Category Archives: Featured Stories

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Zardozi explores new regions with latest programme in Kapisa

Late last year, in November 2016, Zardozi started its programme in a new province, Kapisa, in addition to its existing regions of operation in Afghanistan. Initiated in associating with Women for Women International (WFWI), the programme has helped bring Zardozi’s expertise in women’s financial empowerment to nearly 65 clients currently under WWI in Kapisa. Apart from this, Zardozi also undertook the training and support of 256 WWI clients in Jalalabad, as per the agree MoU between the two organisations.

“We have many shared goals with WFWI and this collaboration has allowed us to expand our services to new regions in Afghanistan,” explained Hasina Aimaq. “We are excited to help implement our programme with the women in Kapisa and help female clients through our ongoing support and trainings in the region,” she added.

While Zardozi doesn’t yet have a regional office in Kapisa, as it does with other provinces they operate out of, this new alliance has allowed them to set up the first community business centre, also called Manbeh, in the WFWI office in Kapisa. After concluding the initial trainings, a vocational trainer and market facilitator visit the Manbeh once every week to help the clients, especially with establishing market links—a service that Zardozi has developed considerable experience in.

“Our biggest challenge was reaching out to potential businesswomen in the region without offering cash incentive,” Aimaq shared. Several organisations working in Afghanistan often employ the use of cash or gift incentive to encourage women to participate in their programmes. Zardozi has found such methods to be unsustainable, with far lesser impact in the long run. “Instead we counselled the women on the long-term benefits of our programmes and encourage them to be part of our Manbehs,” she added.

“We offered several services including support to help link women to the markets to sell their products. We also offered to help organise an exhibition to showcase their products to a larger audience,” shared Aimaq. The exhibition attracted several clients and is scheduled to be held ahead of the month of Ramazan this year.

As a result, Zardozi was able to convince several local clients that showed a strong interest towards developing their business skills and expanding their market base. “Nearly 40 of the 50 clients who had rejected the idea of participating in Zardozi programme are now deeply involved with the exhibition. So much so, we had to start another Manbeh to facilitate their needs,” Aimaq added.

 

 

 


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How a simple sewing machine empowered Seema Gul

For 45-year-old Seema Gul, from Nangarhar province, life was one big gruelling journey. As the sole support of her family of 10, she was constantly looking for work and barely made a living with meagre earnings.  “I was really tired with my life; and was unable to find a single job opportunity that could help me feed my children,” she recalls.

Seema was introduced to Zardozi three years ago when a team from the organisation visited her village. At first she skeptical of what Zardozi case workers had to say; it didn’t seem worth the effort. “But I didn’t have anything else to do, so I decided to give this a chance,” she says, adding that it was perhaps the best decision she made in her life.

“I not only grew more interested in tailoring but also developed a knack for business,” she adds with pride. I starting working with families in my neighbourhood, taking small orders for dress making.

Seema received trainings for business and marketing, building her entrepreneurial acumen. She became a regular face at the local Manbeh (business centres) working hard and long hours. Her family has been very supportive of her.

In fact, her brother-in-law who has a shopping the city often gets her new orders and business.

Today, Seema is ”Master” having gain expertise in cutting and sewing. She also runs a successful small business. “But what makes me really happy is that I am able to bring up my children with a better life than I could have ever dreamed of. My oldest daughter is class 12 and will graduate soon,” she adds with pride. “My family, and especially my daughters, would not have known this kind of life if it weren’t for Zardozi,” she adds.

 

 

 

 

 


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Introducing Zardozi’s New Executive Director – Homa Usmany

Zardozi is pleased to welcome Homa Usmany as our new Executive Director. Usmany brings with her tremendous experience of working with governmental and international projects and organisations in Afghanistan.

Usmany holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Law and Public Administration from the prestigious American University of Afghanistan (AUAF). Apart from this, she also has a PMP certification, and Diploma in Business Administration from Afghan Canadian Community Center (ACCC). Usmany’s business education is further bolstered with her practical experience of running her own tailoring and handicraft business called Hareer.

“I enjoy working with and for women in rural communities. Having been one of them, I understand their challenges very well,” said Usmany who hails from Kandahar province and worked her way through hardships to becoming a successful social entrepreneur.

Her commitment towards women’s economic and social empowerment is evident in the many initiatives she has undertaken including the establishment of the Afghan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AWCCI), first ever of its kind in the country. “I believe that through hard work and self confidence no challenge is too big to overcome,” she said, encouraging more women to believe in themselves.

