This originally appeared on the White House Blog.
Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying my husband Joe on a trip to Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil. In each country, I witnessed the good work of the United States to promote economic growth and development through education and empowerment of women entrepreneurs.
Colombia: Vocational Training for At-Risk Young Adults
As an educator for more than 30 years, I enjoy meeting students wherever I go. I love to hear about their experiences and see exciting and innovative programs that are working. One of those programs is the Escuela Taller in Bogota, which I had the pleasure of touring with Colombian First Lady María Clemencia de Santos. Escuela Taller is a vocational school that serves low income and high-risk youth and provides training for jobs such as carpentry, culinary arts, construction and wood working.
Since 2006, USAID has provided funding to the Bogota, Cartagena, and Buenaventura locations of Escuela Taller, funding that, in part, supported the construction of the school’s in-house restaurant and kitchen. Through the U.S. partnership, the school is mitigating gang recruitment risk factors such as lack of education, unemployment and low-self-esteem for young adults. Alumni like Jonothan Medina who attended the culinary school are now dreaming big – he wants to study in France at the Cordon Bleu! In fact, over 90 percent of the graduates from the culinary program are employed in local restaurants.
Trinidad: Women Entrepreneurs Invigorate a Local Trade
As I travel around the US and across the globe, I always notice the important role women entrepreneurs play in local economic development. Trinidad and Tobago is known for its high-quality cocoa beans, but they only make up about 5 percent of the world’s market. Women like Isabel Brash, owner of Cocobel Chocolates, and Darril Astrida Saunders, owner of Exotic Caribbean Mountain Pride, use only local products from start to finish and are trying to revive the local cocoa trade, while simultaneously promoting women’s entrepreneurship.
I toured Isabel’s kitchen and saw her turn cocoa beans into delicious bars of dark chocolate. I also heard from Darril how the U.S. State Department’s Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas (WEAmericas) and the International Visitor Leadership (IVLP) programs provided her with business training and networking opportunities. WEAmericas connects women entrepreneurs from throughout the Americas and leverages public-private partnerships to increase women’s economic participation.
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