Cups and Conversations: How a Coffee Chat Built a Global Networking Powerhouse for Women in Trade

March 7, 2022

Camille Richardson is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Middle East and Africa

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How did a chat over coffee between a Kenyan businesswoman and women business owners in the United States become an initiative helping hundreds of women-owned U.S. companies export abroad?

Headshot of Camille Richardson, ITA's Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Middle East and Africa.
Camille Richardson, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Middle East and Africa

Last year, my team and I met with a Kenyan businesswoman who built a thriving cosmetics business using products imported from the United States. Listening to her speak, I realized that she had much to share with other women business owners, and knew that real stories, told by an entrepreneur herself, could be valuable to other women navigating similar challenges. As such, I worked with my team to invite several businesswomen across the United States to listen in on the conversation, and it was a great success. Little did we know, this informal virtual “coffee chat” would become the model that launched Women Empowered Leave Legacies through Trade and Investment, or WELLTI, for short. Since then, the WELLTI program has hosted coffee chats across nine countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Each event boasts over a hundred participants and the attendance of CEOs and executives.

One of the keys to business success is a strong network. WELLTI connects women from around the world with one another, inspiring U.S.-based women entrepreneurs to explore trade opportunities in the Middle East and Africa. Helping women grow resilient businesses is vitally important to creating equitable economic opportunity; globally, women are more likely to face disadvantages starting businesses and are less likely to be entrepreneurs or corporate leaders. Since companies that trade are more resilient, grow faster, and have better bottom lines, encouraging women to trade helps women succeed economically.

Today and tomorrow, Commerce will host our inaugural WELLTI Summit in partnership with OWIT, WeConnect International, and a host of bureaus within the Department.  This year’s Summit is particularly special as it is in conjunction with the Trade Winds 2022 Business Forum in Dubai, UAE and features ITA’s first woman Under Secretary, Marisa Lago, to help us kick off the festivities and celebrate International Women’s Day! Tune into the livestream and see how Commerce is putting resources to work for women and businesses in underserved communities. Programming includes hearing from the Commercial Law Development Program, the Business Council of International Understanding, and Women-In-Tech on topics ranging from commercial rights of a company to women’s role in the digital transformation, to the importance of technology in business.

Illustration of text that reads: "Women Empowered Leave Legacies Through Trade & Investment (WELLTI) @ Trade Winds Middle East and Africa, Dubai, UAE, March 2022. Learn more: #TradeWinds2022 #WELLTI [social media hashtags]. Background illustration is of the Dubai skyline.

We are confident that WELLTI will continue to serve our organization well as it expands its reach globally with WELLTI 2.0 spreading to new regions around the world and with a new focus: capacity building for businesswomen across the spectrum. Women business owners who participate in WELLTI programs are ready and eager to trade. ITA will deliver capacity building, facilitate access to networks and capital, and provide market intelligence to empower women to grow their businesses on a global scale. To learn about upcoming programs, visit https://www.trade.gov/womens-global-trade-empowerment.

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