The 7th edition of the International Fair of Enterprise, SME and Partnership (Promote 2019 Tade Fair) was held from February 16 to 24, 2019 at the Yaounde Congress Centre, under the patronage of President Paul Biya, with the generic theme “Business Trend and Sustainable Development, Energy and Societal Economy”.
It was seven consecutive days of debate and talk shows, exhibitions, artistic performances, all of them punctuated by the country days. These days are privileged spaces of time devoted to some of the represented countries, to ripen reflections on its cooperation with Cameroon, encourage new perspectives of partnership and initiate new actions.
The day of 21 February 2019 was dedicated to the USA, as others were devoted to France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, etc. The “America Day” opened by Ambassador Peter Henry Barlerin along with representatives of the Cameroonian government, U.S. companies, and the press, included a program of special activities. Events included a ribbon cutting ceremony, followed by refreshments, a tour of the pavilion, and an afternoon series of panels on finance, good governance, and women’s entrepreneurship.
Advancing the debate on women’s entrepreneurship
The theme of the U.S. pavilion was “Real Partnerships, Mutual Progress”, and aimed at highlighting U.S. companies lasting business partnerships with Cameroon. The pavilion featured 20 U.S. companies and organizations that are working to make mutual progress in increasing trade and investment between Cameroon and the United States. American companies with expertise in the fields of renewable energy, construction, consulting, communications, consumer products, agriculture, information and communications technology, and cyber security display their products and services.
Particular emphasis was placed on women’s entrepreneurship as a prelude to International Women’s Day, welcoming women of great entrepreneurial renown, and especially Rahama Wright, an American successful social entrepreneur, inspirational business woman and prolific speaker, with experience in building commercial partnerships between Africa and the United States. Rahama’s overall role at Promote was to share the competitive advantages of doing business with U.S. companies. Facilitating several sessions with different groups of young people and women, she shared some practical tips with young men and women seeking ways to refine their business idea or to improve their businesses. She also gave tips and advice on seeking financing and scaling a business in developing economies, as well as some pitching methods.
Inspiring students through the Shea Yeleen experience
The women entrepreneurship thematic was displayed on topical issues with Rahama Wright as symbol and role model, due to her status as Founder and CEO of the Beauty Brand Shea Yeleen. On February 20, she first talked on starting a business for students and teachers of the Cameroon Center for Information and Communication Technology (CITEC HITM) in Yaoundé.
The young woman entrepreneur described the steps that her business took, from a single idea to a flourishing social impact company that sells in American grocery stores. Established in 2005, Shea Yeleen International, Inc. is a social enterprise dedicated to empowering women in West Africa and the United States through the production, sale and use of shea butter products. Its positioning is first to provide women producers with a fair price, small business start-ups, and customers with access to a guaranteed high-quality product that meets their health, cosmetic and personal beauty needs.
The Director of CITEC, Dr. Martha Egbe, reacted to Rahama’s dissertation saying: “I never thought you could start a business without a lot of money. We are grateful to Rahama for opening our eyes to the realities of the business world.”
In addition to this session held with the CITEC students, Rahama held other speeches and discussions throughout Promote 2019, where she constantly narrated her experience to inspire other women, and youth attending US Embassy’s booth.
Surviving stereotypes: undertaking as a black woman in conservative societies
During the “Panel on Women’s Entrepreneurship” held at the auditorium reserved for the US Embassy on February 21 (the “America Day” at Promote 2019), Rahama spoke alongside three other women entrepreneurs from various business fields. She pointed to the female side, black and from a large or a traditional family as many brakes that can prevent the entrepreneurial outbreak in women. However, she described her own experience:
“I was the eldest of a large family with a working mother and for me, responsibilities began early too. As a high school student, I was already assisting my mother in housework and taking care of my cadets. I started working and help coach my cadets as soon as I could. And living like that, I had never stopped to consider a difference between me and men, or think that I should act otherwise just because I am a woman; and thanks to that naivety, I never perceived any limit inherent to my status of woman”.
That is what saved her from the barriers that are very often created by stereotypes on African women status in the society. Acknowledging that not all young women have the chance to grow up under the same conditions as she did, Rahama encourages them to open up more and to impose no limit, because entrepreneurship does not compromise the position of women in the society. She ended up saying:
“I firmly believe that African women can go beyond stereotypes if they believe in their abilities and surround themselves with good people”.
Advice for African female youth aspiring to entrepreneurship
Rahama reminds that the entrepreneurial potential is in every young girl and boy, but it develops differently from person to person depending on the environment in which we have evolved, the opportunities that arise and the entrepreneurial competence acquired by education. To encourage the young women present in the audience, she advises to get started without waiting for a lot of funding. As per her own experience, she started from scratch, and advises any woman project holder not to wait for large financial resources to get their business started. She also said that a lot of money at the beginning could disguise the skill, which is the most sought thing by investors, and make the project fail. She finally advises young Cameroonian women to build a good network based on their field and the nature of the business they want to develop, find mentors and stick to their advice.
Rahama Wright is the Founder of Shea Yeleen Health and Beauty, a social impact company she started after her Peace Corps service. Her company develops shea butter creams, balms, and soaps that create living wage jobs for women in Ghana. She is a leading voice on African women’s economic and business development. She has presented at the United Nations Thematic Debate on Entrepreneurship for Development, the U.S. Secretary of State Global Diaspora Forum, the World Bank Africa Region Growth Dialogue, and the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. In 2014, she was appointed to the President Obama Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa.