Jennifer Foltz is passionate about empowering Nigerian tech women and entrepreneurs. Her position as the Deputy Public Affairs Officer of the Us Consulate General, Lagos, gives her numerous opportunities to do just that.
In this brief chat with Technext, she takes us behind the scenes of her work with the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs and other programs and plans the consulate has to encourage tech women and entrepreneurs in Nigeria.
Jennifer told me that the academy for women entrepreneurs (AWE), a program established in 2019 to train and equip women in small and medium-scale businesses has since its inception till date, trained over 700 Nigerian women in an intensive 6 months program that many of the beneficiaries have described as a mini MBA.
She reveals that the US Department of State where she worked in 2019 founded the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs with the idea to give ambitious women all over the world the skills, networks and resources they need to take their business to the next level.
“From Inception to date we have about 770 women who have gone through the academy and they will always be alumni of the US government”, she said.
Speaking to me about the various ways that they support these women after training them through the academy, she explained that support is provided in various forms: ”we will always support these women and that can be done in various ways, sometimes we give them small grants, sometimes we put them on social media or support them in any other way”
Jennifer Foltz on much training and little funding?
It is a widely held belief that African women entrepreneurs whether in tech or any other sector are over-trained, and mentored but underfunded. This is a sentiment that has been echoed by many,
I asked Jennifer Foltz about her thoughts and she gave me her take on the issue of funding for women in tech and generally women entrepreneurs in Africa.
Foltz tells me that although the AWE does not exactly give funds, they have several other ways to help the women access funds from other organisations
“ the USAID gives $10,000 dollar business grants to these women who apply in Lagos the LSDTF has given low-interest loans to our women and we have also worked with BOI and a private sector funder and much more. We know that funding is a big challenge globally not just in Nigeria, which is why my team and I are constantly asking ourselves, what next? especially for these women, what more can be done to help them?”.
When it comes to tech, Jennifer Foltz tells me there are many programs run by various departments of the US doing a lot to help train and equip women in tech “ in tech we have this program from the department of commerce called “Select USA” where they display select businesses from all over the world for investors to invest in.
We had a pitch competition amongst the AWE alumnae and the winner is there right now at the program in the United States meeting CEOs from major tech companies all over the world.”
This, she tells me, is where the Academy is at this point in helping tech women in Nigeria. While they are not yet able to disburse funds as they would like to, she says “this is where we are at right now, we take funding women seriously. We will continue doing the training but we are constantly thinking of what next and how best to connect these women to opportunities that give them the funding and exposure they need.”
Although AWE is not generally for women entrepreneurs including those in tech, she told me there are specific programs geared towards encouraging women and girls in tech,
“We have a program called tech women and tech girls, for tech girls, we take two high school girls from the north and south each, we select them from Nigeria and send them to the United States for a six-week program which we believe will impact their whole lives as they are getting these opportunities and exposure young,” Jennifer Foltz says.
For the tech women, we have a network of those alumnae in the country. And, they recently did a mentorship program where they identified women working in major tech companies and paired them with young undergraduates who have an interest in going into tech. Through this pairing, they got to meet people, learned about the job and understudied them for a few weeks.”
To any woman who would be interested in going into tech, Jennifer Foltz had this to say:
“There are tech women in Nigeria who are space scientists, it was incredible to me when I realized that such was available in Nigeria, this means that if you have an interest in going into tech, female role models in the tech space already exist in Nigeria who are doing amazing stuff. we ensure we amplify and tell their stories to ensure that other young girls out there see them and are inspired by them. So look to that woman who is already doing great things and know that you can also do it.”
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