That Was Fast: A New Push to Back Women Entrepreneurs in Africa Gets Going

About a year ago, IP covered Caterpillar’s plan to team up with the U.S. State Department to launch a few major women’s entrepreneurship centers in Africa. The announcement, made at the U.S.-African Leaders Summit, highlighted Caterpillar’s $1 million pledge to build three new Women’s Entrepreneurial Centers for Resources, Education, Access, and Training for Economic Empowerment (WECREATE), beginning in Africa, with the hope of extending its reach to other developing countries around the world.

Related: Caterpillar Is Into Women’s Empowerment. Now It’s Teaming Up With the State Dept.

Back then, plans for the new partnership were a bit opaque, presumably because detailed plan development hadn’t really begun. Now, as the first of three centers has opened, more details have come to light.

The first WECREATE has officially opened its doors in Zambia and focuses on promoting gender equality and will work to tear down entrepreneurial barriers faced by women and girls. The implementing partner for managing the new WECREATE centers is StartUp Cup, a global network business accelerator and a partner of the U.S. State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program. StartUp Cup estimates the creation of over 7,000 jobs as a result of the new centers.

Caterpillar’s partnership with the U.S. State Department may be new for the foundation, but supporting girl’s education and women’s empowerment is not. Seeing female empowerment as a path to breaking generational poverty, Caterpillar’s $1 million investment in the WECREATE centers falls in lockstep with that viewpoint.

Caterpillar Foundation President Michele Sullivan notes the centers “...will help put women on the path to prosperity by helping them develop the skills they need to run successful businesses and become economically self-sufficient. These centers can help families become stronger, because when we invest in women and girls, the men and boys in a community will also benefit with additional opportunities.”

Though the emphasis for Caterpillar is on female empowerment, the overall focus for the foundation is really on what Sullivan refers to as the “root causes” of poverty. Sullivan has been drilling down on those root causes since taking the lead at the Caterpillar Foundation in 2011.

Related: Root Causes: The Clarity of Michele Sullivan and the Remaking of the Caterpillar Foundation

Prior to 2011, the foundation took the traditional, largely risk-averse path in its philanthropy, making donations to support a cause rather than looking harder at how to create system change. When Sullivan took over, she drilled down deeper, and landed on three major issues: women’s empowerment, water sanitation and hygiene, and global poverty advocacy. Sullivan jumped into the breach in a big way—with women and girls empowerment taking the lead.

Why so much attention on empowering girls and women? The answer to that is simple—empowering girls and women is the cornerstone to widespread economic development. Failing to do so is what Michele Sullivan would refer to as a root cause of the ongoing cycle of poverty in developing countries.