Power to Dream

By: Daryl James Issue: Collaborative Women Section:Jewel Of Collaboration power-to-dream

Hand-sewn soccer balls surround Aziza Mohmand at her leatherwork shop as a symbol of women’s empowerment in Afghanistan.

Other emblems of peace, hope and prosperity abound in the war-torn country. Zainularab Miri has more than 100 beehives in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province. Rangina Hamidi sells embroidered shawls, pillows and wall hangings in Kandahar. And Kamela Khaliq manufactures rock-filled metal cages used in the construction of dams and foundations.

The entrepreneurs are all graduates of Project Artemis, a women’s empowerment program developed at Thunderbird School of Global Management in 2004.

Through the program, each participant receives two weeks of intensive business education at Thunderbird's campus in Glendale, Arizona, followed by two years of mentoring from Thunderbird alumni and other women professionals.

The program’s goal is to educate women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan so they can help rebuild their war-torn nation through small-business enterprises ranging from construction companies to boutiques and crafts shops.

power-to-dream power-to-dream

“I learned about leadership, management and marketing at Thunderbird,” Mohmand says. “And I learned how to write a business plan.”

So far, 44 women in three groups have graduated from Project Artemis. The fourth group, which will include as many as 20 women, is scheduled to arrive on campus Oct. 15, 2010.

Despite the poverty and violence that persists in Afghanistan, each participant comes to Thunderbird full of dreams and optimism. For the third group that graduated in 2008, dreams expressed on the first day of the program varied widely.

“My dream is to expand my cosmetics company and then start a television production company in Afghanistan,” Fawzia told the group.

“My dream is that all women will be self-sufficient, self-confident and powerful so they can support themselves,” Halima said.

“My dream is to care for people in Afghanistan with quality medicine from Europe and the United States,” said Nafisa, one of two doctors in the 2008 group.

Mohmand says her optimism remains strong four years after her Project Artemis graduation.

“Our future is in our own hands,” she says. “If women and men work hard together, then the future is bright.” The gift of employment

Mohmand launched Muska Ball and Leather Making Company in 2004 as a way to create jobs for widows and other women previously blocked from employment under the Taliban regime. Today her company employs about 200 leatherworkers and seamstresses in Kabul, including more than 150 women who work from the relative safety of home.

Workers trained by Mohmand pick up raw materials from her shop and then return a few days later with finished soccer balls, volleyballs, purses, cell phone covers and other leather products. For dozens of these women, the work represents their first opportunity to earn a steady income.

“They can improve their families, their communities and their country,” says Mohmand, who was born in Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan in 1959. “People with jobs will have a better life. They will not be obliged to take up weapons and fight.”Mohmand had no formal business training before Project Artemis, although her father was a successful Afghan businessman.

After high school, she went to the Ukraine for college and returned to Afghanistan in 1983 with a master’s degree in social sciences.She worked as a university instructor until 1996, when the Taliban came to power and forced female teachers and other women professionals to stay indoors.

Mohmand responded by opening a tutoring business in her home that eventually catered to girls banned from public schools. The Taliban shut down the home-school operation in June 1998, and Mohmand fled with her family to a refugee camp in Pakistan.She returned to Kabul shortly after U.S. troops arrived in 2001 and started Muska as a nonprofit organization with an educational mission. During the next three years, the organization trained more than 2,000 men and women in baking, sewing, leatherwork, ball assembly, carpentry, electrical work, metalwork, plumbing, computer maintenance and English.

When jobs failed to materialize for program graduates, Mohmand hired 200 widows and other disadvantaged women as leatherworkers and converted Muska into a commercial enterprise. She started with $5,000 in personal savings and took loans from friends to fund the launch.Like Mohmand, many of the women she hired had lived as refugees in Pakistan or Iran during the Taliban era. They returned to Afghanistan when the interim government emerged in 2001.

Mohmand says one young woman she hired came from a family of 11. None in the home had a job, and the parents were ready to sell one of their children to provide for the rest.“She started working here, and now her siblings can attend school,” Mohmand says. “The family has rented a house. They also have a bank account. That’s something I am proud of.” They can improve their families, their communities and their country. People with jobs will have a better life. They will not be obliged to take up weapons and fight - Aziza Mohmand

Mohmand says her company can now produce any design in leather goods and return the finished product in any volume on the agreed-upon deadline. But challenges persist.Her shop lacks adequate storage and workspace. Raw materials remain difficult to obtain in Afghanistan. And Mohmand has struggled to find the resources to market her company and find new customers.

These are issues Mohmand has addressed with her Project Artemis mentor, Regula Schegg, a 2005 Thunderbird graduate from Switzerland.Working together, the women devised a plan in 2008 to export custom soccer balls with the Thunderbird logo to the school’s on-campus store. Schegg says having Thunderbird as Mohmand’s first U.S. customer has allowed her to learn and experiment with the export business.

