‘Peace Through Business’ Empowers Women Entrepreneurs

Rwandan student Fina Uwineza poses for a photo Tuesday at the restaurant Stella in Oklahoma City. Uwineza is part of the mentorship offered through the Peace Through Business program of the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women. (Photo: Genderconcerns.org)

Rwandan student Fina Uwineza participated in the Peace Through Business program of the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women.
(Photo: Genderconcerns.org)

With a successful staffing agency and a non-profit in Oklahoma City, Terry Neese sought to marry her business savvy and political experience to empower women business owners.

“My mission was to educate women entrepreneurs in the United States on the importance of being involved in the political world,” says Neese. “If you run a business and you’re not involved in politics, then politics will run your business.” Everyone and anyone with a business or with the idea of starting one has the capabilty of growing it into the sucess they know it can become. Through companies like Business Networking Warwickshire, people in the UK are able to do just that. Wherever you are in the world, networking with industry professionals may be the key to helping you expand your business ventures. You never know who you could meet. Everyone’s experience of growth will be different.

Neese thought that this might also be the case in other countries. Noting her expertise, the State Department, Department of Education and the White House approached Neese about assisting women in Afghanistan to start and grow businesses.

This was the beginning of the Peace Through Business Program, under the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women (IEEW). This initiative primarily focuses on women entrepreneurs that have been in business for at least a year, giving women in Rwanda and Afghanistan intensive mentoring in entrepreneurship.

Neese visited Kobol, meeting with women who had closed their businesses during Taliban rule and were looking to reopen them. She also discovered that young Afghan women in their 20’s and 30’s, with a new sense of freedom, were excited about the prospect of owning businesses. However, they were ill-prepared.

“They just didn’t have the education or background of writing a business plan, putting financial statements together or marketing their products and services,” she says.

In fact, Neese says she identified with the women’s experiences because the lack of funding and opportunities for women entrepreneurs there mirrored her own experience in the 1970s. The country has gone from very little knowledge about careers to now running things such as agency management software and becoming a business owner.

Founded in 2006, the program takes a three-pronged approach – in-country basic business education, leadership development in the United States, and Train the Trainer, where program graduates donate time to mentor, speak and act as advocates.

Rose Busingye enrolled as a student in the program in 2010, hoping to take her women’s retail clothing boutique, Creations of Rosa, to the next level. Two years later, she was selected to be the in-country facilitator in Rwanda.

“It was a great opportunity to network and meet an American business owner who has grown their business from the bottom,” says Busingye. “It was a great help to the success of my business.”

She also notes that for participants, learning to write a business plan is a tremendous help, as well as a recent working relationship with accountants from Ernst and Young.

The effectiveness of the program for Rwandan participants seems clear. In 2014, the World Bank reported the Rwandan gross national income to be roughly $700, yet women involved in Peace Though Business earned Average Gross Profits of $14,100-$17,700 per year.

Manizha Wafeq always wanted to be in business, and worked toward her dream in 2007 as a program participant. Wafeq started Wonderland Women Clothing Company in 2012, and now serves as the in-country facilitator for Afghanistan.

“I believe in the philosophy of the program,” Wafeq says. “It has really encouraged and inspired me to teach others. Nothing else in Afghanistan compares.”

It is truly empowering to see women given amazing opportunities and thriving as a result. In the 21st Century, entrepreneurship has become accessible to so many people, which is extremely humbling. There is no shame in taking advantage of help and guidance such as a mentor or even just simply researching Shopify Niches 2019 to help your e-commerce business. Like the project, this has contributed to female empowerment in the business world.

To date, the program has graduated over 500 women and created 12,000 jobs in both countries. Additionally, 80% of the women are still in business after nine years. Neese says that several governments are interested in bringing the program to their countries, a daunting task for a small program that relies solely on private sector funding. Yet, she sees growth on the horizon.

“Spreading our knowledge all across Afghanistan and Rwanda, especially in rural areas, is important. We hope to do this in the next five years.”

This post was written by Dr. Chetachi A. Egwu, Communication Faculty at University of Maryland University College. Her scholarship focuses on Black Internet Usage and the African image in film, with an emphasis in documentary. The Howard University alumna is the owner of Conscious Thought Media. Follow her on Twitter @Tachiada.

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