News & Policies >
For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
December 18, 2008
Video Teleconference by Mrs. Bush with Afghan Women Entrepreneurs
9:00 A.M. EST
MRS. BUSH: Good morning. Good evening in Afghanistan. (Laughter.) Can they hear? Great. Well, I want to --
AMBASSADOR WOOD: Good morning to you, Mrs. Bush.
MRS. BUSH: Thank you, Ambassador. I want to welcome everyone here to the Roosevelt Room. That's what room we're in, in the West Wing of the White House. And I want to send my special greetings to Madam Minister. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.
This video conference is going to give all of us a chance to talk about the successes and the challenges that still face women in Afghanistan. We are all part of the Afghan-American Women's Council that President Karzai and President Bush founded a few years ago. The Council itself is moving to Georgetown University, and so we have the President of Georgetown University here. And the Council is a very good example of the way both the private sector and the public sector can work together to try to help the people of Afghanistan meet the challenges, and especially the women of Afghanistan to meet the challenges that face them.
This is my last U.S. American -- I mean, American-Afghan Women's Council meeting as First Lady, and so my next meeting I'll be on the private side of the public-private partnership, and I think there's a very strong role for both the public and the private sides of the partnership. And what we're going to get to hear today are some successes from the private side of the partnership, some partners -- get to hear from some partners and what they did to succeed.
We all know -- both in the United States government, the Afghan government, and the private sector that the women of Afghanistan still need a lot of encouragement. We know that because of years of lack of education, of lack of health care, of extreme poverty, that women in Afghanistan still face many, many challenges. And one challenge that we're going to try to talk about today is the way we can help women economically so that women, particularly widows and single women, will have the chance to support themselves and their families. And that's what we'll hear in just a minute.
I want to also recognize Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky, who will be our moderator when we start talking. So welcome, everyone. I'm very happy to have this chance to talk to my sisters in Afghanistan and you, Ambassador Wood, as well. Should we get started?
UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Ambassador Jawad.
AMBASSADOR JAWAD: Thank you very much, Madam First Lady. Before anything -- and good evening to Ambassador Wood, Minister -- my friends and Afghanistan, before anything else, I would like to convey the gratitude of the Afghan people, Madam First Lady, for everything that you have done for us. We will never forget your numerous trips to Afghanistan, particularly your last trip to Bamiyan. There's a tremendous amount of gratitude and love for you in Afghanistan. You truly symbolize the compassion and the kindness of American spirit.
I really would like to emphasize that every time that I meet with Afghan women, they would like me to convey that gratitude to you, and we are equally grateful to President Bush for giving us the gifts of freedom, and more importantly what he calls also the non-negotiable value of human dignity. In his last trip to Afghanistan, he did a wonderful job of conveying your warm love to the Afghan women, too. And we're very grateful for that.
As you mentioned, the U.S.-Afghan public-private partnership is playing an important role in enhancing gender quality and giving more opportunities for Afghan women. We are very much grateful to USAID, to Georgetown, to a number of private entities here that are helping us out, particularly Goldman Sachs, (inaudible) and others, and a number of (inaudible) universities, the American University of Afghanistan, Northwood University, Thunderbird University, University of Nebraska, and others.
Just a small point that three weeks ago there was a conference, the first conference of Afghan women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan. And they indicated the areas that they are interested to seek more partnership and support. And just briefly these areas are: access to credit and loan, participation in major trade exhibitions, training on e-trade, particularly reaching out to a broader market through Internet that includes basic work design and English courses, packaging and labeling.
And the last point that I must say we're always aware of, that is the visa issue for Afghan businesswomen. We'd like to see a little bit more expediency on the issuing of visas for Afghan businessmen and women workers who are studying here.
Thank you very much. And we're all seeking your continued support, and please stay with us.
MRS. BUSH: Thank you very much, Ambassador.
UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Now we'll get the president to join in.
DR. DeGIOIA: Thank you. And thank you, Mrs. Bush, for hosting this event today, and for your ongoing support of this initiative. I'd also like to thank the Council Co-Chairs for their steadfast leadership and their commitment to this important work.
By transitioning the Council to Georgetown, we hope to use our university's unique resources to expand the great work that has already been accomplished and to develop innovative ways to further improve the lives of Afghan women and children. This is a great honor and responsibility, and we take it very seriously, and we are grateful for the trust and confidence that you had in us to take on this responsibility.
UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Okay, thank you so much. Now, let's go to Kabul. Ambassador Wood, let us go to you, and we also would like to hear from the Minister.