Usmany considers being part of AWCCI, formerly known as Leading Entrepreneurs for Afghanistan’s Development (LEAD), as her greatest achievement. “If I can contribute in bringing even one woman out of dependency, I will be able to sleep well, and it is with this hope that I come to Zardozi,” she added.

 


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Nisfe Jahan Store – a new retail shop by Zardozi women in Mazar-e-Sharif

Located in the heart of busy and bustling market, in the ancient city of Mazar-i-Sharif, is little shop called Nisfe Jahan, which in Dari, literally means ‘half of the world’. Their name is a token of positive symbolism towards the women, whose needs the shop caters to, as well as its bold female proprietors who’ve undertaken this entrepreneurial venture, in a largely conservative and patriarchal society such as Afghanistan.

 

“We’re twelve of us who built this shop, and the adjoining workshop,” shares Alima, 34, who has been member of Zardozi for over a year. “Initially, each of us worked separately and found it extremely difficult to meet the market needs on our own,” she explains, adding that they frequently discussed their issues of being shorthanded at the business meeting conduced by Nisfe Jahan, the namesake association set by Zardozi to help it’s client get community support and other business services.

 

It was at one such meeting at Nisfe Jahan office in Mazar that women came up with the idea of collaborating with each other on their orders. “We discussed it and realised it would be very efficient and productive for us to pool our resources and skills together. Not only would we be able to produce in larger quantities, but we would also be able to benefit from each other’s expertise,” Alima shared. “Added to this, having our own shop will give us our own platform to sell our goods directly in the market,” she added.

 

And so, after four months of planning and coordinating, the women were able to set up their own business venture and named it Nisfe Jahan, after the association. With the help of a start-up loan from Zardozi, the women rented spaces for two shops adjacent to each other, in a popular market in the heart of the city. One of the shops was converted to a workshop, while other serves as showroom for clothes produced by the women.

“This place is for the women, and by the women. It gives our female customers a sense of safety,” explains Salima, chairperson of the Nisfe Jahan association and one of the proprietors of the shop. “Besides, I feel very happy and inspired to work in an environment with female colleagues,” she added.

 

Only a month since its inauguration in March, 2017, the shop is already carving a niche for itself in the Mazar markets. Raziya, a new but already a regular customer of the shop, is extremely excited about what the shop has to offer. “I always found it difficult to shop for new and trendy clothes that fit my size. But the tailors at Nisfe Jahan have been able to create beautiful clothes that are custom made for me by women tailors I can feel comfortable around,” she shared, adding that the clothes were always up to the latest trends and styles.

Indeed, the women owners of the shop often share and discuss ideas and new styles to keep improving their work. “Some of us are good at technology, and bring new design ideas they’ve seen on the internet,” added Alima.

The shop owners not only aim to empower Afghan women in businesses, they have a larger goals of strengthening the local economy. “We want to replace the foreign-made, imported clothes in the market with those produced locally by Afghan women,” explained Salima, while keeping her expectations real, “It’s sad we still have to purchase fabric from Pakistan or China, but hopefully, we will be able to promote the local economy led by Afghan women,” she added.

 

 


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Aziza takes her fashion business further with bead-working

For eighteen-year-old Aziza, dressing up was always a matter of joy. However, as a daughter of a school teacher, in a family of twelve, financial resources were always limited. But even in adversity she fashioned herself the best she could, sometimes stitching her own clothes the way she wanted. “Even as a child, I dreamed of being a successful fashion designer,” Aziza shares.

When Zardozi started a manbeh (business centre) in her village neighbourhood, Azizi was only 16 years old. The minimum age bar to enrol into a Zardoziprogramme is 18 years, but Aziza was determined to get herself in. And so she urged the Zardozi members to allow her to be part of the team. “This was my opportunity to realise my dreams. I had to be a part of Zardozi,” she explains.

Impressed by her intent and resolve, Aziza was enrolled into the tailoring and business management programme on the condition that she was continue her formal education alongside her skill training.

In less than two years, Aziza, who is currently in the 11th grade, has now established a small workshop in her neighbourhood that employs 10 other women, mostly producing school uniforms and some other garments. All the women who work for her are much older than she is, and yet she continues to remain their source of inspiration and their teacher. “Perhaps my biggest compliment comes from the women who work for me; to watch them grow into confident and financially independent women,” shares the young prodigy, exhibiting a wisdom far beyond her age.

