By Anna CeesayAwamary Lowe-Khan was motivated at a young age by watching her grandmother run a small shop in Spain selling sardines and deli meats.As a bi-racial woman who was born in Madrid but grew up in The Gambia, West Africa, she saw female entrepreneurship all around her in her African home country, too. “Seeing how women struggled to put food on the table for their families, that was always an inspiration," she says.As a young adult she went on to live and work in the US for 23 years, and again, came into contact with many female entrepreneurs. But she sees a problem across the world for women in business: the lack of access to capital, collateral, and credit.In the Gambian context, there are the added layers of male ownership of property, as well as the shocking statistics around FGM, domestic violence and child marriage. According to the UN, 75% of Gambian women undergo FGM and 40% of women think it’s okay for their partners to hit them.Furthermore, The Gambia's Bureau of Statistics published a report in 2014 which stated that 41% of Gambian women are married by the age of 18.[Sign up here to receive a weekly dose of positive news in your inbox]Against such a backdrop, Awamary decided to create an NGO called The Woman Boss that fosters innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. Although it’s based in The Gambia, The Woman Boss also runs virtual projects and has worked with women in 11 countries around the world – including the US.The Woman Boss has three signature programmes: an accelerator programme for female entrepreneurs, a leadership series for women and girls which trains participants in “how to become the next generation of leaders”, and a high school ambassadors programme.Their work in Gambian schools is also heavily focused on educating girls on gender-based-violence, FGM and child marriage, and they work across the country, in urban and rural areas.
Reaching girls all over the world
The Woman Boss has impacted over 4,000 women and girls, reached 600 women entrepreneurs, given mentorship to another 400 women and girls, and trained 1,500 girls in leadership and gender-based violence protection.They’ve worked with women across the US as part of their accelerator and leadership initiatives – from Raleigh in North Carolina to Washington D.C. Awamary recalls challenges working in the corporate environment in the US and how she felt that as a woman you have to try harder to prove your value, to brand yourself, and to feel worthy of leadership positions.She understands that women face similar issues everywhere but their access to resources is what sets them apart. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the US or The Gambia, we pretty much have very similar challenges, but we just live different," she says.For example, a woman in the US who has been a victim of domestic violence has multiple pathways when it comes to accessing support, but for her Gambian counterpart, it’s not so straightforward. This is not to say that accessing support in the West is easy, but there are more options available.Awamary realised that Gambian women were coming to her with horrific stories of gender-based-violence, so she created links with therapists and a resource guide to give to women who were looking for help. Leaders like Awamary Lowe-Khan are desperately needed across the world, and in the future, she hopes to expand her work to the Middle East, Latin America and South America.
Inspired to act?
SPONSOR: You can sponsor, or donate, to help the nonprofit invest in opportunities for young women.SUPPORT: Innovate Gambia is another project set up by Awamary to rebuild economic development – find out more.