Alumni of the Month  |  June 2013

Cashews and the Lessons of the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program

Minata Kone, a Burkinabé alumna of the 2012 African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), is living proof for the women and girls of Burkina Faso and all of Sub-Saharan Africa, that they can be successful international business women. AWEP is part of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program and emphasizes women’s access to economic opportunities. Living the mission of AWEP, Minata has built a bustling cashew business that empowers local women to become respected entrepreneurs in their communities. It is in recognition of these outstanding accomplishments that we honor Minata as the June Exchange Alumni Member of the Month.

Defying the norms of West Africa’s male-dominated cultures, Minata owns a cashew processing factory that employs some 300 people in Banfora, a village in southern Burkina Faso. She also overcame the logistical difficulties of operating in a developing country which allowed her to secure a contract as a cashew supplier for Costco, a U.S.-based international retailer.

Inspired by her time in the United States with AWEP, Minata leveraged her relationship with Costco to do even more for her community. She was encouraged by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to work with local organizations to bring greater prosperity to her community. Taking this message to heart, Minata returned home and partnered with Costco to provide training to help local cashew farmers in 12 villages to produce more and better cashews. This training enabled the producers to access the international marketplace and built bridges between American and Burkinabé entrepreneurs. Additionally, when Minata needed to increase the size of her factory workforce, she created opportunities for more women, which resulted in a workplace composed of 95 percent women. Minata has elevated the role of women in her community. Her motivation and determination serve as an example for girls to continue their education.

Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Alumni Affairs Division, which supports alumni as they build on their exchange experiences, recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Throughout June, Minata Kone’s work will be recognized on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official website for the more than one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide.