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Remarks by AIT Director Sandra Oudkirk at Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) Graduation Ceremony
November 19, 2021


Economic Minister Wang, Ms. Chu, AWE mentors and graduates, honorable guests, good morning!

First, I would like to congratulate all graduates of the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs on your successful completion of the program.  As you just heard from Acting Assistant Secretary Matt Lussenhop, we are proud of every one of you as you work to fulfill your entrepreneurship dream.

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs established the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs, or AWE, in 2019 to empower women worldwide to fulfill their economic potential, creating conditions for increased stability, security, and prosperity for all.  Today, AWE has expanded to almost 80 countries and reached more than 7,000 women.  This year marks the first time Taiwan has been included in this global initiative.  There are many excellent programs in Taiwan to support women entrepreneurs, but AWE is one of the few that provides bilingual training.  We recruited 133 participants from nearly 400 applications.  One-hundred and four participants completed all the requirements and are qualified to graduate today. This achievement of a nearly 80% graduation rate is not easy, especially at a time of uncertainty when the pandemic affects us all.  Those of you graduating today completed the “DreamBuilder” course, which is a U.S.-style online entrepreneurship training program for women.  And you completed the course in English, not a simple task.  You also participated in a series of training sessions and discussions tailored to the local context – both virtual and in-person.  Some of you competed in a business plan review and then in a pitch competition.  So, please join me in a round of applause for all the graduates. And I also commend those of you here who were selected to participate in this highly competitive program, but for a variety of reasons did not complete the training.

According to the World Bank, women entrepreneurs around the world are suffering large setbacks from the COVID-19 crisis.  Research shows that in some parts of the world, up to 60% of women-led small businesses have lost their sources of income – that’s three times more than businesses led by men.  Globally, SMEs owned by women are about six percent more likely to close than male-owned businesses.  Around the world, women still take on more responsibility for family life, and those women who own businesses are more vulnerable during family emergencies, like the situation brought on by the pandemic. This data demonstrates the importance of providing support and training for women business-owners.

So, congratulations to all for the success of this program.  I would like to especially express my gratitude to our partners for their support:

  • Thank you to the AWE mentors for your generous mentorship with the participants. As successful business leaders, you helped participants to learn from your experiences and avoid the mistakes you may have made.
  • Thank you to Economic Minister Wang and her staff for partnering with AIT to provide matching funds and bringing the synergy of AWE and their long-standing Fei-Yen program.
  • Thank you to Stephanie Chu and Meta’s “She Means Business” program for partnering with us by supporting marketing workshops and the pitch competition, so that the participants could access more resources and opportunities.

It is through these successful partnerships that the AWE program could have such positive impact.

So graduate, starting today you will join thousands of AWE alumnae around the world that are actively engaged in AWE programming, alumni activities, and new business ventures. I look forward to seeing our continued cooperation on women’s economic empowerment in Taiwan.

Thank you.