But, for just a small start, what if we took some of our capital and brilliant minds here and utilized those resources to help invest in women overseas? I’m talking about women entrepreneurs who can become empowered in their own lives and communities and can help shape their regions of the world. What if we then did business here with these women, exchanging goods and services on a regular basis and working together to contribute to the economies of both nations? We could become business partners, in essence, and then eventually friends. And, let’s face it: you don’t go to war with friends.
Perhaps this alliance of women in business here working with women in businesses in other very different parts of the world can help lead us all on a road to more peacetime and less wartime. Women, who own or operate nearly a third of all private businesses worldwide, according to estimates from the World Bank, can actually serve as global change agents.
This might be a pipe dream for now, but I would like to think that it could work. 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 and grow their own businesses, we would like to think that we are aiding in this peace process in very profound ways.
Every July, nearly half of the 60 Peace Through Business students are selected to come to the U.S. for business and leaderships training, one-on-one mentorships, an economic summit, and a graduation. Student Freshta Hazeq, a mother of three who owns the only female printing company in Afghanistan and has had her life threatened because she runs a business in a male-oriented field, says: “I feel like I am helping to establish more harmony in my community and creating relationships that can help lead to a better life for women everywhere.”
Colette Gakwaya Mugwaneza, a Rwandan whose parents were political refugees and now owns a staffing company that finds jobs for nannies and housekeepers, says: “There is nothing more important than to have peace and feel safe in your country. Being in a network of business owners helps provide this safety net; we are all looking out for one another.”
I know, as a serial entrepreneur myself for many years, how important the respect and admiration are that you develop with your contacts and vendors in your industry. You look out for one another, provide business leads to each other, and would never think of fighting with these people. They are extensions of your own business. If we can extend this concept globally and set up global alliances of business owners, this could help us all create this “safety net” that Colette so eloquently refers to. This is certainly worth a try. This may be the new-millennium way to build and sustain peace without guns, battles, or doctrines of war.
I ask other business women all across the globe to join me in this effort. Let’s use the power of women and their networks to stop the fighting. How about it, ladies?
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