Woman Power: Awamary’s Relentless Journey to Empower Gambian Women, End SGBV
While the majority of Gambian women continue to struggle to make a breakthrough in the elite world of leadership and business due to unequal opportunities availed to them as compared to their male counterparts, a few successful ones have started changing the game for the vulnerable. In Gambia, women are largely undervalued due to the entrenched patriarchy beliefs in the country. The same cultural biases are what is responsible for an increasing sexual and gender-based violence in the country.
But the future doesn’t look bleak for them anymore, thanks to the surfacing of several strong women who are grounded academically and using their creative and innovative brains to change reality.
One of such women in this country is Awamary Khan-Lowe. She’s no stranger to defining leadership who’s paving the way for women leaders. She is the Founder, CEO of Innovate Gambia and The Woman Boss; initiatives created to help revitalize economic development in The Gambia and in the region, and a catalyst for Innovation for Girls and Women. She is also the President and Co-founder of PointClick Technologies, LLC; an IT cloud hosting operating in 4 continents.
In an exclusive with The Chronicle, Awamary recounted what motivated her to become a pacesetter for women in Gambia and other parts of the world.
“I remember seeing some of my aunts cooking and selling food items to send their children to school, women fetching water to cook and clean, women running households while nursing children, and so much more. I witnessed a cyclical period that ignited a spark in my purpose to help women and children,” she said.
“I was lucky- well, and hardworking enough to have met the opportunity of working for some great organizations that afforded me tons of professional development…I was fortunate to be able to pivot at a decent age on working towards my legacy of empowering women. I found that nurturing women yield greater returns since they reinvest all back into their families and community. When you empower a woman, you empower her community which boosts economic development,” she stated.
Her passion for women empowerment and the need to change the status quo left a huge impact on her journey leading her to create the ‘Woman Boss’, a development she came up with after feeling the need to help women startups and aspiring entrepreneurs win economically but more so create divergent rules that tends to put women in a stereotypical box.
“In The Gambia, most women are undervalued. Gender equality has been proven to be an arc for human capital, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Hence The Woman Boss’ vision to increase economic opportunities for women and girls by focusing on innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. When you help women and girls win, we all win! Entrepreneurship scales wealth creation.
Having fought patriarchy, herself serving as an executive in corporate America, Awamary’s fight to end this discriminatory and farcical act on gender inequality especially in The Gambia is something she strongly finds passion in.
“Our society needs to reduce the gender paradigms of stereotyping. Our culture is quick to state some biased, unproven facts about men’s and women’s roles. Women need to be confident to know that they are worthy just as their male colleagues. Women need to ask for what they deserve but remember to work hard and not feel entitled. Women need to support each other in the corporate or entrepreneurial world. We need to be each other’s sister’s keeper. We need to serve on boards and hold political positions to be able to change policies that will benefit us, change trajectory, policies about us, and create our own tables and seats in decision making.”
“As women, we must have transparent conversations. Creating a safe space to hold these conversations was one of the motivating factors of creating The Woman Boss. We need to under-promise but always over-deliver, stop the acceptance of mediocrity. Women need to have equal representation in policy and decision making that affects us. We need better trade and investment policies that favor us. Creation of various affordable capital facilities with leveraging funds to mitigate risks so women can access capital is a necessity.”
She was the Executive Vice President, Chief Financial + Operating Officer for Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF), managing their social impact investment portfolio. She has over 20 years of working in the non-profit, management, and innovative entrepreneurial ecosystem. She is the influencer behind CSBDF’s Black Entrepreneurship Week, and the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center – a partnership with Shaw University. She was awarded Leaders in Diversity by the Triangle Business Journal in Raleigh, NC, USA, and in 2015, was nominated for Woman of the Year by Spectacular Magazine. In 2017, she left the United States for the Gambia with her first project ‘Innovate Gambia’.
“I came up with the concept and two initiatives of helping women and entrepreneurs. My husband brought in tech, innovation, and digital transformation. We were blessed and wanted to share what we had earned and learned with our communities back home with less. We stuck with our vision and in November of 2017, we launched Innovate Gambia. We started with the digital transformation then in 2018, we launched The Woman Boss, and in 2019, we launched the country’s first tech and innovation hub, The Disruptive Lab. We wanted to solve problems, bring solutions, and contribute towards the national development of our country. We simply did not only want to be noisemakers on social media as noise without action is null.”
Awamary has more in store for women and youth in the country. She is currently working on various meaningful programs to help reach young women especially in the rural areas of the country. This process has already commenced.
“We have already started our work with women entrepreneurs by creating cohorts, mentorship programs and leadership series. Our girls in leadership series is an initiative I planned to expand across the country.
According to her, there will be a safe space for women and girls who are going through any sort of gender or sexual violence, body shaming, health concerns, or other unfavorable factors for women and girls.
“We are working to implement and collaborate with organizations on programs to serve as triage and referrals. We found that women not only have the 3 c’s (capital, credit, and collateral) as an obstacle, some also have sexual or gender violence as a factor. Without addressing these issues, most will not be able to reach their full potential.”
Awamary believes women empowerment would greatly improve in the next five years with gender inequality and economic struggles for women being a non-barrier, setting the stage for more women leaders and trailblazers like that of herself and other inspirational giants.
“It will take a collective effort from many people like myself and organizations like The Woman Boss. Women entrepreneurs and corporate women also need to challenge the status quo- support other women, challenge themselves to add-in professional and personal development, ask for leadership roles, demand a seat around the table, or create the table and seats to impact change.”