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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.

Our first taste of Rwanda

Wed more dance

Weather in Kigali has been spectacular, and this was one of the best so far. Bright sun, low humidity. Flowers are blooming on walls of wealthier compounds, as well as in the yards of poor offices and homes. The evening air was so lovely that following dinner at Chez Robert some of the group decided to walk back to the hotel. It was a good walk after days of eating Rwandan food and no exercise, but some of us bloggers are now regretting the late night! What were we thinking?

Some of our readers have asked about Rwandan food. It is quite good; we note a lot of French influence. Great sauces are a constant. The goat stew and savory “bananas” are excellent. This Sunday the group has been invited to the homes of two different Rwandans for an evening of traditional food. We can't wait.

Getting future-proof
Cari and Geoffrey visited the crafts training center of the Rwanda Women's Network today; they provide training for victims of gender violence. Cari met the future recipients of 40 donated knitting machines, and all of them danced together. Why don't we do this at home to show our gratitude?

Marla, Ann, and Maureen began the day at Rwanda Private Sector Federation/On the Frontier, meeting with Doreen Kagarama and Info Communication Technology leader David Frenk (ICT is our version of IT). David wrote Rwanda’s 5 year technology plan for the government. Bpeace’s goal was to learn about the direction of the economic sector--we want to be future-proof! This international consulting firm is working with the government to develop the product sector, in particular ICT. They're also focused on ensuring women are able to take advantage of their fair share of these emerging opportunities. We learned a ton about economic development in coffee, tea, tourism, and ICT.

Then we headed to the Women’s Association of Entrepreneurs (AFER). The association will be a key resource for unearthing Fast Runners: it has over 1,000 members. Tomorrow we'll meet with 20 of them for Fast Runner interviews.

--September 2005

Piqued your interest? Read the entire September 2005 Rwandan Mission blog here.


Style Road Trip: Get to know a Fast Runner

[caption id="attachment_330" align="alignnone" width="491" caption="Baktnizar and her 2005 mentor, Annette"]Baktnizar and her 2005 mentor, Annette[/caption]

New York, New York, here they are--12 extraordinary entrepreneurs from Afghanistan in town for a three-week training program.

The Philadelphia Inquirer called it a "mixed American holiday with business boot-camp. The women attended classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology, got a bird's-eye view of Manhattan from the top of the Empire State Building, and scoped out such American consumer temples as Target and ABC Carpet."

Meet one Fast Runner:
Baktnizar operates a dress shop in Kabul, Afghanistan. Her mentor Annette owns a dress shop in Nyack, New York.

From Business Week: "During the Taliban years, Baktnizar, 28, supported her husband and four children in rural Lagman province by embroidering, working until midnight on most days. After the Taliban was overthrown, the family moved to Kabul where she earned her teaching degree and taught Pashto part-time, making $50 a month. "It was not enough," she says. "I thought if I had my own business we'd be able to do better. I was always interested in clothing and design, and it was something I knew how to do." The enterprising seamstress joined the Afghan Women Business Association. and met up with Bpeace members who arrived in the country in 2004. They helped her apply for a CARE International grant to support her business idea. Today, Baktnizar operates a ready-to-wear shop, Khaber Khush, which means "good news," in Kabul, overseeing 36 employees and earning three times as much as she did as a teacher. With her affiliation with Bpeace and her in the Style Road Trip, Baktnizar hopes to learn about Western markets and tastes to be able to export, improve quality control, and to find better raw materials to work with. Eventually, she wants to open a chain of stores with locations in every province in Afghanistan. "If you're going to have goals and dreams," she says. "They might as well be big."

--July 2005

Piqued your interest? Read the entire Style Road Trip blog 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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