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UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Okay, thank you so much. Minister Ghazanfar, thank you so much. You've been a terrific partner and we all will be back in touch with you. And Ambassador Wood, thank you.
Let us get underway with our roundtable discussion. And let me say that, first, here in Washington we have members of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, we have U.S. business executives, USAID and NSC members. And I'd like to just take a moment and introduce others around the table.
We have Mina Sherzoy, who is -- starting to my left here -- Director of Workforce Development, USAID, Kabul, and founder of AWSOM. AWSOM is Afghanistan's worldwide shipping on line mall
Next to her is Kellie Kriesser, Director of Thunderbird For Good, at Thunderbird University, and she is working in tandem with Ambassador Barbara Barrett, and we welcome you.
Next to her is Anita McBride, Chief of Staff to Mrs. Bush, and U.S.-Afghan Women's Council member. Next to Anita is Michael Yates, USAID Mission Director in Kabul. And next to him is Said Jawad, who is wife of the Afghan Ambassador -- or as we normally say, we have two ambassadors -- (laughter.) And also Co-Chair of Ayenda Foundation.
And then across the table we have John Wood, Senior Director for Afghanistan, National Security Council. We have UNDER SECRETARY Phyllis Magrab here, who is Director for Child and Human Development at Georgetown University and the U.S. Afghan's Women Council new Vice Chair. Next to her is John Rogers, Chief of Staff and Secretary to the Board of Directors for Goldman Sachs Company. Next to him is Terry Neese, Founder and CEO of the Institute for Economic Empowerment for Women and a U.S.-Afghan Council member.
Then we have Masuda Sultan, Managing Director of Inside Consulting Group, which helps businesses get established and expand in Afghanistan. Next to her is Jim Kunder, Acting Deputy Administrator for USAID.
I'd also like to mention that we have here also with us Dina Powell, who is Managing Director of Global Corps Engagement, Goldman Sachs, and a U.S.-Afghan Council member. We also have Christa Skerry, Director for Afghanistan from the National Security Council with us. And Jim Bever, who is Principal Deputy Assistant Administration for Asia and the Near East, USAID.
Let me, if I can before we get underway, I just want to remind our ground rules. We're going to begin today's discussion from Washington, D.C., and each U.S. participant will have about one to two minutes to say a few words about the program they're involved with, to describe the tools that -- about the program that they're implementing and what it provides to Afghan women. They will in turn introduce their Afghan program participant in Kabul, or the person might be here in Washington.
Then the Afghan program participant will have about two to three minutes to say a few words also about what that program has meant to them and describe how using the skills that they've gained from the program to become a successful businesswoman in Afghanistan. We will also be discussing some of USAID's programs here. And that will really focus on some personal experiences and the benefits of networking. We'll also, as you see, have some translation throughout. Jim Kunder will also close us. He's both the U.S.-Afghan Council member and also affiliated with USAID.
So let's get underway, and we begin with Kellie Krieser, of Thunderbird for Good, to get things started. Kellie.
MS. KRIESER: Well, first let me say "tashakor" for letting me talk about Project Artemis today. It's a program that was begun by actually Ambassador Barbara Barrett, and Minister Zoy (phonetic) in January 2005. And since the inception we've run three classes and we've trained 44 Afghan entrepreneurs.
The program consists of two parts. The first is an intensive two-week course at Thunderbird's campus in Glendale, Arizona. And during that time the women undergo classes that are taught by Thunderbird professors, and they're in the basic building blocks of business: marketing, management, finance negotiation, networking. And it's all clustered around building a business plan. And that's the deliverable the women take back with them.
Now that happens in the morning, they go to class. In the afternoon they actually go out and they get an opportunity to visit local businesses, business leaders, different entrepreneurs, so that they can get some ideas and they can start building their own network.
Now the second part of the program is our mentoring component. It's one-on-one mentoring. Each of the Afghan women is matched with an accomplished businesswoman from either America or Europe, and those women -- they fly in for the program, they participate during two weeks, and then they also pledge to work for at least two years with the women via email and telephone calls. And that helps them get their business off the ground and gives them a sounding board.
So that's the program in a nutshell. And we've had some great successes with the program. We've had women that have gone on to do some amazing things, which you'll hear a little bit about, in the areas of retail and manufacturing and agriculture and a whole host of service industries. The women go on to hire and train and then turn over women. And they pursue other education for themselves and for their family members, so this is a true measure of success.
