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Bpeace Blog Briefs

Stories of bravery, transformation and impact.

Afghanistan

Laughter is the best Afghan medicine

Bpeace helps its Fast Runners form local peer networks that typically meet monthly.  But every November, the meeting turns into something more—a reunion of present and past Fast Runners and a celebration of their friendship and relationship with Bpeace.

This year’s Afghan Fast Runner Annual Meeting was held at the Afghan Women’s Business Federation (AWBF) in Kabul. The room was filled with cakes and cookies and smiles. After rounds of games, like the ever-popular Telephone, the women expressed how much it meant to be able to laugh with daily struggles of life in Kabul offering little opportunity for laughter.

The Fast Runners updated each other on their latest business news. Laila is working with a government entity. BN’s husband is taking care of her store while she works with AWBF. She also regularly travels to Jalalabad to get her orders processed. Nasima is busy selling her silk scarves and working with Zarif at Zardozi. Rahima, Suraia, and Hanifa all continue to work with the Rangeen Kaman Artisans retail store.

Rahima has also nominated herself, again, to be the Kabul Representative to Parliament. Suraia is still working at the governmental construction site, and Hanifa is busy with her school and her Quran recitation engagements. Habiba’s pre-school is still up and running in the building Bpeace donors helped build.

Tears of laughter became tears of gratitude when Soraya read them an email from Bpeace CEO Toni Maloney, written on behalf of Bpeace members. Toni expressed regret that the security situation has prevented more frequent visits.   She gave them Bpeace updates as well, and how we are acting on their advice to invite Afghan men into the Bpeace program—many of the new Fast Runners we are recruiting are from Mazar and Balkh Province.  Toni also told of a forthcoming meeting with Bpeace Board members and the U.S. State Department, at which “we will proudly tell them of your bravery and your progress.”

The women answered Toni’s message of commitment, encouragement, and respect with a message of their own. In their words, “We will never forget how much Bpeace encouraged us to become who we are today and we will continue fighting for better lives.  We are ready to be available for Bpeace anytime needed.  We love you all, and we want to see you again.”

A good deed done in Afghanistan

Since its inception, Fatima’s furniture manufacturing company has been operating out of a tent; making the materials and tools and the 77 women carpenters susceptible to the elements.

But now Fatima holds the deed to her own plot of land. Combining her own money with donations from Bpeace host companies Duc Duc and Bernhardt Furniture, importer Wendy Summer, and 33 friends and family of architect Lisa Dubin, Fatima raised the final $5,500 needed to purchase land on which to construct her factory.

Stones, bricks and mortar are the next step.  Fatima met with Allen Rahim, the brother-in-law of Bpeace member Khatera Sahibzada. Allen owns a construction materials company in Kabul, similar to Home Depot, and has already started helping Fatima move forward. In addition to sound technical advice, he took the dimensions and layouts of the structure to solicit estimates from two different construction companies. He also pledged to donate any materials needed for the structure’s kitchen and bathrooms.

Fatima did take a few moments to reflect on generosity and hard work that made this all possible. She wrote to her sponsors, “Someday I hope you come to Afghanistan so I can show you how much your contribution is making a difference in the lives of so many people."

New Englanders pull out the foodie stops for Afghans

ll bean

Bpeace Fast Runners Mariam, Guljan, Zainul and Habiba are food processors (dried fruits and nuts; tomato paste; honey; and mint water and dried herbs and essences, respectively). During the Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip (BART), they're spending two weeks in Maine. Why Maine? This state harbors a lot of entrepreneurial natural and organic food companies with an inspirational size footprint inspirational for our Associates.

Our BART foodies had a whirlwind trip, with tangible and actionable lessons learned:

  • Lean Manufacturing: They particularly responded to the idea of developing documents detailing standard operating procedures that they could provide to their employees and suppliers in order to improve the quality and efficiency of production.
  • Private Label Production: The recurring theme of doing private label production for other companies resonated. Mariam, Guljan, Habiba and Zainul learned the potential benefits and drawbacks of this arrangement. If they decide to pursue opportunities with other sellers back home, they now also know the implications of pricing/costing, and what constitutes appropriate contractual agreements for these types of arrangements.