But what Aziza dreamed of was to be more than just a tailor. She wanted to be a designer; create outfits that were eye-catching and beautiful. “When I learned about bead-working, I realised this could be my opportunity to expand into creating beautifully designed outfits,” she shares.

With the help of Zardozi, Aziza purchased a secondhand machine for bead-working and trained her workers in the task as well. In their workshop, they enhanced brightly coloured fabrics with intricate designs made out of glitter beads in many spectacular patterns.

At first, she only received a few orders from neighbourhood families to design bridal clothes for weddings and parties. And even with lesser work, Aziza did make more money in bead-working than she did with her regular orders. “This one time, I enhanced the borders and sleeves of a suit I made for a client with bead designs and immediately after I got a substantial order from women asking me to do the same for their clothes,” she recalls happily.

But most of all, it gave her the creative freedom to beautify garments and explore fashion ideas that she’s had for a long time. “I want to build on this; expand this business and make it my career,” shares Aziza, who also hopes to start her own line of fashion clothes someday. She even has a name picked out. “I will call it ‘Banoowan’ which, in Dari, means for women, as it will not only cater to women customers, but will also only employ women workers,” she explains with pride.


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How the Nisfe Jahan business meetings are strengthening

With the help of Zardozi, and a strong entrepreneurial drive, 38-year-old Najma was able to set up her own garments shop in Kabul a few months ago. She employs 15 women as homeworkers and has already developed a dedicated clientele. However, she isn’t very satisfied with the rate of success, and a little concerned about the future of her little business.

“I borrowed a loan of $1,200 from my cousin to help pay the shop’s rent for the first six months,” she shares with her fellow Zardozi members, over a cup of chai, at the NisfeJahan office in Kabul. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to make enough to sustain the shop after,” she adds with a hint of worry in her voice.Other members patiently listen to Najma’s issues, pausing her only to ask relevant questions and give their suggestions. This is a common sight at Zardozi’s community business meetings that are being held with increased frequency atNisfeJahan offices.

The women usually come up with the agendas and frequency of the meeting, and members chose to attend those meetings that are relevant to them. However, more often than not, these meetings see a packed room of eager and enterprising women. “These meetings have been extremely useful for our clients in helping them address some of their issues,” says Zardozi’s Marketing ManagerNahidSharifi. “Women at these meetings often help each other, share their own experiences, and seek advise from within the community,” she explains.

Indeed, the other women at this meeting were quick to respond to Najma’s concerns with ideas to help increase her sales. “Why don’t you try new designs for different seasons,” suggests 47-year-old Dordana, one of Zardozi’s oldest clients. She explains how her son helped her look up newer designs on the internet that were hugely popular among her clients.Another client advises Najma to consider managing the shop herself, as opposed to hiring a shopkeeper to do so.“You are the best person to sell your own products. Besides, it will also help you save costs,” she reasons.This idea would require Najma to move her home-based workshop into the shop, but she considers it with all seriousness.

“You are the best person to sell your own products. Besides, it will also help you save costs,” she reasons.


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Beyond Entrepreneurship: Creating Opportunities for Afghan Women

By Dr Kerry Jane Wilson

In Afghanistan today there is a significant emphasis on women’s economic empowerment (WEE) with a plethora of projects aiming to integrate women into markets. With some notable exceptions such as the PROMOTE project, many WEE projects seem to lack clarity regarding the target recipients.

On the one hand, there is an emphasis on entrepreneurial women without any clear idea as to what is an entrepreneurial woman in the Afghanistan context. If entrepreneurial women are those who have the ambition to be business women, then it would seem to eliminate the majority of poor and uneducated Afghan women who, although they are looking to increase family income, lack any kind of ambition or aspiration to be business women. Zardozi research indicates that most poor women do not understand the concept of personal ambition, nor do they understand the concept of success, in fact they tend to confuse ‘successful’ with ‘lucky’.

The reality is that currently many of the generation of middle aged women are uneducated, have very little experience of the world outside the four walls of their home, and are living in grinding poverty which undermines their ability to educate their children, address family health issues all which contributes to family tensions and women’s vulnerability within the family.

If WEE is a solution which improves both household income and women’s role and status in the household and the community then it is necessary to find strategies which include a larger percentage of ‘ordinary’ women than what is covered by the category of ‘entrepreneurial’.

Zardozi has found that around 20% of the urban female population living in poverty are sufficiently bold and dynamic or sufficiently desperate to be ready to challenge social and gender norms to leave the home and start a micro business. This percentage of course, varies widely depending on ethnicity, family circumstances and local culture. The majority of these women however are not entrepreneurial; Zardozi has found that they are almost always eager to exchange business for the relative security of a wage-earning position if offered the chance.

