BY MONICA SMILEY

The Enterprising Women of the Year Awards program is considered the most prestigious global recognition program for outstanding women entrepreneurs.  Now in its 18th year, this program recognizes women business owners from the United States and around the world who have financially strong, growing businesses—women who are leaders in their communities, and who give back to mentor and support other women and girls.  

This month we continue our tradition of honoring two very special members of the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS(r) Class of 2020.   

Our first award winner is from Rwanda.    Nadege Benimana is the owner of Nadol House and Interior Design and she lives in the eastern province of Bugesera. Let me tell you a little bit about Nadege so you can get to know her better.  

Nadege was born in Burundi and moved with her family to Rwanda in 1994.  The fifth child among six, Nadege completed a bachelor’s degree in community health development. She is married and is the mother of two young sons, ages 5 and 2.  

Nadege decided not to pursue a career in community health development because she had a passion for design and wanted to become an entrepreneur.  In 2001 she met a young woman named Keza who would become the inspiration for her life’s work. 

Keza married at a very young age because of an unwanted pregnancy and had her goals dashed because of these circumstances. Unable to support herself and seeing her dreams for her future die, Keza made a strong impression on Nadege. 

Nadege wondered if she could find a way to help young women like Keza and combine that passion with her love of design and her desire to make the homes of her friends and neighbors more beautiful. She met that challenge by creating a program that invests in single mothers to transform their lives through apprenticeship and social entrepreneurship.  

Nadege selects 10 single mothers along with a local leader and each young woman receives training on producing different handicrafts—rugs, lampshades and other decorative items.

After completing three months of training the top five students are employed by her company and earn a percentage of the price of each product they produce.  The remaining five students are encouraged to join other cooperatives so that they can continue improving their skills and earn a living.  

More recently, she has opened up the program to a larger number of women and she has a goal of empowering 500 single mothers by 2025. 

While her target market has been homes, small offices and coffee shops, she is planning to expand into decorative products for hotels, resorts and larger businesses. She also plans to partner with craft cooperatives to help them increase their production and sales.

 Nadege says the skills she has gained through the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS(r) Program are already being shared with her young apprentices and they are gaining the skill set and the self-confidence to be self-employed.  Nadege shares that PTB has helped her craft a solid business plan, taught her to be a better entrepreneur, and  given her a stronger voice to be able to speak about her business in ways that can really make a difference. 

Beyond helping a large number of women, in the next five years Nadege has a goal of owning her own shop – she now shares space with another project – and she wants to be able to invest in the machinery she needs to be able to automate some of the work her team does.  

Access to capital and access to raw materials are challenges she is working to overcome.  

Nadege exemplifies the attributes of the women who receive the Enterprising Women of the Year Award.  She is building a strong company and giving back to her community in significant ways.  

For these reasons, we are honored to present the 2020 Enterprising Women of the Year Award for Rwanda to Nadege Benimana. Congratulations Nadege!

Our second recipient of the 2020 Enterprising Women of the Year Award is from Afghanistan.  Please join me in congratulating  Guljan Samar, who is the founder and owner of The Barg-e-Badam hotel and restaurant. 

GulJan has a fascinating story that is a testament to her strength and resilience.  Born in a rural area of Afghanistan, she was initially only able to complete the 6th grade because of the income limitations of her family.  

She took a job as a part-time teacher and was later able to complete her high school education and take her entrance exams.  At that point, she had the opportunity to move to another province, but was unable to go because she had to support her family.  So Guljan decided to join an NGO closer to home to be able to earn a much-needed salary.  In that capacity, she traveled to Kabul and on the airplane, she met a group of French men who were there to work in the agricultural area.  They shared with her that they wanted to work on a project in her home province of Daikundi, but they could not because there was nowhere for them to stay while working there. 

That conversation sparked an idea in Guljan – she would open the first hotel in her province. She considered that it would be a service to her community. By this time, she had completed a bachelor’s degree in political science and law at a private university, however, she did not have the entrepreneurship skills to start a new business.  Undaunted, she used the skills she learned at the NGO to forge a plan.  The NGO had built and equipped six schools and also provided health care services. 

Guljan was saving money from her NGO salary, so when the government announced that they were planning a new commercial area and land would be sold cheaply for new enterprises, she jumped at the chance to purchase the property she would need for her hotel and she purchased six lots.  

At the same time, her brother had just graduated with an engineering degree and was willing to help.  They built the initial structure of the hotel and once the first floor was completed, they used the income from the hotel rooms and meeting room rental space to finance the building of the second floor. 

She is still expanding to make more room to accommodate weddings and other large gatherings.  In the meantime, as her plans became known to politicians and War Lords in the area, they targeted her and tried to stop her. Guljan said they knew as the only hotel in the area that the business would be successful, and they wanted to take it from her. They fired at her car – but she was able to jump out the car and was not injured. Her driver was injured, but thankfully has recovered and still works for her company.  She said when they saw that she would stand her ground, they eventually stopped targeting her. 

Now she is making big plans to add a separate hall for weddings, and a VIP section of the hotel where high ranking officials from the government can stay and meet. Her growth plans will mean she can add 50 more jobs within the next 12-24 months. And she can use some of the profits from her company to fund the opening of additional and much-needed health clinics.  

Much as the group of French men changed her life by sparking the idea for her hotel, meeting our Afghan facilitator Manizha also changed her life.  They met at a Chamber of Commerce gathering and Manizha shared details of the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS(r) with her.  Guljan describes attending the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS(r) classes as the richest days of her life. 

The program taught her the accounting skills she needed to better run her company.  Guljan says she didn’t understand business terminology and with the new skills she gained from PTB, she can now talk the language of business.  And the business plan she was able to write gave her the blueprint she needed to chart her growth and success. She also used her new skills to train her employees.  

To provide additional income as she grows her start-up company, she has continued to work at the NGO and confides that she often studied her PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS(r) Plan homework at 3 a.m. – the only time she had available. 

Guljan to me exemplifies the kind of PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS(r) students we are so honored to have in this program.  She had the idea, the tenacity and resilience to start a company providing a much-needed service for her community, but she lacked the financial and business knowledge to scale her business to its full potential.  At the same time, she is providing leadership in her community, creating jobs, and is a role model for other women, who surely must see her as an example of what one determined woman can do to make a real difference. 

I am so honored to be able to present the 2020 Enterprising Women of the Year Award for Afghanistan to Guljan Samar.

Congratulations Guljan! Monica Smiley is Editor & Publisher of Enterprising Women, a print and digital magazine for women entrepreneurs with a global readership of over one million.  She is also the Founder and President of the Enterprising Women Foundation.  Monica serves on the IEEW Board of Directors and has mentored a number of Afghan and Rwandan PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS(r) students since the program’s inception.