Frontlines Online Edition
Afghanistan/Pakistan
December/January 2011

Fashioning Female Entrepreneurs

With business grant from USAID, silk start-up is empowering Afghanistan's most destitute

Nooria and Nazeera are two of many Afghan female breadwinners in the Kabul area.

Nooria, a widow, is the mother of six children and the main financial support for her family. Nineteen-year-old Nazeera is the oldest of 10 children in her household. (Their last names are withheld for security reasons.) When her father lost his job in a car repair shop, Nazeera became the sole source of income for her large family.

Nooria and Nazeera work for Arzoe Zane Afghan (AZANA) or "hope of Afghan women," a local Kabul company specializing in making silk scarves and shawls that has been subsidized by USAID's ASMED project. Shaima Breshna is the company's founder and president. Her vision for AZANA is to reinvigorate the silk industry and empower Aghanistan's most destitute to live a life of dignity and self-sufficiency.

"AZANA seeks to help poor women interested in handicraft work, enabling them to work from or near their homes," said Sakhi Karimi, a supervisor at the company. "In 2006, we started with seven workers, and now we have 19 (16 women) who are trained here to make quality scarves."

Nooria has worked for AZANA for four years. For her, the company has lived up to its founder's vision.

Although she has not attended school, 19-year-old Nazeera hopes to become a company designer after working with AZANA.
Although she has not attended school, 19-year-old Nazeera hopes to become a company designer after working with AZANA.
ANTHONY REED

"It's very good working here, I feel empowered. Economically, I can do much more for my children," she said. "When my husband died, I depended more on my oldest son to help provide for my family. Now, I take care of my five youngest children without assistance from my oldest son, as he now has his own family to provide for.

"I am independent, and sometimes able to provide for my oldest child as well."

With previous work as an embroiderer, coupled with her new trade, Nazeera has developed a keen eye for fashion in the six months she has been with AZANA.

"I am happy working here," said Nazeera. "Now I make more money with greater opportunities to improve my future."

As it began expanding, AZANA took advantage of USAID's Global Development Alliances (GDA)—a way to leverage Agency and private sector funding. USAID invested $110,000 to help AZANA purchase new equipment, display company products at major international trade shows, and increase hiring.

USAID's ASMED project has awarded 49 GDAs in support of the small and medium private sector enterprises, contributing more than $12 million to projects totaling more than $95 million. It has also supported 378 associations (87 women-owned) and created 125 associations (27 women-owned).

Nooria is one of many Afghan widows whose life dramatically improved thanks to the USAID ASMED project.
Nooria is one of many Afghan widows whose life dramatically improved thanks to the USAID ASMED project.
ANTHONY REED

GDA partners are expected to bring significant new resources, expertise, technology, and networks to help develop the private sector in Afghanistan. Partners include domestically owned private businesses and multinational corporations, NGOs, foundations, business and trade associations, universities, donor agencies, philanthropic leaders, venture capitalists, and think tanks.

GDA partners also gain from alliances with Afghan businesses. Not only is there access to new markets, but effective alliances marry common interests, mobilize resources for development assistance programs, and promote program effectiveness.

Ultimately, GDAs address the problems of poverty, disease, inadequate education, depletion of natural resources, and limited economic opportunities throughout Afghanistan.

 

That means women like Nazeera, whose father never allowed her to go to school, now have high hopes for their future careers.

"Eventually I would like to do some of my own designs," she said. "After I gain more experience, I think I would be allowed to be creative here."

Last updated: December 11, 2014