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From Snacks to Cleaning Products: Women Empowered to Start Businesses

Last week, as part of President Obama’s visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, I had the pleasure of participating in a roundtable discussion on women’s entrepreneurship.

Last week, as part of President Obama’s visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, I had the pleasure of participating in a roundtable discussion on women’s entrepreneurship.

In Mexico, President Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto underscored the importance of their countries’ cooperation on regional and international issues, including gender equality.

On this, we were thrilled to hear that Mexico will join the Equal Futures Partnership, a multilateral effort to expand women’s economic empowerment and political participation which I helped launch last September.

Also in Mexico, I participated in a roundtable for Women Entrepreneurship in the Americas, or WEAmericas with Ambassador to Mexico Earl Anthony Wayne. The goal of our roundtable was to discuss and identify potential opportunities to work together to support more women entrepreneurs throughout Mexico, the region, and around the world.

WEAmericas was launched by President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Summit of the Americas in April 2012. Using public-private partnerships, this initiative seeks to increase women’s economic participation, and addresses four key barriers women confront when starting and growing small and medium enterprises: access to capital, access to markets, skills and capacity building, and women’s leadership.

We address these barriers through programs such as:

  • WEAmericas Small Grants initiative, through which 24 small grants have been awarded in 15 countries throughout the region, including Mexico, to support broader economic empowerment and development for women-owned businesses.  About 20,000 women are expected to benefit from this initiative.
  • WEConnect, a partnership with the private sector that certifies women-owned businesses and connects buyers and sellers, providing access to products and markets.

At the roundtable, I discussed the Obama Administration’s commitment to women and girls as reflected in the Presidential Memorandum, which strengthens and expands the Administration’s efforts to promote gender equality and empower women and girls across all U.S foreign policy. This memorandum will be implemented by the State Department under Secretary Kerry, who is equally committed to promoting the rights of women and girls and ensuring gender equality.

We also heard from leaders from across all sectors: public and private, as well as academia and civil society. I was especially impressed with the work of two amazing women entrepreneurs, Delfina and Gabriela, who shared their stories at the roundtable.

Delfina owns a small business selling traditional spices and snacks to some of the Yucatán’s largest companies. She told us that women in her community struggled to feed their families. But Delfina was inspired by a saying from her mother, that even when there was no food in the pantry, there was always a bit of pepper. She decided to create a women’s cooperative to sell spices, snacks, and sweets using the unique products of the Yucatán Peninsula. Delfina also participated in the WEAmericas International Visitor Leadership program in April, meeting other women entrepreneurs and leaders from across Latin America. Today, her cooperative sells products throughout the region, and Delfina is able to provide for her family, fulfill her dreams, and inspire others.

We also heard from Gabriela. Gabriela and her brother started a company that produces cleaning and personal hygiene products. Their company began developing anti-bacterial products, but when her son became ill from a retrovirus, she decided to develop all-natural products to also deter viruses. Gabriela is truly a cutting-edge innovator and an amazing example of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Supporting women like Delfina and Gabriela is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. We know that women-owned businesses are a major driver of economic growth, which is why supporting women entrepreneurs is a key part of our domestic and international efforts.

President Obama has made clear that entrepreneurship is critical to lifting up families and economies. That’s also why supporting women entrepreneurs was one of the pillars of the United States’ commitments at Equal Futures, and why we look forward to continue working with Mexico and other countries through initiatives like WEAmericas.

As President Obama said in his speech at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City,

“Because of the sacrifices of generations, a majority of Mexicans now call themselves middle class, with a quality of life that your parents and grandparents could only dream of. This includes, by the way, opportunities for women, who are proving that when you give women a chance, they will shape our destiny just as well as men, if not better.”

Together, we can create a world where every woman and girl can shape their own destinies and even the destiny of a nation.