Peace Through Business: Changing The World, One Woman at a Time

by Shonali Burke on March 9, 2010

Annette Karenzi, a 2009 PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS Rwandan graduate, owns a women’s exercise facility in Kigali, Rwanda. After completing the program, Annette achieved her dreams of opening a bed and breakfast, Elegancya. Photo credit: Becca Colbaugh, IEEW.

Women entrepreneurs are making their mark around the world – even in war-torn countries.

Zarlasht Walizadah is a 24-year-old businesswoman from Afghanistan. She describes her life before the war as simply marvelous. Her family owned a successful manufacturing company with more than 200 employees. She would often enjoy picnics and restaurant outings with her family.

“Abundant moments were passing—one by one—without us fully realizing their worth,” Zarlasht wrote.

After the war began, Zarlasht’s life began to change. She could no longer play outside without the fear of being kidnapped. She could no longer accept dolls or pens or other gifts, because they could be wired as a bombing device.

“I will never forget the moment the war was started,” she wrote. “We were playing in front of our home.

“When we heard the voice of bullets, we were so happy. We shouted and jumped, not knowing it was war and that it was dangerous.”

After learning about the devastating war that was taking over her country, everything changed.

“We grew afraid, and our laughter and shouting stopped.”

As the war waged on, Zarlasht and her family eventually had to leave Afghanistan.

“Along with our wonderful country, we left all of our happiness. We left our beautiful house that my parents had built out of hope and our factory that my grandfather—after years of hard work—had built into a successful business. But at that time, we could only think out how to find a safe place for our family. My idyllic childhood died in the face of war and migration to neighboring countries.”

Though Zarlasht’s innocent childhood may have died with the war, her and her family’s entrepreneurial spirit lived on.

Today, Zarlasht owns a floral décor business that she and her family started during the Taliban regime. She is a current student of the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women’s (IEEW) PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS program.

Peace Through Business

Here’s what this program does: it provides long-term business training and mentorship to women business owners in Afghanistan and Rwanda. But the training doesn’t educate women in business alone. As these women build their businesses, they are building their countries.

After all, a country that is economically sound has a greater capacity for peace.

Despite the social and economical differences, Afghan and Rwandan women business owners share the same challenges of American businesswomen: they both have to make payroll, manage their employees and provide products and services to the marketplace.

PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS students participate in the program in three phases:

  1. In-Country Education: 30 students from each country attend an intensive eight-week class that culminates in the development of a business plan.
  2. Leadership Development: 15 students from each country are selected to travel to the United States for further business and leadership training in Dallas, Texas, at Northwood University, a program partner. The students also participate in a weeklong mentorship with an American woman business owner who runs the same kind of company. The program concludes with an International Women’s Economic Summit, a two-day conference focusing on the strength and contribution of women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan and Rwanda, the obstacles they face, and the free economy solutions to peace.
  3. Pay It Forward: Each student is committed to pay forward for one full year the blessings and knowledge she has received through the program.

Women in both Afghanistan and Rwanda have overcome – and are still overcoming – unimaginable challenges, yet they are still actively and bravely participating in their country’s economic growth.

The Institute, along with American businesswomen, are together building the economic road to peace.

Perhaps the day Zarlasht will hear laughter again isn’t too far off.

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Terry NeeseGuest contributor Terry Neese is a successful small business owner and the founder and CEO of IEEW. She is a member of both the National Women’s Hall of Fame, as well as the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame. Terry has served as national president of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and as a Distinguished Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA). She also co-founded Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP). Contact her on Twitter, LinkedIn or directly at IEEW, to learn more about how you can work with IEEW as a mentor, volunteer or sponsor, and help change the world, one woman at a time.

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