If focussing on entrepreneurial women dramatically narrows the field of target women, some projects assume that all women can make a success of a micro business. Projects which form groups of women around issues such as healthcare, or rights and then subsequently introduce business training are assuming that at least the majority of women are sufficiently bold and motivated to make a success of a micro business which Zardozi has found is manifestly not the case.

A second issue with regard to WEE in Afghanistan is the underestimation of both the extent and the type of support needed to enable a woman to successfully identify a market opportunity and then to maintain a place in the market long term. Zardozi has found that the major stumbling block to successful market engagement for poor women is the lack of market opportunities suitable for women.

In Afghanistan women have traditionally had a limited role in the market and what role they have had has been largely invisible. It is therefore hard for women wanting to earn an income to identify opportunities for themselves as there are no obvious business models to select from. In other parts of central and south Asia women are openly engaging in a multitude of small businesses e.g. selling snacks, producing for the tourist market and working in informal production workshops to name but a few.

The lack of market prospects for women in Afghanistan means that  opportunities for women have to be actually developed by agencies trying to expand women’s market engagement. In addition, once women have been facilitated to find a market opportunity they need on-going long term support to address the various problems which, under different circumstances they could overcome by talking to other women in the same sector.

Unfortunately the type of agencies currently involved in development in Afghanistan lack the expertise needed to understand markets. They also lack the experience and long term engagement needed to create market opportunities.

An additional weakness in current projects is the tendency to offer a single product to project women, for example, poultry rearing, tailoring etc. It is Zardozi’s experience that women need to have the option of selecting what suits their individual circumstances from a variety of business options. Since family objections constitute another of the biggest obstacles to women’s market engagement, enabling them to start in a sector which minimises the challenge to cultural norms greatly increases the percentage of women able to participate in a WEE project.

Once a market opportunity has been identified, the keys to success are: confidence building, long-term handholding and access to adequate credit. Confidence building should focus on overcoming women’s social conditioning and the fear leaving the house, combined with strengthening belief in their own capacity for independent action. The most cost-effective interventions to build self confidence involve encouraging women to interact with successful women from similar backgrounds to their own. In addition, almost any kind of training that brings women together and allows them to reflect on their own circumstances and to learn from others in similar circumstances, is effective in boosting self confidence. Training that provides information on business skills is in general, the most useful but even training courses in rights, gender, health etc can bring women to a better understanding of their value as individuals and thus promotes self-confidence.

As mentioned previously, in countries where the market already includes many opportunities for women, newcomers to micro business are better able to select a product or sector that suits their own circumstances. In general also they can more easily find a support system that enables them both to get started and to address issues as their business develops. In the absence of this kind of support, because Afghanistan has so few existing female role models, WEE projects need to substitute a form of long-term handholding. If this is not done then the majority of ‘ordinary’ women have greatly increased risk of failure leaving only those women with better education, unusual levels of confidence and strong family support. The handholding can be primarily provided by the women themselves with some support and encouragement from business experts.

Another common misunderstanding in many WEE projects is to think that creating gendered space in which women can operate equates with integration into the market. This has led to the creation of women’s markets where in general, there is little foot traffic and weak sales. The reason being that markets in Afghanistan are very product specific with the result that consumers select a market on the basis of the kind of product they are seeking to purchase. In addition Afghan consumers expect to compare prices and quality between a large number of shops selling similar items before making a purchase. As a result putting women who are selling a variety of goods and services all in the same location attracts few customers.

Isolating women in gendered space has the additional drawback of preventing women from understanding current trends and prices with devastating results for sales. Zardozi can find no evidence that women prefer a women’s market as a shopping destination. 

In conclusion, whilst WEE naturally does include support to women who are innately entrepreneurial, it primarily needs to support the much greater percentage of women who are not entrepreneurial but who nevertheless need an opportunity to improve household income. It also needs to extend its role in terms of creating opportunities and providing continued long-term support to all women starting up a business.


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Letter to the readers – The year that was, and things to look forward to

The year 2016 has truly been an eventful year for Zardozi, both in programme and personal terms. As the year closes, however, Zardozi appears to be on course for a challenging and dynamic future.

A major shock for all Zardozi staff and supporters was the kidnapping of Dr Kerry Jane Wilson from Jalalabad in April. Happily, Dr Kerry Jane was released some months later and is now with her family in Australia. But this event accelerated, in a very painful way, what had been a planned transition of leadership.

