The Department of State has long supported women entrepreneurs. The Pathways to Prosperity Women Entrepreneurs Mentoring Network has become a signature initiative of that commitment. The Pathways to Prosperity initiative links together countries in the Americas to identify policies and programs that ensure all citizens share in the benefits of economic integration and globalization. One of the key objectives of the Pathways to Prosperity initiative is to foster entrepreneurship and to empower women, small businesses, farmers, youth, and vulnerable groups to participate effectively in the global community. Countries participating in Pathways have placed a particular focus on promoting women's entrepreneurship.
Launching the Women’s Entrepreneurs Network
Supporting businesswomen helps them grow their businesses while also providing a boost to the economy and a multiplier effect for their communities and the region. Ongoing assistance and programs under the initiative offer:
The Women Entrepreneurs Conference (ACCESS) on women and entrepreneurship, hosted by the United States in October 2009 as part of the Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas initiative, launched a network of entrepreneurs who promote access to markets, finance and training for women throughout the region, thereby stimulating economic growth. Early career entrepreneurs were linked with seasoned women entrepreneurs, from the United States and the region, to develop mentoring relationships. Mentees were chosen based on their readiness to expand their businesses into new markets.
Tracking and Ensuring Success through Continuing Mentorship
Following the ACCESS conference in 2009, many women have participated in visitors’ programs to the United States to meet with and observe women who own small businesses and officials who support these programs. Four of the participants in the mentoring network were invited to attend the Pathways Ministerial in Costa Rica in March 2010. They shared their stories with over 100 local entrepreneurs and met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. In May 2010, on the margins of the Vital Voices Summit in Guatemala City, the Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs held a regional workshop with participants from Panama and the CAFTA-DR region. Developmental workshops led by Pathways Envoys provided leadership and promoted excellence, particularly to 60 Guatemalan women entrepreneurs and 60 young women (ages 14-18).
Working with a variety of public, private and civil society partners, the Department of State has expanded its programming for women entrepreneurs. In 2010, small grants were provided to U.S. Embassies in Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay to promote expansion of the Women Entrepreneurs Network at the local level.
In Colombia, partnerships with the municipal governments in Bucaramanga and Buenaventura are helping Afro-Colombian and indigenous women entrepreneurs. Embassy El Salvador has partnered with Vital Voices and the Government of El Salvador to provide training for businesses ready to export. Embassy Honduras is supporting a women-owned flower growers cooperative. Embassy Panama provides English-language training and mentoring for young women through partnerships with two NGOs and the Peace Corps. One of the original mentees from the 2009 conference is now a mentor in Panama, moving the program forward. In Costa Rica, the Embassy is partnering with Coca-Cola and the Costa Rican government to help women entrepreneurs find their place in the global supply chain.
In Peru, the Department of State’s Pathways Access Initiative (PAI) aims to support U.S. corporations seeking supplier diversity in Latin America by certifying women-owned businesses qualified to support these companies with goods for same as well as products and services needed in the operation of their businesses. The State Department and USAID have contracted with WEConnect International (WECI) to implement PAI. The WEConnect network represents over US$700 billion in annual purchasing power. Members are true pioneers in global supplier development and inclusion with a commitment to sourcing from women owned businesses.
During the Fourth Pathways Ministerial meeting, October 5-6, 2011, in the Dominican Republic, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton opened a women’s entrepreneur event that brought together 30 women entrepreneurs and partners in these programs for a discussion on how best to advance women’s entrepreneurship in the Americas. This discussion was led by the Department of State’s Assistant Secretary for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, Jose W. Fernandez with participation from partners such as Walmart, Coca Cola, and WEConnect International. The women also attended the Pathways Ministerial events.
The long-term goal is to support the development of a robust businesswomen’s network throughout the Pathways countries. Entrepreneurs can use an online tool, http://pathways-caminos.org.dnnmax.com/, to interact and facilitate mentoring relationships.
Collaborating with the U.S. Department of State in this endeavor are Agora Partnership, Apple, Business Council for International Understanding, Coca Cola, Count Me In, Endeavor, Ernst & Young, FedEx, Global Brigades Goldman Sachs, Inter-American Development Bank, Organization of American States, Peace Corps, WEConnect International, and Vital Voices.
Pathways countries include Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Uruguay, and the United States. Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago have attended Pathways meetings as observers and special guests.