Whether it’s a lemonade stand or a manufacturing facility, starting your own business takes grit and perseverance. But imagine you are a woman in Afghanistan. Is it possible to overcome gender obstacles, broken family ties, and lack of capital? How can you manage a business when basic security is a daily concern?
Providing these opportunities plays a key role in strengthening economies and empowering the next generation of women leaders.
Each year, 30 female entrepreneurs from Afghanistan and Rwanda participate in the Institute of the Economic Empowerment of Women’s program Peace Through Business in Dallas. These women receive business training with American businesswomen, including lessons in accounting, marketing, and mentoring. With this training, they are establishing businesses, ranging from fashion and large-scale farms to media production.
The circumstances they have overcome are astonishing. The class of 2015 boasted women such as Homa Usmany, who after being raised in Taliban-controlled Kandahar, helped establish an organization to build education hostels for young girls in Afghanistan.
She also started a clothing business and intends to employ and train vulnerable Afghan women. More than 500 women business owners have graduated the program and more than 80% are still in business. On average, each graduate creates 22 jobs when they return to Rwanda, and 29 in Afghanistan.
Their achievements show these women can overcome the odds, gain economic stability, and change their communities. These accomplishments have been covered in local and national media outlets including The Huffington Post, and we also share the success stories on the group’s social media platforms.
Staying connected to alumnae is also crucial. We have launched town hall talks with students and graduates to engage them on their work and we’re encouraging alumnae to share footage of their work on social sites.
Through these opportunities, we’re better armed to attract volunteers, donors, and, most importantly, reach future students. In fact, 95% of students come from referrals of former graduates.
Much of this work would not be possible without our partners, volunteers, speakers, and mentors including presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina. We are grateful to see corporate leaders witness the value of placing resources in these women’s hands so they may create more prosperous communities.
Terry Neese is the founder and CEO of the Institute of the Economic Empowerment of Women.