Further down the road, Mohmand plans to export soccer balls to large corporate clients in Europe and the United States who might want soccer balls as promotional items to support social entrepreneurship.“Mohmand is a very smart and savvy businesswoman and has built an impressive business,” Regula says.

Sharing the knowledge

Mohmand also has built an impressive network of associates in Afghanistan eager to learn from her Project Artemis experience. So far, she has shared her knowledge at Kabul University and in other academic settings with more than 1,000 people.

“I used to be a teacher,” she says. “Teachers are entrusted to share whatever they know.”

Other Project Artemis graduates have made similar efforts to share their knowledge and extend career opportunities to other Afghan women.Hamidi, a graduate of the first Project Artemis group, has grown her embroidery business to more than 500 employees.

Her company, Kandahar Treasures, allows women to produce embroidered shawls, pillows and wall hangings at home. These products are then exported worldwide.“We women have taken it upon ourselves to stitch the future of peace for our children,”

Hamidi says. “Embroidery is the skill we have, and love and patience is what we can give to our families and our country. We will work to help rebuild this war-torn nation.”Khaliq also has a passion for sharing knowledge that started with a career as a high school teacher. In addition to her construction company, which has grown to 300 employees, she operates a business planning consultancy that teaches other Afghan entrepreneurs how to put business plans together.Before Miri started her honey business, she operated a school with about 400 students in her home province of Ghazni. She says she fled to the province for protection when the Taliban came to power and started shutting down schools.

“When I taught the students, I did it secretly,” she says. “The Taliban didn’t want anyone to do these things, and we were very much afraid of them.”While in Ghazni, she also started her beekeeping company with two hives. She says the Taliban made her feel like she was in a cage, but the regime ignored the isolated province more than other places.

Investing in the education and economic empowerment of women in developing countries not only improves the lives of those women, but also enriches the entire community. - Angel Cabrera

New opportunities to grow the business emerged after the interim government came to power. “As soon as the new government came and the Taliban collapsed, it was a golden chance for the women,” she says.Miri received her first management lessons from the Women’s Business Federation in 2002 and then joined Project Artemis in 2005.

“We learned lots of things in Project Artemis, like management, like leadership, like marketing,” she says. “We learned from the earth to the sky.”

Since then, Miri has continued in her role as a teacher in Ghazni.“The women that I train, I usually tell them that I started from two hives and now I have 105,” she says. “If you work hard, then you will also have a good business in the future.”

Thunderbird for Good

Thunderbird Assistant Vice President Kellie Kreiser, a 2004 Thunderbird graduate who volunteered with the first Project Artemis group, says the vision for the program started with former Thunderbird Trustee Barbara Barrett.

Barrett toured Afghanistan in 2004 as a member of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council. During the trip, Barrett saw firsthand the challenges that Afghan women faced.“She came back to Thunderbird with this idea of creating a program to help Afghan businesswomen get the skills they needed to be successful,” Kreiser says.

Thunderbird Professor Steven Stralser, Ph.D., stepped forward and put a program together with help from Thunderbird Professor Mary Sully de Luque, Ph.D., and others.“They raised the funds for it, created the curriculum, put it all together, recruited faculty, recruited alumni, recruited students and got people in the community involved,” Kreiser says. “By January 2005, the first program was put on.”

Kreiser says Thunderbird President Ángel Cabrera, Ph.D., approached her shortly afterward with an idea to keep Project Artemis going and expand the initiative into other areas.“He came to me and he said, ‘Kellie, would you be willing to be the director of Thunderbird for Good?’ And I thought, ‘Well, that sounds interesting. What’s Thunderbird for Good?’ His response was, ‘That’s your first job. Figure it out.’”

What emerged was a philanthropic arm of Thunderbird committed to providing global business education for non-traditional students such as the women of Afghanistan.The success of Project Artemis led to a new opportunity in 2008 through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women project, a global initiative to educate 10,000 women from developing countries.

The Goldman Sachs Group, which organized the initiative and funded it through a $100 million commitment, included Thunderbird as one of its initial partners after watching the growth of Project Artemis. This new initiative has allowed Thunderbird to extend its reach in Afghanistan by educating more women in their homeland through an alliance with the American University of Afghanistan.Through the Goldman Sachs Business Women’s Training Program in Afghanistan, Thunderbird will help train about 460 women over five years. Thunderbird alumni also will have opportunities to mentor these women and share their expertise.

As soon as the new government came and the Taliban collapsed, it was a golden chance for the women. - Kamela Khaliq More recently, Thunderbird for Good has launched campaigns to educate nontraditional students in Jordan and Peru.“Investing in the education and economic empowerment of women in developing countries not only improves the lives of those women, but also enriches the entire community,” Cabrera says. “Our goal is to change lives and create lasting benefit.”

To donate to Project Artemis or to volunteer as a mentor, contact program manager Wynona Heim at Wynona.heim@thunderbird.edu or 602-978-7607.