Innovative Sustainable International Development: The Arzu Story
As a novice in the world of social justice, as well as, admittedly, the blogging world, I find myself turning to an age-old adage for guidance: learn by example. It seems to me that the best way to learn how to effect social change and inspire myself into action is by reading examples of success stories within this field. Therefore, as an introductory post (and perhaps also an attempt to motivate others looking for encouragement) I'd like to share with the World Pulse community the story of an organization that has inspired me: the story of Arzu, a model of influential social entrepreneurship.
Arzu, Inc. is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) that helps Afghan women develop sustainable income by sourcing and selling the rugs that the women weave. What initially attracted me to Arzu was its mission to bring the means necessary for social change to a group of disempowered women--a mission adopted by many NGOs and nonprofits. What I learned, however, is that when a social initiative is combined with socially conscious business practice the potential for progress and change is enormous.
Arzu's founder, Connie Duckworth, visited Afghanistan in 2003 with the US-Afghan Women's Council. After witnessing the situation of women in Afghanistan (the country with the world's second highest maternal mortality rate and where female illiteracy is 86%), Mrs. Duckworth set out to find a way to combat these injustices.
As a retired businesswoman, Duckworth used her entrepreneurial skills to formulate a project that would help these women generate the resources necessary for a better future. The result: a program that provides Afghan women with a sustainable income, empowering and enabling the women, their families, and their communities toward further social change.
Core to the realization of this vision is Arzu's idea that "money alone will not change people's lives", but that "they must also have access to the essential skills necessary to sustain change". Thus, in addition to receiving above-market wages for each rug, every Arzu weaver signs a social contract agreeing to send all of her children under age fifteen to school full-time and to have at least one woman from each household attend literacy classes.
To support the continued growth of Arzu's programs, the rugs the women weave are sold in competitive US markets. At the "break-even point", the sale of Arzu's rugs will be sufficient to pay for the cost of all of the organization's programs in Afghanistan. Thus, as more rugs are sold, Arzu is able to incorporate more women into their programs. These women can then develop a source of income, send their children to school, access health care, and cultivate a sense of self-confidence that will allow them to sustain the changes that they have made within their own lives and within their communities.
Through a culturally sensitive, economically empowering and socially conscious market endeavor, Arzu has managed to help instill hope as well as effective change in the lives of Afghan women and their families. In addition, because of Arzu's connection to US markets, it provides an opportunity for those of us who "want-to-help-but-do-not-know-how" to act on our global social consciousness and use our purchasing power for the betterment of those in need.
The most unique thing about Arzu, to me, is the ability of this project to integrate sustainable community development work while simultaneously raising social consciousness of a global issue. Arzu has managed to merge the high-end design world with the nonprofit world, two seemingly incompatible spheres. It is innovative groups like Arzu that cause the sedentary link between ideas and action to become the reality of social impact.
If you're interested in buying an Arzu rug to support this incredible organization and the women and families it supports check out the beautiful, hand-made rug collection at http://arzurugs.org/. Even if you're not in the market for a rug, it's worth visiting the site simply for a better understanding of the situation of Afghan women and how their needs are being addressed.
Inform yourself, inform others, take action.
Looking forward to hearing more success stories.