Sa?d Business School: US Marines Call on Social Entrepreneur in Afghanistan

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When Connie Duckworth received a call from the office of Commanding General of the Marines First Expeditionary Force operating in Afghanistan, she was surprised to say the least. Ms Duckworth is a social entrepreneur working in poor rural communities in Afghanistan well beyond the theatre of war. The Marines, however, had heard about her approach to developing sustainable economic growth within these communities and wanted to learn more.

Ms Duckworth’s social venture ARZU has been working with local communities in rural Afghanistan to help them develop a sustainable source of income since 2004. Originally focused purely on working with female Afghan weavers to develop and sell the rugs they produce, ARZU has expanded its activities to develop a range of innovative start-ups which provide apprenticeship and training opportunities for local women for a range of products.

’We are open to almost any sort of social entrepreneurship so long as it is highly practical and has potential to be genuinely sustainable for the longer term’ says Ms Duckworth. ’We look for low-tech products and solutions to local problems. We realised quickly that anything that is dependent on a large diesel generator for power would be a very short-lived solution as the diesel is simply not affordable for these communities. One of our successful new innovations is producing fuel briquettes from recycled paper. Heating homes and public buildings such as schools is a problem through the winter in this cold climate so we worked to identify a new energy source in the absence of readily available wood and with soaring oil costs. After learning about briquette making from another NGO Afghans4Tomorrow, we launched our own pilot to train about a dozen women, who produced almost 75,000 briquettes. After this successful trial, we are looking forward to hiring an additional 30 women and producing 350,000-400,000 briquettes over the summer season ready for winter. The local governor intends to use them to heat government offices through the winter. This creates a regular income for the women producers and addresses a local problem in an appropriate way.’

In tandem with this commercial activity ARZU enters into an innovative social contract with its workers to provide education and care to their families. ’Money alone will not change people’s lives – they must also have access to the essential skills and education necessary to thrive in a changing world’ says Ms Duckworth. ’Central to ARZU’s approach is our Social Contract with weaver families. ARZU agrees to pay women the market-weaving rate, plus up to a 50% incentive bonus for the highest quality workmanship. In exchange for this extra income, families must agree: to send all children, both girls and boys, under age 15 to school full-time; to allow all women in the household to attend ARZU literacy classes; and to permit ARZU to transport pregnant women and newborns to clinics for pre- and post-natal care.’

Source: The Financial (link opens in a new window)