In a bright mood on a cold, rainy day
I am in a positively giddy mood this week. Part of it is seeing the protests and demonstrations unfold in the Middle East, part of it is due to the fact that I spent last week in skiing in sunny Bamyan, but mostly it’s because I’m excited about Afghan women entrepreneurs. Yes, I’m kind of a geek.
Those of you who keep up with your Afghan news will know of the typical success stories: the women who are producing uniform items for the Afghan National Security Forces, the woman who started a shoe-making business that event makes high heels, and the women engaged in piecework making sports balls. These women have proven that they have the determination, the gumption, and the business savvy to be successful in an environment that’s rife with challenges. But it’s not those success stories that have me excited.
I’m excited for the opportunities that have emerged for women entrepreneurs. A core group of businesswomen have proven that it’s possible to run a successful business in Afghanistan, which has lead international stakeholders to invest in their futures. There are now several high-caliber business training opportunities available for woman entrepreneurs, including the Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Women Business Initiative, Project Artemis (backed by the Thunderbird School of Management in Arizona), and Bpeace’s Fast Runners program. Women are able to access finance systems, from smaller micro-credit programs to loans in the $20-50,000 range for proven businesses. National and international buyers are realizing the impact of their purchasing power and are setting aside contracts specifically for Afghan women-owned companies. You’ve gotta admit, it’s an exciting time to be a bright Afghan woman with an idea and the initiative to see it grow.
The purpose of PDT’s projects around the world is to remove access barriers between local companies and the buyer market. You would think that here in Afghanistan it’s been more difficult to connect women-owned companies with interested buyers, but the opposite is the case. Successful businesswomen operating in male-dominated sectors such as manufacturing, logistics and construction are just as shrewd as their male counterparts and don’t wait around for opportunities to be handed to them.
So you can see why I’m excited about Afghan women-owned companies. It’s great to see woman entrepreneurs move out of the traditional industries (carpet weaving, jewelry making) and run successful businesses that contribute to private sector development in Afghanistan. It’s great to see the international community put their faith in the businesswomen’s potential and give them access to the tools they need to succeed – training, finance, and business opportunities. And it’s great to be a part of that process.
And speaking of being a part of something, International Women’s Day is coming up. March 8th will be the 100-year anniversary of this day, and this year’s theme is “Equal access to education, training, and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.” Access to education, training and technology are important, but we also believe in access to opportunities. So we’re hosting a networking event where PDT-registered, Afghan women-owned companies will sit down with buyers, give an elevator pitch and learn about upcoming business opportunities. At least ten buyers have confirmed their participation and the businesswomen are ready for them – a couple dozen have passed through our office today to learn more about the event, hone their networking skills, and practice their elevator pitches. And that makes me giddy too!