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American, Afghan Women Share Business Advice - 2003-04-15


U.S. women executives shared ideas and advice with a group of aspiring business women in Afghanistan Tuesday in a special, video-linked conference.

One Afghan woman in Kabul wanted to know how women can develop new businesses based on traditional handicrafts.

"I want to refer a question to you," she said. "How can you advise us to develop this business, women handicraft businesses. What can you advise us?"

Answering through a digital-video link connecting the women in Kabul, Washington and New York, an executive at the office supply chain, Office Depot, had plenty of advice. First and foremost, she said, an entrepreneur needs to identify her market.

A cross-section of enterprising women in Afghanistan spanning the textile, carpet and media industries had the chance both to ask questions and hear tips from American women about management skills, the Internet and business strategies in the session.

Fortune Magazine editor-at-large, Patricia Sellers, recently traveled to Afghanistan. She said that many women executives in the United States may not be experts in handicrafts or textiles. But they want to help Afghan women overcome the hardships endured under the oppressive Taleban regime and decades of war.

She stressed that "there are huge barriers and huge challenges, but the starting point is having this dialogue and letting them know that we are interested and letting them know that we can help them develop ideas and they can come to us and ask advice."

Ms. Sellers said fear, security concerns and an alarming high illiteracy rate pose the greatest obstacles for Afghan women in pursuing education and starting businesses. But many women in Afghanistan managed to create an underground network of services despite the difficulties of restrictive regimes.

"We look at Afghanistan and in some ways there is nothing there," said Jasmine Nahas di Florio, who works for a women's project of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, which invests hundreds of thousands of dollars in micro-lending to women through Afghan organizations. "It is just rubble. But there is this incredible vibrant backbone, this network of schools, hospitals and clinics that these women have built up over the years, and if these reconstruction efforts can tap into these networks, leaders on the ground will be a tremendous resource from the country."

Some Afghan women said if they could run projects under the Taleban, then nothing can stop them.

In addition to receiving advice from U.S. executives, Afghan women can also learn from the many women refugees and expatriates who are returning home, bringing confidence and skills to help rebuild their country.

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