Wilbur chocolates

  • Product differentiation: A visit to Wilbur's Chocolates (above) and Simply Divine Brownies included a product review, and a tour of each company's (joined) retail stores. The emphasis was on using packaging and specialty products to achieve product differentiation--capturing new markets through holiday and seasonal themes, and "Maine native" products. Owner Catherine Carty-Wilbur provided a tour of the production facilities, going over the principles of sanitation, quality control, production organization, and packaging.

But in addition to the valuable direct education, came the Bpeace Aha! moments. As often happens, these were as a result of unscripted, human interactions we couldn't have predicted.

Starting small can yield big results: During the Q&A session at Wilbur's Chocolates (over fresh Maine cider and chocolates), our Afghan entrepreneurs asked how Catherine grew her business. They heard how she and her husband started their business by cooking up chocolates on their stove, and setting up a packaging system in their basement. They've achieved their current level of sales/production over 25 years. They've grown slowly on purpose--taking on loans only when they have all of their other debts paid off.

Swann

Hands-on can get neurons firing: At Swan's Honey, Karen and Lincoln Sennett were extremely warm and hospitable. The technical information about processing and production was most immediately helpful to beekeper Zainul (with the Sennetts in her gift from Swan's, above). But some of the other market opportunities for products and byproducts were of interest to everyone, especially the demonstration of how to make both soap and balm using honey and beeswax. Bpeace Fast Runners even tried their hands at rolling their own beeswax candles. It seems this got them thinking: not only did Zainul hatch interesting ideas for product expansion (i.e., selling her wax, which she is not now doing), but the foodies got collaborative—Zainul and Mariam talked about teaming up to produce a honey nut spread, and Habiba wants to explore incorporating her essential mint oil with Zainul's beeswax to make specialty balms and soaps.

Almond butter

Apply elbow grease, create new product: On Friday, we loaded the entrepreneurs into a van for the two-plus hour drive from Freeport, Maine to Boston for the Natural and Organic Food Show at the Convention Center. Wow. Sensory overload. Everyone snacked their way through the booths, dazzled by the packaging and innovation. But it was something that Americans take for granted that made Mariam’s eyes pop out when she tasted it—nut butter. Afghanistan is known for the quality of their almonds, and when Mariam (with me above) tasted a raw almond nut butter, she was immediately smitten and grilled the exhibitor on how to make it. We’ll have to round up a food processing machine to show her just how easy it is.

Bar Harbor foods

Family businesses are strong businesses: The last stop at the Food Show was the booth of Liberty Richter, the distributor for Bar Harbor Foods. CEO Mike Cote is my dad. And the VP of marketing and Quality Insurance is Bpeacer Cynthia Fisher who provided the vision behind this Maine portion of the apprenticeships for the Food Processing Fast Runners. The number and quality of strong family bonds seen in the Maine food businesses hit home for our Associates—most Afghan entrepreneurs we meet work side-by-side with husbands, sisters, and cousins. Above, our grateful Barties and their hosts, left to right: Guljan, Zainul, Cynthia, Mariam, Mike, Michelle and Habiba.

--Bpeacer Michelle Cote, October 2008


Afghan BARTies in Dubai: Back to school

Fifteen Afghan Fast Runners arrived on Saturday for the Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip. The BARTies, as we affectionately call them, will be taking business classes at the Dubai Women's College, going on site visits to companies related to their own businesses and developing work (and personal) relationships with members of Bpeace.

