Micro-finance: Afghanistan Women Mean Business!


Afghanistan Women Mean Business! 


Nasrine Gross mingles with some of the female students in the street. Ms. Gross is the founder of an unusual literacy training program that requires husbands and wives to attend class together. The classes are held in simple homes down a dirt street in Kabul. (Courtesy of Max Gross)


The Washington Post shares this story of Hassina Syed,

a true inspiration for the Women of our World in Afghanistan! 


KABUL, Afghanistan | Hassina Syed owns six companies in her own name and is rapidly building a small business empire. Nasrine Gross defies all expectations by walking the streets without a head scarf and teaching basic literacy to husbands and wives — together. Razia Jan is educating Afghan girls and, in a second role, helping provide work and well-being for female weavers in some of the country’s most impoverished communities.

These three women, each in her own way, are smashing centuries of convention and forcing Afghans to think in new ways about the role of women in a country that has some of highest female illiteracy rates and poorest maternal health outcomes in the developing world. Less than a decade after the ouster of a Taliban regime that refused to let girls go to school or women walk the streets without their husbands, these women are taking a lead in tackling some of Afghanistan’s biggest long-range problems; the future of the country may depend on their success and that of others like them.

“One of the things I often find frustrating about discourse on women in Afghanistan is that the women are much stronger and play much more a role in society than they are credited with,” says Alexander Their, director of the Future of Afghanistan Project and senior rule of law adviser at the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the field of microcredit, in which individuals are given small loans — enough to buy a cow or a loom, for example — so they can start small businesses out of their homes. The microfinance companies that issue the loans say they have their greatest success working with women, who almost invariably repay what they borrow. One government-run lending agency, the largest in Afghanistan, grants 95 percent of its loans to women, and 99 percent of those loans are repaid.

The U.S. government is also aware of the potential. It has allocated $27 million that soon will be distributed in small flexible grants “to empower Afghan women [private organizations] at the local level,” according to Melanne S. Verveer, the U.S. ambassador at large for global women’s issues.

“Women have more social obligations in terms of keeping up the honor and prestige of their families,” explains Afghan-born Barnack Pazhwak, a program officer with USIP. This makes women more responsible citizens than men, he says.

But Afghan women assert themselves, as these three do, only at their peril.

Objections — and the risk of violent attack — are so strong in some circles that the wife of President Hamid Karzai — a trained gynecologist who could serve as a role model for other women — does not practice her profession and never appears in public.

For that to change, says Ms. Verveer,

 “There clearly has to be will at the top and heart at the bottom.”


Hassina Syed

There is plenty of heart in Ms. Syed, the 27-year-old founding president of the integrated Syed Group of Companies through which she personally manages six separate enterprises.

The Afghan wife of British-born journalist and longtime Kabul resident Peter Jouvenal, she began her operation with a Kabul hotel and restaurant called the Gandamack Lodge, which became a popular meeting place for international media.

With the lodge well established, she soon branched out to set up a travel agency, a vegetable farm, a bedding shop, a construction company and a security services company called Angel Human Resources. She would like to venture next into the gasoline business.

Although she has no formal training in management, the energetic entrepreneur now employs a total of 565 people, 250 of them women. “I learn from my own mistakes,” she says.

It is not unheard of for a woman to own a business in Afghanistan — in fact there are a growing number of programs to teach them management techniques. But normally, a father, husband or brother runs the business behind the scenes.

That is not the case with Ms. Syed, though she freely admits she could do none of it without the moral support of her father, the former mayor of Parwan province, who she says is “really proud” of her.

Story Continues →




On the lending side of this system, through Mercy Corp, it is reported on video 

 confirming the success of micro financing for the Women of our World in Afghanistan. 


WOMEN in Afghanistan are Taking Action!




For many years under an oppressive regime, Afghan women were unable to leave their houses — they could only dream of starting businesses. Thousands of women had ideas, but no opportunity and certainly no assets to realize them.

But today, that’s changed: women are now a vibrant and vital force in Afghanistan’s economy.

 Mercy Corps pitched in to make that happen through Ariana Financial Services, a microfinance organization we founded in 2002. Ariana provides loans and other financial support to entrepreneurs. It currently has more than 7,500 clients, most of whom are women. And those women are making a difference not only for themselves and their families, but their communities as well. They’re filling markets with their products, creating jobs and training other women to succeed. These women are proof that, when given the chance, they can turn a little funding into a lot of good, as well as a lifetime career.

Freelance photographer Julie Denesha recently put together this video that includes her interview with Ariana’s Executive Director, Storai Sadat, about how her organization has helped bring about this remarkable transformation.

Video Online Only



This has been reposted from the Mercy Corps blog.

Ariana in Afghanistan: http://www.afghanbiz.com/company/ariana-financial-services



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