Everyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about supporting women owned businesses. My own business, Alicomm International, is certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the largest third-party certifier of businesses owned, controlled, and operated by women in the United States. So naturally, when Jennifer Copeland of AT&T ask me to participate in Peace Through Business®, a fantastic mentoring program created by the Institute for the Economic Empowerment of Women (IEEW) founded by the unstoppable and indomitable spirit of CEO and founder Dr. Terry Neese, I jumped at the chance. Thank you, Jennifer!
IEEW believes 1) economically stable communities are better able to sustain peace, and 2) successful small businesses are the key to economic stability. So, in support of a more peaceful world, this amazing program trains and mentors female business owners from Rwanda and Afghanistan, giving them strategies on how to improve and grow their companies.
The program provides ten-week business education programs to PTB participants in Afghanistan and Rwanda. The top 15 students from each country are then brought to Dallas for leadership training and development at AT&T University, with each woman spending several days with a mentor in her field of business. The third phase of the PTB program requires participants to “pay it forward” in their home country by mentoring others, speaking at women’s organizations and advocating for economic issues.
Part of PTB’s events in Dallas this year included a panel discussion exploring how we, as women entrepreneurs, define success, manage opportunities and balance professional and personal goals. I was honored to moderate and participate in the panel. The panelists and participants spoke of our shared challenges and vulnerabilities, like the fear of going out on your own in business when you have always worked for someone else. That first step really does feel enormous. That’s why it’s called a leap of faith—if you believe in yourself, and in your mission, you take the leap and trust you will make it to the other side. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t still have moments of uncertainty—moments when the voice of self-doubt in your ear can get pretty loud.
Several of the Rwandan PTB participants shadowed me for several days, to see how another woman-led small business operates. I was delighted to have entrepreneur Barbara Umohoza of Éclat Communications, Ltd. stay as a guest in my home. A special thanks to Karel Ford for her love and attention to every detail and need of the mentors and mentees!
As I met with my team, business partners, vendors, and clients, the Rwandan women asked questions, got ideas they can apply to their companies, and saw facets of running a business that are still new to them. I felt like I was witnessing lightening in a bottle as I facilitated the meetings with all of these amazing people….it was remarkable to watch the connections grow right in front of my eyes. As a proud entrepreneur, I felt privileged to mentor these amazing women, in hopes my experiences could be of help to them.
The Rwandan women touched my heart more than I expected. I am changed because of this experience and know I have sisters in Africa…forever. We share a special bond. My colleagues and I found our time with these remarkable ladies meaningful and awe-inspiring. Knowing what they have accomplished despite big challenges, we all have tremendous respect for their achievements. Their ingenuity and grit in the face of adversity and tragedy is inspiring and energizing. Like many successful entrepreneurs, the women in the Peace Through Business program took a leap of faith, not knowing if they would crash, land on their feet or take off and fly. It is thrilling to see these women take those difficult first steps, believe in themselves, and soar! And I am honored to be a part of their journey!