Building Economic Stability through Education and Empowerment
By Charlene Lake
Over the last two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with an incredible group of women entrepreneurs who have traveled thousands of miles to be in Dallas for PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS®.
Now in its eighth year, PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® is a program designed to educate and empower women from Afghanistan and Rwanda through a business training and mentorship program. AT&T has supported the program since its inception because it encompasses so many important issues we care about as a company – closing gender gaps and bringing people to economic stability through education.
Bringing women from emerging markets into the global economic mainstream represents a tremendous force for stability and prosperity worldwide. And the women in this program are proof that by providing opportunities to enhance their economic stability, real change can begin to happen – community by community, and country by country. In fact, PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® graduates create, on average, 22 jobs when they return home to Rwanda, and in Afghanistan that number climbs to 28 new jobs.
Elise Rida Musomandera was only a teenager when she lost her parents and most of her family in the Rwandan genocide. She was the only one left to raise her young siblings, so she became the head of her household as a teenager. However, Elise Rida didn’t use that as an excuse to put aside her own schooling and career goals. When not taking care of household duties or meeting all the needs of her siblings, Elise Rida worked tirelessly to excel in her studies. Her hard work resulted in a scholarship from the government to attend university in Kigali. After graduation, she opened her own handicraft store selling jewelry, baskets and bags created by African women – most of them orphans and widows like herself. Elise Rida says: “It makes me happy to know that with my business, I can change the lives of many people in the country.”
Kubra Jafari was born and raised in a refugee camp where she learned about hard work at a very early age. As a young girl, she helped support her family by working in fields and weaving carpets. Very few young women in her community were educated. As the Afghani facilitator informed me, in Afghanistan, women make up just a third of high school students and 17 percent of university students. There is only a 12 percent literacy rate among Afghan women. Despite those odds, Kubra had a vision of one day attending university and owning her own company. Her persistence and drive enabled her to achieve that dream. While studying political science on a scholarship at the American University of Afghanistan, she developed a passion for multi-media journalism. Since then, Kubra established her business, KJ Productions, and hand produced seven documentaries on how women and others are making a positive change in the country.
Elise Rida and Kubra are just two of the amazing 20 women who are graduating from the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® program this week. The 2014 class includes women running businesses in nearly every sector – agriculture, financial services, fashion, strategic communications, technology and many others. Each of them have a story to tell – about perseverance, about determination, and perhaps most importantly, about how to help and inspire other women. A key focus of the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® program is passing on knowledge to others. And that is just as important to our employees as it is to the women in the program because we all can — and should — play a part in helping to improve outcomes for women everywhere.
According to a study by the World Bank, women and girls reinvest an average of 90 percent of their income in their families, compared to a 30 to 40 percent reinvestment rate for men. In study after study, findings suggest that if we want to see societies emerge from instability and conflict, we have to focus on women. When we educate a woman, we change the world.
So join us! Learn more about these women. Sign up to become a mentor for future PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® students, or support the program with your resources. Find out more by visiting the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women at ieew.org.