In the heart of war-torn Afghanistan, a woman named Mursal focuses her energy on the task directly in front of her. She works from home—a space that is not only safer, but also more practical for the female head of a household—and spends much of her day, like most days in the year, stretching, drying, and cutting synthetic leather into panels before hand-stitching the pieces together.
The finished product is a club-quality soccer ball, silk-screened with a dove pattern in the colors of the Afghan flag; the phrase “Made by Afghan women” rests proudly across its face.
It doesn’t seem like much, but this soccer ball has become a powerful symbol for Afghan women, and a way out of illiteracy, poverty, and violence.
In 2006, Bpeace (Business Council for Peace), a nonprofit network of business professionals who volunteer their skills to budding entrepreneurs (like Mursal) in conflict zones, hosted a business plan competition to recruit Afghan women for its three-year Fast Runner business development program. In a grand coincidence, two soccer ball manufacturers, Taj and Aziza, applied with the same goal: to employ and expand the economic power of Afghan women. Bpeace combined the two promising ideas and the social enterprise DOSTI was born.
The Bpeace initaitive Soccer Balls Kick-Start Afghan Peace and Prosperitywas named a finalist in the Gamechangers: Change The Game For Women in Sportcompetition.
With guidance from Bpeace and partial financial support from Beyond the 11th Foundation, today DOSTI employs more than 500 Afghans. The organization has also successfully tapped into the U.S. sporting goods market.
Women like Mursal labor for more than a few kicks. Her earnings allow her to purchase oil and fuel to warm her home during Afghanistan’s cold winters. Other women, mostly widows, use the money to provide for their families, get an education, and open bank accounts to save for the future.
“Afghanistan has over two million widows; in Kabul alone, there are 50,000,” said Susan Retik-Ger, co-founder of Beyond the 11th Foundation. “They have lives of incredible deprivation and even depression. [The projects they engage in are] important because there are so few opportunities for them to share and break out of their isolation.”
Stitching one or two balls each day allows an Afghan woman to earn enough income to support a family of six for a year. In fact, a woman who stitches for DOSTI earns, on average, more than the average Afghan government worker.
Empowering women is Bpeace’s main mission. They hope to create one million jobs across 1,000 communities throughout Afghanistan, Rwanda, and El Salvador, because more jobs mean less violence.
“Fast Runner entrepreneurs are driven to create these jobs because they share a vision with us—that creating jobs is the best way to create peace,” said Toni Maloney, Bpeace CEO.
Creating economic opportunity and generating employment is indeed the best way to create peace, though unlike a soccer ball, it takes more than a day to rebuild a peaceful country. As Nick Kristof,New York Times columnist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, astutely points out “the record suggests that schools and economic initiatives do tend over time to chip away at fundamentalism — and they’re also cheap.”
Just how cheap? Less than the cost of keeping a single American soldier in Afghanistan for eight months—the minimum military enlistment is about twice as long.
Bpeace’s initiatives aren’t a cure-all, but their individual successes are meaningful steps in the right direction. Training disadvantaged women with applicable, broad-reaching skills, helps get them on a fastback to personal and professional success, and helps to facilitate community development.
“Through corporate partnerships, we can support entrepreneurs and help them create new jobs that spark a multiplier effect, sustaining families and boosting local purchasing power,” said Maloney. “[This] in turn lifts other businesses, creates even more employment and new markets and accelerates the community up the path to prosperity and peace.”
Photo via BpeaceHQ