By Brianna Bailey The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City.
Female entrepreneurs from Afghanistan and Rwanda are in Oklahoma City this month as part of the Oklahoma City-based Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women's Peace Through Business Program.
Muzhgan Wafiq Alokozai started out running her own coffee shop in Kabul and now owns a consulting firm that helps Afghan women find jobs. The business has trained and helped employ 1,500 women in six Afghan cities.
The Peace Through Business program helped Alokozai with the skills to build her business, she said.
"I had a very small business. It was a coffee shop. ... When we didn't have enough income, I was feeling so disappointed, but the program inspired me and I learned that I can stop and I can do it again. I can try again."
Peace Through Business participant Rose Busingye, who owns a clothing store in Kigali City, Rwanda, first attended the program in 2010 and now is a mentor to other women entrepreneurs in the program.
"The lesson I really value is that I'm not just making money, it is also an opportunity to prove myself as a leader in the community," Busingye said.
"You are growing the economy of your country," she said.
The AT&T Foundation presented a $125,000 grant to the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women on Monday in support of the Peace Through Business program.
Since 2007, AT&T and the AT&T Foundation have granted more than $1 million to IEEW. AT&T employees also volunteer as mentors to women in the Peace Through Business program.
"The Peace Through Business program just embodies what we believe and our values at AT&T, including the empowerment of women in business," said Steve Hahn, president of AT&T Oklahoma.
Peace Through Business offers businesswomen from Rwanda and Afghanistan a 10-week course that focuses on creating business plans, accounting, marketing and overall operations.
Each year, women who demonstrate necessary leadership skills are given the opportunity to visit the United States for intensive training and mentoring in business for two weeks.
The Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women, started in 2006, is an Oklahoma City-based nonprofit with a mission to empower women to grow their businesses, pursue greater entrepreneurial ventures and become more active public policy advocates.
IEEW founder Terry Neese said she had no idea how the program would grow when she started it nine years ago. The Peace Through Business Program has created 12,000 jobs and about 80 percent of the women-owned businesses are still operating after nine years, she said.
"Being able to see women come and grow personally and also go back and hire more men and women to work for them is extremely rewarding," Neese said.