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Alumni Briefs
Academy of Women Entrepreneurs
August 3, 2022

Passion in business is not enough

AWE Alum, Lorraine Maphala Phiri, Director and Founder, Real Hair by Lorraine. Picture courtesy of L. Phiri

By Artiom Turcan

“I quickly realized that there is much more to business than passion after I started my beauty products business, Real Hair by Lorraine, in 2007,” says Zimbabwean entrepreneur Lorraine Tsoanele Maphala-Phiri. I had no financial or managerial background. Running the business was extremely difficult.”

In 2020, Lorraine applied to take part in the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), a women’s entrepreneurship program run by the U.S. Department of State.

AWE is a global women economic empowerment program established in 2019 by the U.S. Department of State.  AWE provides women entrepreneurs with the skills, resources, and networks needed to start and scale successful businesses. Through AWE, women entrepreneurs participate in a 10-week entrepreneurship program supplemented with localized content, as well as networking and mentorship opportunities. AWE is centered around the online training program, DreamBuilder, developed through a partnership between Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and global copper mining company Freeport-McMoRan. In partnership with the United States African Development Foundation (USADF), participating women also have access to grant funding for start-up seed capital.

“With AWE I learned how to market my business, how to grow, and how to reach out to distributors”, she says. “It was a truly invaluable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”




Using the skills she learned in the program, Lorraine scaled up her business and added new product lines. In addition to hair care products, Real Hair by Lorraine sells hair extensions. The products are retailed in markets including Zimbabwe, the United Kingdom, and South Africa.

Lorraine’s AWE experience went beyond the courses. “The AWE program is not just focused on a 10-week course period,” she says. “AWE is a long-term engagement with alumnae.” Lorraine, along with 100 other AWE alumnae from Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania, recently attended an online seminar hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe. Featuring Ben Supple, Global Head of Civic Management at WhatsApp, the seminar demonstrated the possibilities of using social media to grow a business. “It is very encouraging to have the opportunity to attend such knowledge rich seminars. The fact that the guest speaker was a high-ranking WhatsApp executive was very inspiring.”

AWE has also become a strong support network for alumnae. “One of the most important things I gained through AWE is the network,” she says. “I have met so many inspiring women. We have managed to create a sisterhood, a network of like-minded women. “If I need advice, I can simply tap into our network. In turn, I also share my experiences with other women and inspire them to own businesses.”

Ultimately, Lorraine hopes to expand from retailing to manufacturing of her products. “I hope to establish local production and to employ people from disadvantaged communities of Zimbabwe. I want to incorporate the local community in my business as much as possible.”


About AWE:

The Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) gives enterprising women the knowledge, networks and access they need to launch and scale successful businesses. By promoting women’s economic opportunities and ensuring that women have the capabilities and resources needed to participate in the economy, the AWE program directly supports the U.S. National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality. At a local level, AWE harnesses the power of public-private sponsors, local partnerships and U.S. Exchange Alumni networks to help women and their businesses grow, driving localized prosperity in communities in more than 80 countries worldwide.