[caption id="attachment_284" align="alignnone" width="512" caption="The BART Fast Runners, the faculty and staff of Dubai Women's College and the Bpeace volunteers of BART Start 2007"]The BART Associates, the faculty and staff of Dubai Women's College and the Bpeace volunteers of BART Start 2007[/caption]

There are 15 remarkable Afghan women here with us: a beekeeper who is the "queen" of her 80 female beekeepers; three soccer ball manufacturers who put the mom back into soccer; a commercial printer who we hope to encourage to go digital; a furniture maker who is literally participating in the rebuilding of Kabul; and more and more--from a producer of designer mint water to an importer of heating oil.

Dollars and cents
Today was Finance Day! The BARTies showed their mettle as true businesswomen in the way they reacted and applied Professor Rao’s practical way of teaching finance. As he took the class through daily cash records for manufacturing businesses, the Associates dove into the worksheets like thirsty marathoners. They were so engaged they had to be prodded to take a lunch break. The bonus showed up when the rest of the Finance faculty at Dubai Women’s College arrived in the afternoon and set themselves up as four different consulting firms. The faculty had thoroughly prepped by analyzing the BARTie’s business plans and offered credible advice specifically tailored to each Associate.

[caption id="attachment_285" align="alignnone" width="512" caption="Ladan Pazhouhandeh, center, combining her command of Farsi, and finance background, into a skilled translator for Professor Rao. At left is Bpeacer Wendy Summer, and at right is Guljan who operates a food processing company."]Ladan, center, combining her command of Farsi, and finance background, into a skilled translator for Professor Rao. At left is Wendy, and at right is Guljan who operates a food processing company.[/caption]

In the soccer consulting room, Dwight Anthony (sporting a soccer ball tie), helped Ferishta, Taj and Azziza, our three ball-manufacturing Associates, analyze their production costs to better compete with Pakistani imports.

Zainul was pleased to report that her sales would increase by 200% this year because of increased honey production. Her consultant pointed out that she hadn’t factored in that a good honey season for her would mean that her competitors would be having one as well.

[caption id="attachment_279" align="alignnone" width="512" caption="Khatera Sahibzada and Fatima, furniture maker, completing financial worksheets. "]Khatera and Fatima, furniture maker, completing financial worksheets. [/caption]

Mobina, our radio broadcaster, was intrigued by the advice to carefully offer a free month of advertising to a new sponsor in order to gather data to track sales increases, and then to use that data to attract other paying sponsors. Hamida, who runs a business consultancy, translated that idea in trial consulting relationships to woo new clients.

The Fast Runners are hoping to secure some additional time with their finance consultants later this week.

The dollar and cents day ended with a trip into the desert complete with dune bashing, belly dancing, and a few Henna’ed hands and feet.

--Toni Maloney, on behalf of the Bpeace team, November 2007

Connecting the dots in Kabul: Business, culture, and peace

5 meetings

Another typically busy day in Kabul. At one point this afternoon, five different Bpeace meetings were in progress in the gardens of the Park Palace Hotel (see above). We learned essential facts about Afghan food processing—including that Afghans will pay twice as much for a bottle of water if there is mint in it, because they are sold on the herb's health benefits. We also met an Afghan woman who has written 80 business plans in the past two years, and who reports that 100% of her clients subsequently received bank loans. We learned of a large-scale color offset printer who can produce slick printed calendars and brochures for Afghan businesses.

roof

Dreams do get rained on... and then they get moldy
Meanwhile, cultural conundrums were gaining clarity. Yesterday, Wendy was coping with the leaky roof (above) at the Rangeen Kaman Artisans shop, moving hundreds of dollars of products out of harm's way. With amazing tenacity, she was up on the roof with a contractor trying to figure out what exactly was going on. But we were encountering more than just a drywall problem. We couldn't figure it out, and no one was explaining: This leak was discovered several weeks ago. Why didn’t the RKA partners put a plastic tarp on the roof as they tried to get in touch with the elusive landlord?

Today we got answers. It turns out everyone in Kabul has a leaky roof during the winter, spring and summer—just an annoying fact of life. So they don't even bother addressing it until the dry season in September.

