February 29, 2024

You’re the Boss: Helping Small Businesses That Really Know About Ups and Downs

Soline Mukamana, left, owns a landscaping business in Rwanda.br /Courtesy of The Business Council for Peace Soline Mukamana, left, who owns a landscaping business in Rwanda, with Erica Shaffer, manager of Highland Gardens in Camp Hill, Pa.

She Owns It

This month, a group of Rwandan female entrepreneurs traveled to the United States to learn from their American counterparts. The women, survivors of the 1994 genocide, were graduates of a three-year program created by the Business Council for Peace, a nonprofit network of professionals who provide pro bono business services to entrepreneurs in countries with conflicts  — Rwanda and Afghanistan, so far, and El Salvador soon. The organization, known as BPeace, was built on the beliefs that more jobs mean less violence and that entrepreneurs are best positioned to create employment opportunities.

Toni Maloney is one of five women who founded the group in 2002. Ms. Maloney, who has cut back her work as a strategic marketing consultant to serve as the organization’s chief executive, said BPeace seeks to “put more wind at the backs” of women — and a few men — who are already running promising businesses. BPeace, whose members offer their professional services in the United States and in the conflict-affected countries, recognized the business case for investing in women and initially focused on female entrepreneurs in Rwanda and Afghanistan.

Based in New York, BPeace opened an office in Afghanistan in 2004, and began training 80 Afghan businesswomen chosen by the Afghan Ministry of Commerce. A year later, it expanded into Rwanda, where the focus on women worked especially well. Rwandan women, many widowed during the genocide, were rebuilding the country after the conflict, assuming business and political roles previously held by men.

As the Rwandans got started, the Afghan businesses opened their doors. They included a for-profit cooperative store (it sells traditional Afghan garments and jewelry) and a women’s fitness center. Given the program’s success, the United States Department of State, which has partially financed BPeace’s Afghanistan program since 2004, asked BPeace to consider admitting male Afghan entrepreneurs. Ms. Maloney said she would ask the Afghan women what they thought of the idea. They were all in favor of it, Ms. Maloney said, because they said it would encourage peace. In 2009, BPeace admitted its first male entrepreneurs, all of whom must show they were committed to the economic empowerment of women.

Now BPeace has entered El Salvador and is fielding its first group of Salvadoran entrepreneurs. Some 20 years after its civil war, El Salvador was chosen because it had one of the world’s highest homicide rates. Men, who own the vast majority of businesses in the Central American country, will be included in the program. As in Afghanistan, they will have to demonstrate a commitment to women, for example, by hiring them or working with female distributors.

In New York, I had the chance to meet with the Rwandan entrepreneurs Languida Nyirababeruka, Soline Mukamana, and Symphrose Mukamazimpaka when they visited earlier this month during the tour that paired them with American businesses in their industries. The women own, respectively, a funeral home, a landscaping business and a hotel. In my next post I’ll share some of the lessons they learned while they were here.

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=08c129cf4ffe88841a5bf21028262f0a

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