Teta Isibo of Rwanda visited the United States this summer as a participant of the International Visitor Leadership Program’s (IVLP) African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP). She is the Managing Director and Founder of Inzuki Designs – a company that specializes in handmade jewelry, accessories and interior décor, fusing traditional craftsmanship with contemporary design.
Here is a personal account from Teta of her IVLP experience:
“I was lucky and honored to be chosen as the Rwandan candidate to attend AWEP 2013. I heard about AWEP before, from an alumna ,and always hoped that one day I would get the chance to partake in this program.
The program kicked off in Chicago-Illinois, a State I had never been to and I was pretty excited about visiting! Chicago is where we all got to meet each other. Thirty African women from twenty eight different countries! It was jubilant and colorful, an awesome mix of women, we hit it off immediately! My favorite part of the Chicago program was the keynote address by Ms. Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing company, home to Ebony and JET magazines, who gave us an inspiring talk about women as business leaders as we lunched on the 95th Floor of the John Hancock tower. It was a breathtaking view to go with the an empowering talk.
Next – our group (crafts and home décor) hit Albuquerque, New Mexico for a week’s stay. Now I must say, I had never heard of Albuquerque ever before until two days prior to my trip when I had a briefing session with the embassy, my reaction was AlbuWhere?? The ‘Fashion and Textiles’ group got to go to Los Angeles and I was slightly envious – L.A seemed much more glamorous than this Albu-something place I had never heard of. But boy was I pleasantly surprised by New Mexico! It was so different from any other place I had been to in the States. So rich in culture, history and architecture, everything was hand-made and there was literally Turquoise everywhere I turned, I absolutely loved it…especially Santa Fe! It was also the city most relevant to my business as we visited a lot of businesses similar to our own that both inspired us and provided a platform for future collaboration. Another interesting experience in this State was the visit to the University of New Mexico where we got to interact with Students of the Executive MBA class. Each of us was assigned to a group of students with whom we shared our business story and got great feedback regarding our challenges and insights on how to grow our businesses.
We continued to D.C for the final part of our trip. This part was most essential to us as businesswomen who want to do business in the U.S.A. We had very informative meetings with the US trade representative on best practices related to exporting to the U.S, and with representatives from USAID who discussed trade hubs in our regions. We also learned a lot about AGOA, which we all had many questions about, and got to have an interesting meeting with the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise at the Aspen Institute. Of course, the most exciting part of our trip was the meeting and photo opportunity with Secretary of State John Kerry! I got to stand right new to him in the photo!
It was hard to say good bye to all of our new friends in the US. Over the course of 3 weeks, we had formed great friendships, talked serious business, and shared good laughs. The program provided a great platform for networking, both within the group itself and with all the people we met in various sectors, in many different cities. The organization was awesome, everything from the hotels to the food to the transport was well arranged to ensure our comfort. The program organizers, program officers and ELO’s (from Meridian International Center) where all amazing, friendly and patient, they really went the extra mile for us!
We left the U.S.A energized and inspired to get home quickly and do great things with our businesses…only once the jetlag wore off of course! It was a memorable trip and I have no doubt we all left as better business women. I now have 29 new African mothers, sisters and friends, as well as lots of American friends and resourceful contacts to whom I can send an email when I have questions, and of course, I now have many potential business partners, as well.”