It shouldn't keep surprising us that our different cultural and communication perspectives are more than politically correct window dressing. Understanding these differences is the first step in solving the practical, nuts and bolts, bread and butter (naan and ghee?) everyday problems that can make or break a business. Our work here can only be successful if we are learning from our Associates as fast as we're teaching them.

Our Fast Runners' unstoppable progress
This afternoon, we gathered with our Fast Runners, and received updates from each on their accomplishments during the past year. The last time we were in Kabul, they had made bets with me on who would grow her own business the most, and create the most jobs. We were delighted to hear their progress.

  • Nargis, who operates a women's gym, reported a 25% increase in memberships.
  • Habiba has started construction on her new preschool, and has set-up a new accounting system.
  • Mahbooba, in addition to her ongoing handicraft business which she operated under the Taliban, has started a farming business. She has provided jobs for 35 women in Kabul and the rural areas. These 35 women work with 750 other women and in the next year they will work with 2,000 families, and with each family having 7 people in it, this translates to 14,000 people benefiting by the program.
  • Hanifa completed a large order for tablecloths for Dasnet. In her spare time she also knit hundreds of gloves and socks for her home province of Bamiyan because the winter was very tough. While distributing the items, she found additional women who can do knitting and embroidery for her business.
  • Hanifa A's English and computer school put a competitor out of business. She added 9 more teachers and 60 more students.
  • Afifa added 6 embroiderers in Ghazni, 2 in Kabul, and 2 tailors in Kabul.
  • Asmat opened a co-op store in Heart with 10 other women.
  • Suria doubled her knitting workforce to 30 and has another 10 in training.
  • Bakhtnazira added 6 workers, and completed a $3,000 order for Dasnet for draperies, and booked $2,000 in sales on a trip to India. She is under consideration for a major uniform contract.
  • Latifa is now working at AWBF (Afghan Women’s Business Federation) and is helping create an international market for Afghan carpets.

AND THE WINNERS OF THE BET…now called the Triple-A Award (Associate Achievement Award) for 2007 are:

FRI Kamela_1

Kamela, who now employs 12 people in her BDS (Business Development Services) consultancy, and trained 3,000 people throughout Afghanistan to start businesses in the last year. She has enough business booked for 60% of her expenses over the next 12 months.

AND….

FRINasima

Nasima, who employed 35 workers last year and this year added 10 more, and completed an order for 1,000 silk scarves. She continues to keep her old and new workers busy.

Kamela and Nasima were thrilled. And the Fast Runners reminded them that when they win such an award, they have to do something nice for the rest of the team, like prepare a meal or give gifts of sweets.

After the Triple-A Awards, the Bpeacers held their breath with anticipation as we embarked on a very important moment with the Fast Runners: coaching them to formulate and launch Business to Peace (B2P) projects, which are a most important part of their third year in the Bpeace program. Our call to action was this, “We are not the Business Council of Gender Equality. We are not the Business Council of Handicraft. We are not the Business Council of Microfinance. We are the Business Council of Peace. We have invested in you in the past two years. Now we want to see how you can invest back in your own communities to help create peace.”

--Toni Maloney for the Bpeace team, April 2007

Common ground in Kabul: renovation is heck, and yoga isn't for wimps

13 Sign is up
The major mission of this mission: the opening of our Fast Runners' new co-operative store. It is called Rangeen Kaman Artisans, or Rainbow Artisans, and it's the first store of its kind in Kabul. The just-as-exciting other foci of the trip: Nargis will be offering yoga classes at her gym and we are helping her learn how to do it; and delivering the next round of material for their training centers.

RKA Notes from Steve . . .
Najib and I returned to the paint store first thing, hoping to exchange 4 gallons of "blush white" paint for "flat white" paint. This was the 4th trip back to the store to either purchase or exchange paint, as we were having great difficulty matching the Pantone shade 11-0907 that had been selected. I believe that we had been to just about every paint store in west Kabul.