And I have two successes here, one in D.C. and one in Kabul. Sitting next me here is Mina Sherzoy, from our very first class, and she is going to talk about her appropriately named co-op, AWSOM. And in Kabul we have Ms. Geeta Sadat, which is so lovely to see her face. Geeta just graduated from our third class of Artemis in October, and Geeta is the founder and the operator of the first women-owned lingerie company in Afghanistan, and her goal is to open a second shop. So we're very, very proud of her. But I will promptly turn this over to Mina Sherzoy, who will speak a little bit about her success. Thank you.
MS. SHERZOY: Thank you. Thank you very much for inviting me. There's so much to say, so much has been done and there's so much to do. And I'm really proud of being a part of the Council and there has been a lot of support and partnership and USAID partnerships, so I really appreciate it. And that's why we have come a long way from the beginning.
And I remember establishing women entrepreneurship development program at the Ministry of Commerce, that's how things started with USAID and BearingPoint. And it took off immediately. In six months we established Afghan Women's Business Association, and of course USAID helped that out, too. And then from there other donors in other countries started duplicating the association building.
Then we got into the Afghan Women's Business Federation, which was -- I mean, we faced lots of challenges, but we did it, which is wonderful.
And then after that, of course, out of this Artemis was also the first project that came out of the Council -- of course with the help of Barbara Barrett and Thunderbird University, which was another success. And now we have more programs like Artemis all over.
As we got done with that, then we established AWSOM, which is an acronym for Afghanistan While Shopping Online Mall -- and it is awesome. (Laughter.) But in the meantime what we have been doing for the past two years is kind of capacity building because that's what we lack, is human capacity in Afghanistan. And we have been trying to teach them how to run a business and compete before we go online, and also we would be seeking funds because the website, everything is ready, but you need to really make sure we deliver to the world the right way. It's the image of Afghanistan, it's the image of Afghan women, and the products, they have to be quality products.
So that's where AWSOM is right now. We recently I'm very proud to announce that it became a cooperative of 50 women, they own it. I'm just the founder now -- (laughter) -- but I'm there all the time telling them what to do, because once we get the online business going we will need a lot of help to guide them.
So based on the Artemis class, we have had a lot of success -- not just the AWSOM factory. We have got (inaudible), who graduated from Artemis three years ago -- today she owns a business development center in Afghanistan. She's all over the country teaching women and men how to write a business plan, a financial plan, proposal writing, business for illiterate people. So she's very successful.
(Inaudible) was another lady who attended, as well. Now she is the president of (inaudible). She is (inaudible). Then we have Aziz (inaudible), she does the soccer balls and she's very productive and she has a lot of profit-making company. (Inaudible), who is into transportation -- she took the Artemis class three years ago and now she has over 400 employees as we speak, and she has an office in New York, Pakistan and in Dubai. Very, very successful.
And (inaudible) is another lady who also attended the Artemis class three years ago, or two years ago. And she now -- she's into gender development for -- especially on the women's side, she's doing a lot of women entrepreneurship development.
I mean, these are just a few of the names, I know we don't have time to keep going. But everything has been very well and successful. I have been committed to the Council, I will be committed -- anything you need. I feel like a bridge between two beautiful countries that I love, and we can do a lot more. So thank you.
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UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Geeta, thank you so much; Mina, as well. And Kellie, thank you so much for sharing not only the program, but also what it has meant to both of you.
Let's go to Terry Neese, of the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women. And you're going to be talking the Peace through Business program. Terry.
MS. NEESE: Thank you, Paula, very much; and than you, Mrs. Bush, for all of the work you've done to empower women in Afghanistan.
The Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women, IEEW's Peace through Business program has educated and mentored almost 30 women business owners from Afghanistan in the past two years. I want to acknowledge some private sector funders who have blessed us with this help, such as Betsy DeVos, who is our Peace through Business chairperson, and Marty Collin (phonetic) with the T* Boone Pickens Foundation and so many others who have been certainly passionate about our mission and we thank them greatly.
The Institute's Peace through Business students have traveled to the United States and obtained a business administration certificate from Northwood University. It's a business basics certificate. They, too, have a business plan designed strictly for their business that they can take back and implement into their own business back in Afghanistan.
The typical financial statements -- how do I market my product, how do I take my product and service to market -- those are the things that they take home with them. Also primarily from Northwood Unveristy. They also spend a full week living and mentoring with an American woman business owner -- with her family and with her business. And frankly, many of the American women say they learn a lot more from the Afghan women than the Afghan women probably learn from them.