In programme terms, 2016 was spent working with Aga Khan Foundation as part of their Support to Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme (SWEEP), funded through the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). The results are in line with our expectations, providing a happy conclusion to Zardozi’s long-time direct funding relationship with DFID, which is adopting new funding modalities likely to lead to new funding opportunities in 2017. In late 2015, Zardozi submitted a funding application to the Canadian Government with a four-year programme entitled ‘Economic and Social Empowerment for Afghan Women (ESEAW)’.

This year, Canada announced its intention to provide up to CAD $5.98m, representing a sizeable proportion of programme costs. We look forward to a successful relationship with Canada over the next four years. The balance funding will be raised from other sources, and the Board has identified potential partners whose ambitions align with our own. The Board and the new Executive Director, once appointed, will pursue these opportunities vigorously, which will extend into Bamiyan and is already expanding into Kapisa as part of a one-year project with Women for Women International.

Since its inception, Zardozi has learned much about the nature of the informal economy in Afghanistan, especially in relation to the role of and opportunities for even the poorest women who’ve had limited or no education. In looking to the future, we want to explore ways in which our knowledge can be used to benefit even larger numbers of women. Zardozi is grateful for all the support provided by DFID, especially over this past year, and looks forward to establishing new relationships that enable us to deliver programmes providing sustainable income growth and empowerment for Afghan women.

Dominic d’Angelo

Chair, Board of Directors


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Help Afghan Women Artisans participate in the International Trade Fair in New York City

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Halima, 22, has a tailoring workshop since 2 years. She has 10 employees.

Halima, 22, has been operating a tailoring workshop since two years employing 10 women

Zardozi has launched an online crowdfunding campaign to help us send two of our extremely talented and hand-working women artisan to participate in an international trade exhibition in New York City.

The New York International Trade Fair, scheduled to be held twice in the next one year—in August 2016 and January/February 2017, and is an excellent platform for Zardozi local artisans. It is an opportunity for them to represent their art.

But most importantly, Zardozi needs to increase exports in order to give a stable income to the artisans.

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In the last couple of years, security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated forcing Zardozi to close its shop in Kabul. Products made by Afghan and Pakistani women artisans were sold through this shop and an income was generated to help these women. This income was a major source of paying utility and medical bills and school fee for their children.

Added to this, is the high costs of Zardozi products. We ensures that women artisans earn fair wages. Zardozi product pricing includes wages, raw material costs, salaries paid to the mobile staff and administration costs of the mobile teams visiting the women at their homes. This makes the Zardozi product expensive to sell in the local markets. It is important for Zardozi marketing team to keep bringing in orders throughout the year as Zardozi mostly runs through the sales of its products. However, even the sales income is not enough to cover market research costs.

Attending international gift fairs has become a very important tool to connect to new customers and understand the international market trends.

Here’s what you will be supporting:

We need to gather an amount $12,230. The break up is as below,

  • Product Development and Training for 100 female artisans – $1,000
  • Marketing Material – $200
  • Boarding, travelling and lodging for 2$5790
  • Booth fee – Upto $5,240 per exhibition

Why should you contribute
By buying contributing to our campaign, you will be supporting the whole project to survive with dignity.

It will give the Zardozi women a chance at understanding the dynamics of the international markets, as well as build important business networks that could be key to helping Zardozi grow.

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Additionally, we will reward every contributor with a token of our appreciation. Donation of $20, $50, $100, $200, $600 and $5,000, will entitle you to Zardozi gift hand-made by our talented women artisans.

To support us, please visit our crowdfunding campaign page to donate.

We greatly appreciate your contributions.


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Najma takes her little beauty shop to the big city

Najma, a young and enterprising beautician from Yulmarab village, had started a small beauty shop based out of her house. She catered to her small, but dedicated clientele from around her neighbourhood and made enough to help support her family.

But Najma aspired for much more; she had bigger dreams for her beauty business. In 2015, she approached Zardozi to help her improve her skills. She attended Zardozi’s advance beauty training and not only learned new beauty arts, but also gained a better understanding of how to manage a business.

Armed with better knowledge, expertise and her dream, Najma took a risk and moved her shop into the big city. She partnered with another beautician, and together they opened their urban outlet on February 20, 2016 and named it ‘Chehra Ara’.

Najma worked really hard on marketing for her new shop. She printed promotion flyers and distributed them across the city, finding the right kind of target consumers. All of her efforts paid off; within a few weeks, Najma and her business partner already have a steady stream of new and happy clients.


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