[caption id="attachment_295" align="alignnone" width="369" caption="Suria looks happy, but that shade is not here to stay"]Suria looks happy, but that shade is not here to stay[/caption]

The shop owner laughed when he saw us enter, paint cans in hand. Najib began to explain the need for the exchange. I told Najib to merely explain that the women had again changed their minds. This sent the shop owner into gales of laughter, speaking in rapid fire Dari that Najib quickly translated as "Yes, they are powerful". We all agreed, shaking our heads and laughing in our shared experience!

Afghan Women’s Business Federation
Athena spent the day with 21 AWBF trainers taking them through the Bpeace Marketing Map, a tool for entrepreneurs to map out a marketing communications strategy. The participants loved the topic -- they were practically jumping out of their seats to volunteer answers and offer their ideas about how to market products and services in Afghanistan.

Fourth TOT
The most interesting discussions were about how to apply marketing principles to their students who live in the provinces and are mostly illiterate. It turns out that local radio is a great promotional opportunity because most people have radios and there are special shows for women. And, depending on your product or service, sometimes you can announce things over the loudspeakers of mosques. Who knew? It was quickly pointed out that a beauty salon could most certainly not take advantage of this opportunity.

Another fascinating cultural moment was when Athena realized that in the provinces it is the men who buy clothing and other accessories for their wives--not the women themselves, who are seldom allowed to leave their houses. So, the men are also target customers who have to be considered. Though one of the men informed us the women tell their men what to buy--usually because they have seen another woman wearing something they liked at a wedding or other social gathering. Aaahhh the nuances of marketing!

Venus Fitness
It’s a slow time of year for Nargis and her Venus fitness studio as clients don’t like the cold weather work-outs. Colder inside most buildings than outside this time of year. Lots of marketing plans for Spring and a possible move to a new location.

In the meantime Zuhra, Venus’ trainer, put us through the paces of The Venus System circuits 1 and 2. Steve and I were satisfied to see that she was well versed in the program. Zuhra is a tough trainer. 15 to 20 reps are a must. The group had fun as  Steve and I walked everyone through the 3rd phase. Steve was very happy as they allowed him to participate in the training.

Steve then guided the ladies through some beginner yoga training. He started with warm ups and quickly transitioned to standing poses (as the group was pretty limber from all the Venus System activity!). The ladies tried mountain pose, standing forward bend, warrior 2, side angle pose and triangle pose. The session had its challenges as Steve had Nargis translate while Kate helped the ladies make adjustments (Steve could not touch the women of course!) while Kate took a logistics related mobile call from Athena while in mountain pose. All in a day's work.

--Kate Buggeln on behalf of the Bpeace Team, December 2006

Piqued your interest? Read the entire December 2008 Afghan Mission blog here.

Working out and opening up: New beginnings for Afghan Fast Runners

[caption id="attachment_310" align="alignnone" width="370" caption="Laila, our program manager, translating in the rose garden."]Laila, our program manager, translating in the rose garden.[/caption]

Our day: While Wendy was working her way around town with Khan Agra, Bahtknazera's husband (more on that later), Athena and Kate met with the Bpeace Fast Runners involved in the RKA cooperative retail store. We sat in a rose garden and worked with 12 Associates on the development of plans for their retail store. Lots of work ahead for them (and the store's mentors Pam Massenburg and Kate Buggeln). They have selected a steering committee for their co-operative and we left them with agendas for three work sessions over the next weeks.

