As part of U.S. Embassy Bamako’s program to help build economic opportunity and strengthen its ties with Mali’s Muslim and Arabic-speaking communities, the Public Affairs Section, in conjunction with the Union of Young Malian Muslims (UJMMA) hosted an entrepreneurship workshop in Ségou, Mali. The Embassy arranged for Zeena Amer Altalib, an Iraqi-American entrepreneur, to travel to Mali to lead the workshop. Ms. Altalib has a Masters of Education in Instructional Design and Technology from George Mason University and is the founder and owner of PrimoModa.com, an online company specializing in modest Islamic clothing for women. The participants were all Arabic speakers whose lack of proficiency in French had made it difficult for them to find employment in Mali. Many of the participants thought that there were only two career paths available to them: to be imams or Arabic language instructors. The purpose of the training was to challenge this assumption, show the participants how to develop and build their own small businesses, and demonstrate the U.S. government’s commitment to fostering a stronger Malian economy with opportunities for all.
The workshop activities were aired in a special segment on Mali’s national television channel (ORTM). The coverage included the opening and closing ceremonies, where David Linfield, the Embassy’s Vice Consul, addressed the audience in Arabic. In his remarks, he stressed the importance of making sure everyone had access to economic opportunity and noted Mali’s historic role in both commerce and Islam. A number of dignitaries attended the two ceremonies, including the Minister of Religious Affairs and Traditions, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Employment and Training, the Governor of the Region of Segou, and the mayor and religious leaders of the town of Segou.
Participants left the workshop with specific plans for setting up their new business ventures and expressed tremendous gratitude to the instructor and the U.S. government. They also noted that they will seek out opportunities to share their newly acquired knowledge with other Malians who might find it useful.
In short, the workshop contributed to the expansion of economic opportunity in Mali and increased respect among Mali’s Arabic-speaking community for the economic and religious values of the United States.