By Martha Parker-Magagna
PHOTOS COURTESY OF IEEW
“Please do not think of us as victims. Think of us as women who aspire to lead.”
When my mother told me that there was a silver lining in eve ry cloud, like any cheeky teen, I smirked at such nonsense. However, in the past five years I have seen silver linings appear where I least expected them – Afghanistan and Rwanda.
Most people know about the roadside bombings and insurgencies in Afghanistan. Rwanda, a small nation in central Africa, is known for experiencing one of the worst cases of genocide in modern history. Almost a million people were killed in 100 days. Therefore, one would not think either country had particularly hopeful prospects, but there is surprisingly good news. Women in both countries are taking a leadership role in the reconstruction of their economies and governments.
It is not well-publicized that U.S. nonprofits, like the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women, headquartered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, have been teaching women in both countries entrepreneurial skills to grow their businesses and policy advocacy skills to prepare them for public leadership. In only five years, the group’s Peace through Business program graduates have produced impressive business revenues and job creation expertise, and in the public leadership arena, they are speaking up for family and business-friendly policies as well as running for public office.
My association with the institute, as a board director, started shortly after its founding in 2006 by D r. Terry Neese, a successful entrepreneur and national policy advocate for women business owners. Although the institute originally had a domestic focus of teaching public policy advocacy to U.S. businesswomen, its mission expanded to the global arena in response to immediate needs. We started the first Afghan program in 2007 when Terry was asked by the U.S. State Department to revamp a fledging U.S.-Afghan mentoring program. Without government aid, we creatively applied “boot-strap” techniques and piloted an entirely new concept by partnering with Northwood University at their campuses in Midland, Michigan and Dallas, Texas. The next year, Rwandan officials asked us to create a program for women there. Since then, we have worked with women in their early 20s to early60s, some of whom have little formal schooling, others with doctorate degrees. They work in a diverse range of industries, such as auto sales, construction management, farming, food processing and technology.
• an eight-week “mini” MBA program taught by in-country specialists;
• a U.S.-based component that links students in a yearlong, one-on-one mentorship with U.S. women small business owners in the same industry;
• policy and advocacy leadership training; and
• a unique pay it forward program, through which graduates commit to extending the benefits of their training to other women in their home countries.
Of course, none of this would be possible without generous support from sponsors, including The T. Boone Pickens, Dick and Betsy Devos, and Paul E. Singer foundations; Office Depot and A T&T. Our individual supporters are also a critical part of our success through donations to the Peace Pals program for textbooks, teachers and associated expenses.
The stories of our graduates on these pages reflect their remarkable courage, intelligence and tenacity to succeed. More information is available at www.ieew.org.
Martha Parker-Magagna is vice president of the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women and an Eastman Member.
Amir Taj Sirat … In2005, Amir Taj Sirat, a 2007graduate in Afghanistan, founded a soccer ball manufacturing company in Kabul, providing employment for war widows and the disabled who could work out of their homes. Through the Peace through Business Program, she learned to calculate manufacturing costs and forecast sales. Today Taj employs more than 500, and last year the company generated net profits of 17%. To pay it forward, Taj helped another Afghan woman start her own soccer ball manufacturing company, which now employs 80 people. In 2010, Taj ran for Parliament and was narrowly defeated but remains active in politics.
Sarah Mukandutiye of Rwanda left a career in finance to follow her dream of starting a dairy and produce farm. Through the Peace through Business program, she developed a strategic growth plan and learned how to market her products. When a local grocery chain in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, refused to carry her milk, she created roadside refrigerated kiosks. As her dairy herds grew, she gave away bulls to local farms so they could build their herds. Today her farm produces over 1,000 gallons of milk a day, and she continues to expand her operations. She pays it forward by teaching other women business skills and participating in regional African banking policy discussions.
Jamila Ghairat, of Kabul, Afghanistan, is a39-year-old business woman who owns and operates a car dealership. After quickly learning the in and outs of the business, Jamila found partners in Herat, a neighboring province, and in Canada. Jamila now specializes in selling used Japanese cars in many provinces. In the Peace through Business program, Jamila learned inventory management, financial accounting and business presentation skills. She says that she wants to show other women that they can run their own businesses, too.
Immy Kamarade of Rwanda had a dream of founding a coffee plantation in the mountains south of Kigali. Today, Immy has expanded her enterprise to include multiple washing stations and a coffee processing plant, and organized a partnership with Starbucks Coffee Company to train coffee growers. She employs nearly 500 part-time workers. Immy created a local nonprofit that helps widows and orphans of the genocide, and mentors women through her church to develop skills to allow them to abandon prostitution.
Deborah Kagwisagye of Rwanda teaches sewing and leatherwork skills through her non-profit company, Generations Impact, to disadvantaged young people, some of them children of genocide victims and former sex workers. Through the Peace through Business program, Deborah transformed her organization into a thriving social enterprise using the profits to support high school and university studies for young adults. Her public policy leadership work includes starting a monthly breakfast for Rwandan Parliament members to discuss women’s issues.
Dr. Rahela Keveer of Bamyan, Afghanistan, twice on the Taliban’s list of murder targets is a 2010 graduate of Peace through Business. She defied the Taliban control of her hometown by helping tore build a collapsed health care system. Rahela is founder and director of Afghan Women Empowering Organization (AWEO), which helps women in rural communities to learn vocational trades, such as animal husbandry, fish farming and quilt-making. She credits Peace through Business with teaching her marketing and business plan development. Her mentorship with a U .S. business woman helped her introduce a new breed of highly valued cattle in rural areas.