[caption id="attachment_311" align="alignleft" width="215" caption="Nargis and Kate reviewing the new Venus System"]Nargis and Kate reviewing the new Venus System, developed by Nargis' mentors back in the U.S.[/caption]

Kate left Athena with the RKA Fast Runners for her training session with Nargis and the trainers at Venus Fitness. In 100 degree heat, Kate turned over "The Venus System," a complete fitness program designed by Jeff and Julie Castaldo, Nargis's mentors. The system will revolutionize Venus Fitness. It combines 27 exercises in a three level program utilizing tubes and balls with cardio and nutrition program. Said an exhausted Kate:"I ended up training not only Nargis and her trainers, but four of her clients. The women all soaked up the information, and told me I won't recognize them when I come back in November." Kate returns to Tuesday for another round of training.

Meanwhile, Wendy and Athena joined the guests at Habiba's Day Care Center opening. And what an event! Athena participating in the ribbon cutting (her first) which was covered by Ariana TV. Many friends, family, children and their parents attended the opening of this clean, inviting facility which boasts 2 new teachers, a visiting psychologist and a visiting art instructor.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Habiba's daughter (middle) sings her heart out"]3 girls.0[/caption]

--Kate Buggeln for the Bpeace team, July 2006.

Piqued your interest? Read the entire July 2006 Afghan Mission blog here.

Show us the money--and the Afghan peace

[caption id="attachment_366" align="alignnone" width="400" caption="Bpeace volunteers and Associates; Rian Harris from the U.S. Embassy on far left"]Bpeace volunteers and Associates; Rian Harris from the U.S. Embassy on far left[/caption]

Today was the first time since we arrived in Kabul that we saw our Fast Runners as a group. Hugs and kisses flew. We started asking the Associates, "What's new? What's happened since we last caught up?" To hear all the progress in one sitting made the Bpeacers feel terrific.

[caption id="attachment_373" align="alignnone" width="422" caption="Toni, Laila and Palwasha with her new school colors"]Toni, Laila and Palwasha with her new school colors[/caption]

Marking the first milestone of many
We all celebrated the Fast Runners’ completion of their first year of their three-year Bpeace program with a “pin ceremony,” attended by Rian Harris from the U.S. Embassy. The final pinning was Palwasha; she was also presented with an acceptance letter to Bucknell University for a full four-year scholarship facilitated by her mentors, Jim Reitzig and Tara Fabiano. It was a very emotional moment for many of us, tears coming to our eyes even as we write this.

Ray is shown the money
Scooting out of the peace discussion, Ray donned his best blue blazer and tie and went calling on banks in order to assess their interest in making loans to our Fast Runners. Kirsten Weiss of Shorebank, who we only met for the first time on Wednesday night, was good enough to accompany Ray on his rounds. Today’s banker said he can offer loans from $7,000 up to $250,000 and a very competitive interest rate, even without Bpeace guaranteeing a part of the loan. Our Fast Runners will have to qualify to the bank standards. Ray “show me the money” Maloney has several more appointments coming up this week.

The Fast Runners figure out how to find the money on their own
The Fast Runners viewed the first of the training videos today—“How to Write a Business Plan,” produced by Bpeacers Yasmin Ibrahim and Karine Baczynski. The videos are not a  substitute for in-personal training and advice from Bpeace; instead, they provide a knowledge base, while Laila, Rosemary and the mentors provide the “consulting” to help the entrepreneurs get the specific assist they need.

Toni then showed the Associates a cool Excel spreadsheet tool that Yasmin developed. The Excel tool accompanies the “How to Track Your Money” workbook developed by Bpeacer Sabra Richardson. Bpeace Fast Runner Kamela and Toni walked the Associates through the workbook and tool. And to finally round out the money portion of the day, Toni sent the Fast Runners home with a workbook to read, “How to Finance Your Business,” developed by Marla and Bpeacer Liza Pullman. It takes the Fast Runners step-by-step through the process of applying for a loan. Kamela, who has her own consulting and training business, was most impressed by the training materials and wants to use them in her work with Afghans in several provinces.

The liveliest part of the day was when Toni asked the Associates to “bet” on how many new jobs they would create in the next year. Amazingly, the Associates “bid” between 8 and 20 jobs each.

