After the Taliban closed girls’ schools in the 1990s, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL). Despite the risk to Dr. Yacoobi’s life, AIL supported 80 underground home schools for 3,000 Afghan girls. Today, as it continues to empower women and communities to find ways to bring education and health services to girls, women and other disenfranchised people, AIL serves 350,000 women and children throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On March 12, at the annual Enterprising Women Conference that Helen Han and I attended in Boca Raton, Fla., Peace Through Business founder and former NAWBO President Terry Neese, and Enterprising Woman publisher Monica Smiley, inducted Dr. Yacoobi into the inaugural Enterprising Women’s Hall of Fame for her efforts.
Dr. Yacoobi is but one example of women around the world who are persevering through daunting challenges to educate their communities, build their countries and bring hope of a better future for their people.
At multiple events representing NAWBO the week of March 7, I learned about the efforts of individual women who are creating new lives for themselves under the most difficult of circumstances, the organizations helping them in their pursuit of education and the tools that are enabling their drive to succeed. Education is one key tool; entrepreneurship is another.
At a reception Mrs. Obama hosted at the White House on March 8 for the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (click here for Mrs. Obama’s remarks), an 11-year-old African girl spoke about the doors that were opening for her and her family—all because she has been able to attend school for two years now. According to UNICEF, women account for roughly 70 percent of people living in extreme poverty worldwide, and two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women. But each year of education can increase a girls’ income by 10 to 20 percent.
The next day I was among more than 1,100 participants at the CARE Conference in Washington, DC. CARE is a humanitarian organization fighting global poverty that places special focus on working with poor women.
Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, pointed out during her conference keynote: “When you invest in women and girls, you invest in their families, their communities, and in whole societies.”
Later, former First Lady Laura Bush pointed out that “women are at the forefront of life-changing progress.” (To listen to her full keynote, click here. It’s worth the 13 minutes.)
The message we heard over and over was that more than ever, the world community is beginning to understand that when women are denied the chance to contribute to economic, political and social life, the entire society pays a price. On the other hand, investing in the education and empowerment of girls and women has a ripple effect of positive change, both socially and economically. Statistics from CARE show that “an educated girl will stay healthy, save money, build a business, empower her community, lift her country.”
Dr. Helene D. Gayle, President and CEO of CARE, said: “In the coming years, as we witness entire families and communities pulling themselves out of poverty, they’ll be standing on the shoulders of these incredible women.”
National Women’s History Month celebrates the extraordinary achievements of American women. Let’s ensure that one of those achievements is American women, particularly businesswomen, uniting with our sisters in developing or war-torn countries and helping them use education and entrepreneurship to open the door to opportunities that break the cycle of poverty for their children and future generations. These women, one at a time, are shaping a positive future for their families, their villages, and their countries. When we help them, we too are a part of creating a more peaceful global future. Now wouldn’t that be an extraordinary achievement?