Liberia: US State Department Graduates 18 Liberians from Academy for Women Entrepreneurs

AWE graduates posed for photo with Ambassador McCarthy, Deputy Ambassador Joel Maybury, Minister Diggs and other


The United States Ambassador to Liberia, Michael A. McCarthy, last weekend celebrated 18 females, who graduated from the first cohort of U.S. Department of States Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) in Liberia.  

The AWE program gives enterprising women the knowledge, networks, and access they need to launch and scale successful businesses. 

It also supports the U.S. government’s National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality aimed at advancing women’s economic empowerment globally.  

Implemented in nearly 90 countries, AWE has helped more than 16,000 women entrepreneurs around the world to grow their businesses and adapt to new economic realities under COVID-19.

AWE uses a hybrid model that combines the online platform DreamBuilder (developed through a partnership between Arizona State University's Thunderbird School of Global Management and global copper mining company Freeport-McMoran) with in-class mentoring and facilitation. 

Through AWE, participants learn core business skills, then get together as a class to discuss the material with experienced implementers, local mentors, and U.S. Exchange Alumni.

In brief remarks, McCarthy said, “I am thrilled to bring this global entrepreneurship program to Liberia for the first time and incredibly proud of its success.  On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, I would like to congratulate you all.  We are impressed with your drive to pursue your ambitions and contribute to building a dynamic, innovative economy.”

He added, "We all understand that Monrovia is the economic hub of Liberia but the city has also become a city of entrepreneurs for women widely taking over."

McCarthy, who quoted Liberia's Ministry of Commerce and Industry statistics, said significantly more women in the country owned and run businesses, 53% of businesses are being run by them as compared to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa where only 29.1% is used.

According to him,  for Liberia to obtain a lasting economic growth, women owned businesses must be provided with the necessary support to improve their chances of driving and to strengthen society. 

McCarthy further added that the AWE program is to empower Liberians female entrepreneurs by equipping them with practical skills needed to create sustainable businesses while building a strong network both locally, regionally and even globally.

He used the occasion to thank Stephanie SalaMartu Duncan, who served as facilitator for the fantastic mentorship of Liberia first cohort of Academy for Women Entrepreneurs and chaired the Federation of Business Women Entrepreneurs Liberia for over 15 weeks, training and mentoring and empowering these 18 and upcoming business leaders.

McCarthy informed the graduates that they will benefit from business networking opportunities, virtually from business to business with women entrepreneurs within Liberia and the United States.

This, he believed, will allow the graduates to strengthen their business connection, share experiences, learn and exposure to new opportunities and raise the business profile.

"Now that you have finished your fellowship, you have become AWE alumni. So, there are unique opportunities coming ahead and are only available to alumni of this program," McCarthy told the graduates.

In her remarks, Commerce Minister Mawine Diggs, reminded the graduates that the purpose of entrepreneurship is to identify investment and production opportunities and organize an enterprise to meet the changing needs of society as a whole.

Therefore, she said, it gives her so much joy to participate in such an event where enterprising Liberian women, in the absence of challenges and societal barriers, are continuing to distinguish themselves by acquiring new skills and seizing opportunities to equally participate in the economy of this nation. 

"Let me now extend thanks, on behalf of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Government of Liberia, to the State Department of the United States of America, the US Embassy in Monrovia, and all those involved in the planning and implementation of this program," she said.

According to her,  being an entrepreneur requires a variety of skills and trades, making it a compulsory skill, including the creative risk taken, the positive combination and use of other production elements like capital, land, and labor, as well as intangible qualities like scientific or hardness skills for technical advancement.

Diggs said entrepreneurship entails taking a chance and making crucial investments in the face of uncertainty. 

"I have all the reasons to believe that the Academy of Women Entrepreneurship has provided all of you with the necessary and basic training required to enhance your entrepreneurial capacity and make you more competitive. 

"Since the minister of commerce is a female, I want to make it very clear that special attention will be paid to women entrepreneurs, and I hope that you take advantage of the opportunity," she indicated.

Diggs added, "So, as 18 of you have completed business planning, learned basic business management, created a successful business, and networked among yourselves and across the Liberian business community. We pledged our commitment and support to the AWE program in Liberia as they continued to build the capacity of women and support our SMEs."

She called on the graduates to be an example that others will follow as well as use the skill that they have acquired to truly make a difference that others will emulate in the Liberian economy. 

For her part, Stephanie SalaMartu Duncan told the graduates that to be an entrepreneur, they need to be innovative and patient. 

She said one of the most important ways to move Liberia forward is through the private sector, and even more so, to support women's entrepreneurship.

Duncan revealed to the graduates that the United States Development Fund has agreed to host a business competition where they will be giving up to US$20,000.

She said, "I want to appeal to everyone here. We are celebrating these women today, but it doesn't stop here. They need your support to promote their businesses. They need you to buy from them. We need to invest in their businesses, and investment can be done through funding, technical assistance, or policies that will help them."

She further urged the graduates to continue to engage the government constructively with policies that benefit not just them but also women entrepreneurs and the private sector in general. 

Fathia Stewart, who spoke on behalf of the graduates, expressed deep appreciation to the US government for affording them the opportunity to acquire knowledge and hands-on skills in entrepreneurship.

She said it is their fervent hope that the opportunity be extended and expanded to include more women entrepreneurs.

"As you may be aware, women make an essential contribution to national development. although the contribution is often ignored by national policymakers. "It is an established fact that women account for a significant proportion of production in the informal sector, which is currently the principal driver for the Liberian economy," Ms. Stewart said.

She said in  this regard, the preparation and training of them in entrepreneurship will go a long way in helping to position women in the economy in ways that would help increase and ultimately contribute to reducing inequality in Liberia, which is more pronounced among Liberian women.