, AWEP Kenya impressively supports thousands of members – an extraordinary expansion in a short period. And you have taken on a wide range of projects not only to help women start companies, but to promote economic independence as a tool to end violence against women. Walking alongside you through the streets of Nairobi last November to speak out against that violence was an inspiring moment. It was a highlight of my time here in Kenya so far.
The partnerships between AWEP, the U.S. government, and the East Africa Trade Hub have also been very fruitful. The Trade Hub has worked with AWEP in the development of national strategies to help Kenyan businesswomen and men tap into the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA. AGOA allows African businesses to export virtually any product to the United States duty-free and quota-free – the United States is now Kenya’s third largest export partner.
Like AWEP, the Trade Hub has also worked directly with women entrepreneurs to expand their reach into the United States. To take just one example, the Trade Hub began working with Jennifer Mulli and her company, Katchy Kollections, in 2011 to expand her small sales of sandals to the U.S. Today Katchy has expanded its reach into the U.S. market and sells to retail giants like Wal-Mart.
I am delighted to celebrate today the launch of this new strategy that sets out a roadmap for AWEP’s next three years. The U.S. government was pleased to support this effort through USAID’s Financial Inclusion for Rural Microenterprises (FIRM) program, and through Peace Initiative Kenya. AWEP’s Strategic Plan is ambitious: it seeks to continue expanding membership at an impressive rate, to deepen its network of mentors, and to help thousands of women start new enterprises.
The future of AWEP holds great promise. That’s why the U.S. government is investing even further in its future. Here in Kenya, USAID/FIRM will continue to support AWEP in the development of a work plan to implement the new strategy and monitor the results. And during last week’s Summit, President Obama also announced the U.S. government’s plan to open three new specialized training centers in Africa, coordinated with AWEP networks, to help provide business development assistance for women entrepreneurs. We hope these centers will be a force multiplier for the work you have started here.
The U.S. Mission in Kenya, too, has worked closely with the Government of Kenya on a range of programs to promote women’s economic and social advancement. Our programs have enabled more than 228,000 Kenyan women farmers to apply new technologies or management practices on their land. And in 2013 alone, we helped over 61,000 female owners of Kenyan micro, small, and medium enterprises gain access to bank loans. Finally, we have supported income-generating activities for some of Kenya’s most marginalized women, including widows and orphans affected by HIV/AIDS.
I recently visited one such livelihood program in Turkana, where young widows and orphans were earning a living by starting their own handicrafts businesses and a greenhouse. These young women told us about the hardship of growing up in a community where girls were discouraged from going to school and getting good jobs. But they also told us about the dreams that kept them going. Dreams of becoming doctors, writers, and business owners. Dreams of supporting their families and lifting up their communities. Their words brought home to me again the true power of women’s empowerment and the importance of AWEP for Kenya’s future. For AWEP’s most important contribution is that it is breaking down barriers for generations of girls to come, so that they may follow you in fulfilling their own dreams.
We are now in the fourth year of what the African Union has termed the “African Women’s Decade.” The progress women are making across Africa is impressive, but this no time to rest or to congratulate ourselves. Much work remains to be done. Nevertheless, you are also right to be proud of the incredible work you are doing, the progress you are making.
AWEP is indeed one reason that I am so optimistic about Kenya’s future. And, you are the reason that Kenya’s young girls will have more opportunities than ever before. You are the reason that Kenya, and Africa, are on the rise, headed for a new age of prosperity.
Thank you and my best wishes for AWEP Kenya’s future. Asanteni sana.