Grand Bahama News

AWE empowering women in business

Equipping Bahamian female entrepreneurs with the tools they need to not only start, but enhance their businesses, is the focus of the US Embassy Nassau’s Academy of Women Entrepreneur (AWE) program.

On Saturday, the most recent group of ladies who completed the program on Grand Bahama, were celebrated and presented with their certificates of completion at a reception at Pelican Bay Hotel, Port Lucaya.

The program, which started in 2019, has had 332 graduates over the course of its existence.

The 2022 cohort is the program’s third since its launch.

According to US Embassy Public Affairs Officer Suemayah Abu-Douleh, 100 women took part in the five-month program; 35 were from Grand Bahama and the rest from New Providence and the Family Islands.

AWE opened to applicants from the Family Islands in 2021.

“The participants engage in a 20-week program where they follow the Dreambuilder’s Program, which essentially provides tools and resources that will help [them] build their business, and put together a sound business plan, and connect with different funding opportunities,” Abu-Douleh said.

She explained that the participants are separated into 12 groups of 10, with a facilitator familiar with their area of expertise to assist them.

Questioned about the embassy’s reasoning behind the AWE, Abu-Douleh said, “We are interested in strengthening our economic partnership with The Bahamas, and increasing opportunities for unrepresented groups, like women, in the business field.

“We really want to see equity among the different fields that traditionally have been male dominated, and we’re looking to empower women to get an equal footing in the economy.”

The Public Affairs Section of the US Embassy Nassau partners with The Bahamas’ Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) to implement the program.

Program facilitators are selected by the US Embassy and SBDC Bahamas and include US State Department alumni, SBDC trainers and female entrepreneurs.

Proprietor of DAPS Corporate Training and Business Services, Deborah Pratt, has been an AWE facilitator since its inception.

“I love being a part of this program,” Pratt said.

“Just being there to encourage the women as they build their businesses and learn about the tools they need to succeed is rewarding.”

She added that over the three years of training, the program has grown immensely.

“This year, we had hybrid format where the groups participated in virtual and in-person sessions,” she said.

At the end of the course, there is a pitch competition where all the participants are required to sell their business or business idea.

“This year, the best 18 were selected and from that the top eight were chosen,” Pratt said.

Each of the eight winners received $5,000 to fund their business.

“I think AWE is an impressive initiative and particularly important for women, especially in Grand Bahama, where persons say jobs are hard to find,” Pratt said.

“If you can start something for yourself and see that business grow and succeed, I think that is really good.”

According to the program’s participant profile, women of varied educational backgrounds and business experience or lack thereof are welcomed.

A firm commitment to launching a new business or scaling an existing business, and to devoting the needed time and attention to successfully completing the AWE program, is vital.

New graduate, 49-year-old businesswoman Billy Jane Ferguson, said, “I have never experienced anything like this before. They took us from budding entrepreneurs with an idea and, when we left the program, we had every tool possible to make this idea into a reality.”

Ferguson — who is already operating a small business, Sunshine Senior Care and Services, a non-medical home care facility for the elderly and handicapped – added, “For me, I had started my business, but it was like running a mom and pop shop. Once I was done with the AWE program, I was able to open a bank account, get my business license and make my business legitimate.”

Ferguson encouraged any female in business or those aspiring to open a business to register for the AWE classes.

Abu-Douleh advised, “Right now, we are in the planning stage for next year’s session.”

She expects the dates and applications will be announced by March on the embassy’s web page and through social media.

Abu-Douleh noted that the number of applicants accepted varies according to funding.

“However, I encourage women interested in the program to follow our social media updates, so that you can register at bs.usembassy.gov and be a part of the next cohort,” she said.

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