We have measured their success back in Afghanistan, which we think is extremely important, through increased revenues. We have a baseline and we measure them quarterly. Their revenues are increasing anywhere from 3 percent to 17 percent. They're hiring more employees -- approximately 83 employees over the last two years -- and participation in our Pay It Forward program, reaching into several provinces of Afghanistan and touching well over 200 Afghan women.
For example, Condi (phonetic) and Cobra (phonetic) head up women's organizations in two different provinces and touch m any through those outlets. Just two examples of success from the education that they received in the United States. Maritosh Shara (phonetic), a ball manufacturer, she makes soccer balls, footballs and volleyballs. Her revenues have increased around 17 percent, so she is our highest increase in revenues earner. And she's hired 53 more employees, women, since she returned to Afghanistan in '07.
Muzhgan Waseeq, who is with us from Kabul, was in our program this past summer in Northwood University, in Midland, Michigan. She's the owner of a women's only market in Kabul, and it provides a safe environment where women can develop their businesses. So I want to introduce you to Muzhgan Waseeq, and let her tell you ways that she's taken her education here in the United States and implemented them back into her business in Afghanistan.
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UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Thank you very much. You know, something that I think both of these programs have very much in common -- and listening to especially our Afghan sisters in this -- is the importance of networking. All of you have mentioned the kind of skills that you're also acquiring. And also the multiplier effect, that you're also sharing those with one another as you've mentioned. And Geeta mentioned before about the courage -- you know it really brings out the courage in all of us. There's very much an integral and complementary aspect here of these programs.
Let's go to Michael Yates now of USAID. You're going to be discussing U.S. government's support for private entrepreneurs. Michael.
MR. YATES: Thank you very much, and it's a great privilege to be here.
As you know, the empowerment of women has been and continues to be one of our very highest priorities for USAID in Kabul. And we've supported economic and social services for women, including hundreds of millions of dollars invested in health, literacy, economic growth, and training.
Tens of thousands of Afghan women have benefitted from U.S. government support. And if we look more broadly at programs ranging from working with our Afghan partners to help put two million girls in school -- which is extraordinarily important -- to providing loans to 70,000 Afghan women entrepreneurs, to training more than 200,000 women under the ELSEP 2 (phonetic) program, and numerous literacy and basic business skills -- and ELSEP is a program that the First Lady knows very well and has been a strong supporter of.
But obviously the U.S. and Afghan governments alone cannot move these initiatives forward, and it really requires the energy, the commitment and the passion from individual initiatives and individual entrepreneurs. And that's why it is truly a privilege to be able to introduce Ms. Masuda Sultan, an independent Afghan-American businesswoman who decided to return to Afghanistan to help her country grow, and to invest both personally and professionally.
Initially she began supporting Afghan women through Women for Afghan Women, a New York-based NGO. But she soon returned to Afghanistan to help bring more Afghan women directly into the economic mainstream.
In particular, she set up Insight Consulting to assist international companies seeking to enter Afghanistan. And I know she has some very interesting lessons learned to share with us.
MS. SULTAN: Thanks for having me, and for the dedication of everyone around this table to supporting Afghan women and everyone over there. I just think of you as people with big hearts and a lot of courage. So thank you very much.
Just to tell you a little bit about how I got here, I actually was born in Afghanistan, came to the U.S. at the age of five, was raised here, went back in 2001; decided I wanted to support Afghans and Afghan women in political and economic development; was very involved in supporting Afghan women entrepreneurs. With the help of the State Department, we brought over various groups to the United States -- through the Business Council of Peace -- and we're working with and mentoring and helping these women.
But I, myself, was not an entrepreneur, so I didn't really understand the challenges they face, let alone in Afghanistan. So after a year of stepping back and thinking about going back to school, thinking about what I really want to do, I said, okay, I need to do what they're doing so that I can better help them. I don't know how they do what they do.
So I actually got on a plane, went to Afghanistan and hung up my shingles and said, I'm in business. And the thing that I think of the most was helping international companies enter the market in Afghanistan, being part of the growth, the engine of growth, which is the private sector.
We were lucky enough to land one of the largest -- at the time, the largest private sector investor in the country, which was a UA-based telecommunications company, which invested $2 million to $3 million. And we were able to help them enter the market, doing everything from initial setup, registration, recruitment, set up of their operations, et cetera.
