And this year we will have the freedom to vote in our presidential election and other elections across the nation. We have the ability to select those who will lead our land, shape our laws, and create a new future for our children and their children. Millions worldwide are working toward this very important right, as more and more nations are establishing democratic elections. But there is still a long way to go.
At the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women (IEEW), a 6-year-old Oklahoma City-based non-profit organization that provides business and leadership training to 60 women each year in Afghanistan and Rwanda to help them create their own businesses, we would like to think that we are aiding in the independence process of women in those nations. Empowered women everywhere can make such a difference in their nations – no matter where they live. They can increase nations’ gross national product, help improve medical care and infrastructure, educate and protect children, and create brighter futures for both men and women.
Just look at the numbers in our country, and you can get a sense of the enormous impact that empowered, independent women in business have. Becoming their own bosses and being able to control their own destiny in the business world can become the way out of a life of poverty and oppression for many women. Nearly 10.4 million businesses in the U.S. are owned by women (with a 50 percent or more ownership stake), employing 13 million people and generating nearly $2 trillion in sales, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research. These account for 41 percent of all privately-held businesses. And the number of businesses owned by women of color grew five times faster than all privately held companies.
I ask our nation’s leaders—both Republicans and Democrats—to use their power and influence to help bring independence to developing countries everywhere. I personally ask the Afghan and Rwandan women who go through our program each year to return to their nations and “pay it forward” – to help teach and guide the next class of women that go through IEEW’s Pece Through Business program.
I think leaders in this country also owe this much to our brethren in other parts of the world. Our students embrace this portion of our program as they return empowered to their countries. In fact, once our students complete their training in the United States this month, which culminates with our International Women’s Economic Summit and graduation that are hosted here in Washington, DC by the United States Institute of Peace, July 23-24, they return to their homelands as changed women.
So, as we celebrate this month and look up to the fireworks in the sky and enjoy our celebratory barbecues and family gatherings, I think of our PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® program’s 2012 graduating class cherishing their own independence – just as our glorious nation has for 236 years now. Let’s all pay it forward and share our love of freedom and democracy with the rest of the world.
Neese is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women and a member of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council.