As the first day of training closed, Toni and Rosemary reviewed products to pass onto the Dubai Women’s college. Hanifa Skar Ali brought blockbuster handbags we hadn’t seen before, and scarves with a unique ribbon embroidery design that Rosemary thought would be a big seller in the right Kabul market.

An evening treat for the team was dinner and ice cream with Rian Harris of the U.S. Embassy, whose knowledge of business in Afghanistan both informed and entertained us. Yes, there is cotton being produced here. All the cashmere is washed in Herat and taken out of the country. And silk is making a comeback as many NGOs bring silkworm larva to farmers with mulberry trees.

Fit happens in Afghanistan

[caption id="attachment_377" align="alignnone" width="496" caption="Nargis (without scarf) training a client at Venus Fitness"]Nargis (without scarf) training a client at Venus Fitness[/caption]

This message of empowerment from two of Bpeace's members, fitness gurus Jeff and Julie Castaldo, has a whole different meaning here in Afghanistan.

Steve and Kate visited Venus Fitness Center today, the fitness center run by Nargis. Bpeace flash: Women’s fitness is news in Kabul. Soon after our arrival a camera crew arrived from Afghan National Television! They are doing a piece on women's fitness. Venus is the feature.

How did Venus happen? In March 2005, Nargis went to an educational program at Ohio University. She visited various gyms, worked out herself and was inspired to start a fitness center. Venus has now been open for a month. She is eager to learn how to improve her and the staff's knowledge of physical fitness.

Nargis jumped on Steve's suggestion that she and her mentors work by email once a week as she reads her way through a key fitness manual. She also needs to develop ways to produce more income from her center. Tube classes? Don’t know what they are? See below. And while the television program will help drive additional business, Venus already has 10 customers and another came in to check out the facilities as we were meeting. Kate was over the top with happiness to see that all of the customers were Afghan women, and not expats--which not only means good things for Afghanistan, but also makes for a more sustainable long-term business.

The tubes are long rubber ropes that can be used to provide muscle tension for all sorts of exercise (Kahlil, Steve's trainer will be happy to know that he demonstrated using the ball AND the tube -- very fancy). All of the women tried them out as well. Lots of laughter and definite interest in getting more of them for the center, particularly when Kate showed off her biceps, producing more laughter. Nargis sweetly ended our session by saying that she knew she would not fail with our help.

[caption id="attachment_378" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Marla and Laila"]Marla and Laila[/caption]

Bringing dreams into reality
Marla and Laila's day has been jam packed. It began with lamb and french fries at 9:30am while visiting Mahbooba and the Afghan International Chamber of Commerce. The meeting was focused on her guest house business plan and in particular the amazing financial model built by the Cornell School of Hotel Management. The most fun was looking at a map of Kabul and envisioning a future with Mahbooba’s guest house as home away from home for visiting women from the provinces. The challenge was realizing the cost of Kabul real estate. Mahbooba’s dream site of 18 rooms is on the market for $600,000! Mahbooba has major work ahead to complete the financial model, but the result will allow her to approach financial investors with a coherent and well-documented understanding of what is required to operate a successful guest house. Show us the money!

Then, unbelievably, Aziza and Hanifa told us that their daughters are members of the Afghanistan Karate team who just beat Pakistan and Kuwait in a September competition. They want to open a Karate Studio! Their mothers asked Bpeace to assist. Great new candidates for the spring team. Toni... we are finding them for your mission!

--Kate Buggeln for the Bpeace team, December 2005

Piqued your interest? The full blog from the December 2005 Afghan Mission is here.

Afghan Style Road Trip: Meeting the real deal

The CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) arranged for the ladies to meet Behnaz Sarafpour at her design studio.

