U.S. Ambassador Melanne Verveer Photo: inclusivesecurity

Forty-six women from 37 African nations travelled to the U.S. in the last few weeks to learn about running an export business as part of a U.S. State Department program aimed at helping African countries rely less on foreign aid that began in 2000.

Here’s what the LA Times reported:

African businesswomen could be a key economic force in their countries, especially since females make up 85 percent of the household consumers in African nations, according to the State Department.

“Women who run small and medium businesses are accelerators for economic growth and jobs creation,” said Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for global women’s issues.

So why aren’t they taking advantage of the 2000 law? “Their businesses aren’t export-ready,” Verveer said.

African businesswomen face a number of barriers in expanding internationally, she said, including access to credit and financing. They don’t move in the same networks and don’t have the same contacts or mentors that men have. And, in some places, they “can’t enjoy property rights and inheritance.”

Verveer said the lack of a middle class was a significant hurdle to economic development in many African countries.

“This ’missing middle’ is where genuine growth and job creation and opportunities for societies really lie,” she said. Read more at the LA Times.

Diane von Furstenberg gave advice to the group, as did Tina Tangalakis, whose company Della, sells fashion accessories produced by Ghanese women.

47 women is a small start, but it’s a start. Let’s hope we see programs like this proliferate and more women like von Furstenberg and Tangalakis stepping forward to collaborate with African women entrepreneurs.

If African women there could step into the missing middle, it could make all the difference.