But it's been an interesting road because just these little unique things that I go through -- for example, when I go to meeting oftentimes, to go meet with Afghans I have to take a maharam or a male relative to my meetings. Now, I don't have a male relative in Kabul, I'm from Kandahar, and so I have to hire someone to go with me to these meetings and pretend he's my relative. So then in the evenings, if it's late, I have to make sure I have a car waiting. So it's sort of the inefficiencies -- to getting home, those kinds of things.
The other thing I realized is like any small business, I had to go to court to claim some of my payments. And when I went in, one of the witnesses I took was my cleaner, Carlette (phonetic). She's like my most trusted person in the house. And so I took her with me and the court rejected her as my witness. They said, you need two women for every male. So I had to go and find a male to accompany me.
Those are just -- it's an example of some of the difficulties in the formal legal system that we still have to get over. It's a bit of a disadvantage. However, I think there are advantages, as well, to being a woman entrepreneur in Afghanistan. There's the element of surprise. When I walk into a room full of men, they sort of want to know what I'm up to. And they all think I'm the secretary to someone. So I've gotten many job offers. (Laughter.) I've even gotten calls saying, I'll offer you a thousand dollars more than whoever is paying you right now. You can speak English and type on the computer, and it's really helpful. And then I tell them, actually, I'm in business; if you want to partner up or something, that's great.
And speaking of partnering up, in part because I'm an Afghan-American woman, they know that the international community is really interested in supporting Afghan women. This is something that has gotten through very clear to people all around Afghanistan, both in NGO government and in the private sector. And I think this is a testament to what you all are doing. So Afghans know that the international community wants to support Afghan women; therefore, they approach people like me and say, hey, I want to do a poultry farm, or I have a telecommunications department, and I'd like to see if you can connect us with international markets; I'd like to see if you can connect us with donors.
And I think that's been a real advantage for us on the ground. And it's given me an opportunity to work on things as diverse as -- from telecom to poultry farms to agricultural projects. So I think that's been an incredibly powerful technique. And I would encourage more of that, in fact, if there's some way that it can be systematized to encourage people to work with Afghan women when they're doing private sector initiatives.
The other thing I wanted to point out is that because there's been so much support of myself and other Afghan women, we've been lucky enough to contract with USAID on various projects -- agriculture-related projects. We've also done -- managed elections for the Chamber of Commerce across 20 provinces. That kind of support is really, really helpful on the ground. That message is getting through. And I think I would just encourage you to do more of the same.
UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Thank you so much, really, and thank you for sharing your experiences.
One of the areas that's been very important to us has been business and education. And next we have John Rogers of Goldman Sachs to talk a bit about your 10,000 Women program at the American University in Afghanistan, in Kabul.
MR. ROGERS: Thank you, Paula. And, Mrs. Bush, very nice to see you again, and to be here also with the members of this council.
I think as we've already heard today through different testimony, both public and private stakeholders, investing in women as business leaders and engines of economic growth delivers exponential returns. And we know this from our own research, and I know this from the testimonies, obviously, that we've heard today. It's not only a fundamental pillar of development, it's also just smart economics.
And that's really why, in March of this past year, Goldman Sachs launched a program which we call 10,000 Women. And it's a program in which we intend to invest in 10,000 deserving women around the world through a series of very unique partnerships -- over 35 partners -- academic institutions, both in the United States and in the developing world, to provide entrepreneur business and management education.
And one of our programs that we're here to talk about today is between the Thunderbird School of Management -- Kellie very well knows -- and the American University in Afghanistan, and which it's our intent to provide this education to 460 women over the course of the next few years.
Our first graduating class of 15 women was just completed. We've also begun our second class. But we have someone with us today -- Ludmila Hasanzada is here, on our right. And she's going to tell us about the program, but most importantly, she's going to tell about her ambitions as an entrepreneur in what she hopes to accomplish.
So, Ludmila, I'll turn it over to you.
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MRS. BUSH: Thank you all very much. A special thanks to the Minister for Women from Afghanistan. To our Ambassadors, William Wood and Ambassador Jawad, thank you very, very much. To everyone who's joined us, I want to give my very best wishes to all of the women entrepreneurs that are in Afghanistan and that are also around this table. Thank you for that.
And I also -- now this will be the time that we really move the Afghan-American Women's Council to Georgetown University. So thank you again, President DeGioia, for that. And, Phyllis Magrab, we're looking very forward to working with you now.
I want to urge everyone at this table and in Afghanistan to stay contacted with each other, to continue the networking that we're doing with each other, to let the people on the American side know what the challenges are that the women on the Afghan side are facing so we can work together to face those challenges.
Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)
END 9:58 A.M. EST