10 Apr In a Fierce Frame of Mind: Starting My One-Year Journey with AWEC
You guys, I’m a total opportunityvore. Obsessed with devouring opportunities wherever I can unearth them. As a black African woman, the race to economic empowerment can sometimes seem like an improbable one to win. It keeps me awake at night, trying to figure out how to become the exception to that rule. Because without access to economic opportunity, the idea of true equality for African women remains just that – an idea.
Living in Vienna, the quest to find successful African women in business can sometimes feel like hunting for a diamond in an avalanche. So, when the African Women Entrepreneurship Cooperative (AWEC) application popped up on my Facebook feed this February, I immediately applied. Even though the only thing I knew about it was that I liked the name. That was enough to let me know that this was an opportunity I’ll probably not want to miss out on.
What was curious optimism in February became ravenous excitement in March when we received the curriculum. We’ll be learning from Ivy League professors, C-Suite execs of Fortune 500 companies and inspiring women from the diplomatic community, academia, and business. Jackpot!!! Add to that being part of an inaugural cohort of 200 badass women (out of 2,300 applicants) from 41 African countries. Seriously, AWEC could very well be the answer to a prayer I hadn’t dared even prayed yet.
One of the struggles you face as a black African woman in the diaspora is getting in the right rooms, with the right people, to frame your own narrative. I’m often asked how I secured visa status in Austria – Did I find myself an Austrian husband? Did I come as a refugee? The people who ask these questions have no ill intent. I get that I am a bit of an outlier. Except they are highlighting a stereotype that is frustratingly pervasive: because of the color of my skin, and where I’m from, someone must have rescued me.
I struggle with that perception. Not so much out of a sense of smarting pride, although that’s definitely a part of it, but because it is impossible to get a seat at the table as long as African women continue to be perceived only as damsels in third world distress. That seat at the table will never be automatically offered to us, the way it is to others. And the generous pre-conception that we must be good at our jobs, because of our race or gender or heritage, will not ever be ours.
That is why I am convinced AWEC can be a game changer. To get instruction on business management and growth, and to meet fellow African women leaders in business, is going to be pivotal in teaching me how to beat the odds. This chance to (finally!) connect with people like me is huge. People who understand the importance of being staunchly resilient in the face of unwavering doubt. Who understand having to combat being overlooked and underestimated every day, in pretty much every room you walk into. Who have resolved that it’s not enough to just be invited to the party. We also want to get on the dancefloor. And, we want to play some of our own music too!
This is going to be an eye-opening 12 months of forming relationships, uncovering complementary talents and learning from one another. I have zero intention of being the same version of myself a year from now when the program ends. I plan to be more knowledgeable, better connected and ready to take an even bigger bite out of the business world.
Let’s get it, girls.