Barnaz

From Business Week: "For 20-year-old Palwasha (above left), the trip to the hot young designer's studio is the highlight of the day. Born in Iran, Sarafpour is petite, soft spoken, and speaks Farsi, as do almost all of the women. Dressed casually in jeans, she connects with and stirs the women, most of whom are also in the clothing business and can understand at least some of the business challenges she had to surmount. Sarafpour talks about how she derives inspiration from around the world, how she chooses fabric, and how she ensures that the factories don't make mistakes when translating her designs. "I make sure my trusted seamstress makes the first dress that can act as a sample for the factory," says Sarafpour. The tips are invaluable for these women, and Sarafpour is an inspiration for Palwasha, who hopes to go to design school one day. "I don't know how I will do it, but I want to learn to design," says Palwasha, who supervises the clothing production for the Kabul office of Tarsian & Blinkley, a high-end clothing company founded by designer Sarah Takesh, whose work features Afghan artisanship."

--July 2005

Piqued your interest? Read the entire Style Road Trip blog here.

Baby, it's cold (in)side: Bringing some Bpeace heat to Kabul

[caption id="attachment_305" align="alignnone" width="504" caption="Why didn't we pack those skis? Facing the Intercontinental driveway at 7:15 am."]Why didn't we pack those skis? Facing the Intercontinental driveway at 7:15 am.[/caption]

When our Afghan entrepreneurs had their first "aha" moment today, you could measure the ripple of happiness that went through the Kabul mission team.

Fifteen of our Style Road Trip Fast Runners, and five guests--including a representative from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs--braved the snow to attend our class at the University of Kabul.

The day started with its one usual glitch. One of our vans couldn’t climb the snowy hill to our hotel, so half of the mission team hiked down the slippery, steep driveway to the van on the road below. The class started late, but eventually all of us and all of the Fast Runners made it there in one piece.

[caption id="attachment_306" align="alignnone" width="432" caption="Do you want to sell 100 handbags at $10, or 10 at $100? Profit margin, an entirely new concept."]Do you want to sell 100 handbags at $10, or 10 at $100? Profit margin, an entirely new concept.[/caption]

Kate led a 4-hour product development lesson, complete with profit exercises, pricing, benchmarking, and planning calendar. The Fast Runners grasped these high concepts with vigor. The big moment came when Hossai complained about her high overhead costs, and Kate asked if she ever considered partnering with another woman to bring the costs down. Pop, light bulb, aha! Suddenly an entire Fashion City Industrial Park idea was born. One we hope to explore further on Wednesday with the Minister of Women’s Affairs.

Laura brought Cambodia and Vietnam into this Kabul classroom when she showed real world examples of the embroidered handbags she produces in those countries under the brand Claire V. Laura demonstrated what can go wrong during the production process—everything from inferior fabrics being substituted, to incorrect color ways and stitching.

Both Kate and Laura showed them design cards, and how the specs for a product are clearly defined. This concept was like introducing a bee to a flower. Love at first sight.

Of course Gwendy really set their hearts palpating with visions of what their classes and experiences will be when they come to New York in May. She provided them a list to bring home, to think about, and check off and bring back tomorrow. (Jamie Johnson even provided a questionnaire for their families.)

In the background, Ray was pouring over the passports of the Associates, starting to fill in visa forms to discuss with the US Embassy when we go there on Monday. In the foreground was Paula climbing on chairs and rolling on the floor with her camera. She logged 500 shots today.

Jim's on the floor making a profit. Gwendy's mood boards surround the walls. The integrated wheels of business: finance and creativity.
Jim's on the floor making a profit. Gwendy's mood boards surround the walls. The integrated wheels of business: finance and creativity.

And finally, Jim repeated his stunning “How to Make a Profit” performance. They poured over their new Bpeace calculators, and realized how hard it is to make a profit. Jim’s recurring theme was “unless you make a profit, your business won’t be sustainable.” The class was supposed to end at noon, but the ladies wouldn’t let Jim go.

--Toni Maloney for the Bpeace team, February 2005.

Piqued your interest? Read the entire February 2005 Afghan Mission blog here.

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