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October 16, 2003
Give Peace a Chance: Support Women in Business
    by William Baue

The Business Council for Peace helps women create sustainable businesses by providing the technology for them to train in computer and entrepreneurial skills.

Who will bring peace to regions torn by conflict and its aftermath, such as Rwanda and Afghanistan? Diplomats and politicians, whose ranks are dominated by men? Perhaps. The Business Council for Peace (BCP) places its faith in women. The council, which was formed at the Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders in Geneva in October 2002, seeks to cultivate the largely untapped resource of women’s wisdom in creating peace. Toward that end, the 35-woman council helps women build businesses to sustain their families.

“It’s hard to talk about peace if your family is hungry and you can’t earn a living,” said Toni Maloney, a member of the BCP governing board and president of The Maloney Group, a strategic marketing consultancy. “Our mission is to help women start sustainable businesses, to place them in a better position to foster peace initiatives.”

Ms. Maloney also heads the council’s Afghanistan Task Force, a project promoting business literacy through technology.

“Afghanistan is a particularly difficult case, not only because it is a post-conflict environment and is still not an entirely peaceful country, but also because, under Taliban rule, women weren’t allowed work or go to school,” Ms. Maloney told “Our goal is to help the fast runners run--that is, help the women in Afghanistan who are more predisposed to start businesses learn skills that will accelerate their efforts, because those are the most likely women to employ other women.”

BCP partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), which founded the Afghan Women’s Business Center in Kabul.

“They approached us and said, ‘We’re putting together this center, because it is critically important for women to have their own secure space for training,’” said Anne Glauber, chairperson of BCP and a senior vice president at Ruder Finn, a public relations firm. “Technology is a critical skill for women, because it will raise them to another level of opportunity for jobs not only in Kabul, but also in the world markets as well.”

BCP facilitated and orchestrated the efforts to provide the technology through its network of contacts. Rhode Island-based Green-Tech Assets, a company that works with Fortune 500 companies in taking their old and unused electronic equipment and giving them an environmentally responsible afterlife, donated 25 computers and printers. Microsoft (ticker: MSFT) donated the software, “which is not an insignificant expense,” according to Ms. Maloney. BCP raised the money to ship the computers and printers to the Kabul center, where 40 women are trained in computer skills daily.

“Of course, UNDP and UNIFEM took care of everything on the ground--they wired the facility and made sure the backup generator worked,” said Ms. Maloney. “The capability is there to get these computers online, but first these women need to learn the most basic things: how to turn on the computer, how to use a mouse, how to navigate software.”

“We’re spoiled in this country--computers have been institutionalized here for so long that they’re intuitive to us, but not so there,” she added.

BCP also partnered with Wilkes University, whose Small Business Development Center wrote the curriculum to train the women in how to start a business, manage a budget, and market the business. BCP videotaped the training program in both English and Dhari. Upon graduation from the program, each group of 40 women will export the business skills (as well as the videotape) into Kabul and the regional provinces to train other women throughout Afghanistan.

BCP plans to help these women access microfinance loans in the future, so social investors may be able to support and capitalize on these businesses. Other models exist for supporting businesswomen creating peace in regions of conflict while creating both social and financial returns.

“One of the Business Council members, Eziba, opened up a international market for products in Rwanda,” said Ms. Glauber. “Not only have significant revenues poured into Rwanda, but this company has also made a profit.”

“That effort can be replicated in Afghanistan as well,” Ms. Glauber concluded.


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