In war-torn Afghanistan, much besides buildings and infrastructure has crumbled. The economy has seen ruin, and the lives of individuals, particularly women, has been harsh. But in 2005 an ingenious program by Thunderbird School of Global Management began taking steps to help Afghanis rebuild Afghanistan – one woman at a time.

Project Artemis is a two-week intensive business-training course that takes place on the school’s main campus in Glendale , AZ , USA . Thirty women from Afghanistan have been chosen as Fellows in the program. They’re brought to campus, given classes, individual instruction, and coaching in writing business plans. Tours of local companies are arranged so that the women can see a real business in action, and be given an opportunity to ask questions. They are also paired up with a Western female entrepreneur who promises to mentor them for at least two years.

During their time on campus, they develop a business plan, and on their own initiative, they’ve also created an Artemis business association so that they can still rely on the network they create while in Glendale. Through their mentors, all of whom have MBA degrees from Thunderbird, they have developed business contacts the world over. And through hard work and canny business skills, they have developed enormously successful and socially conscious companies in Afghanistan.

One graduate, known only by her first name Rangina due to security concerns, has created a home-based factory that employs over five hundred Afghan women in her native Kandahar. In this part of Afghanistan, many women still cannot leave their homes without their husbands’ permission. Therefore, Rangina has brought the work to her workers. She hires women who are trained at traditional Afghanistan needlework, a prized craft that fetches good prices elsewhere in the world. Taking patterns and pre-cut materials to them, she leaves them with a certain amount of inventory on which to work their embroidery. The women complete the work at home, and exchange finished goods for new patterns when Rangina makes her rounds again.

Her business, Kandahar Treasures, sells mostly in the United States and therefore pays a good profit, due to exchange rates and cost of living differences between there and Afghanistan. And all of the money from the business stays in Afghanistan ‘s economy, supporting its local growth. Her goal for her business is “to stitch the future of peace for our children.”

Another Project Artemis fellow, Katrin, began a microfinance institution in Afghanistan. Reaching mainly women in informal small businesses, she has given out over 10,000 small businesses loans in and around Kabul. Katrin estimates that there are 80,000 microfinance customers in Afghanistan, most of them women. They live under the conflicting rules of a culture and government in the midst of rapid change, and must often overcome great struggles of logistics, expense, and cultural norms, just to get their goods to market.

Katrin’s message to her borrowers and to the business community is one of optimism and honest work. “The positive news is that this country is in transition, and that changes happen everyday. We just have to accept that there will be sacrifices along the way.”

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