the pink campus vision

A great article came out this week on CNN, “Lift up women to lift up the World.”  In their article, Melanne Verveer and Penny Abeywardena cite new quantitative research on how women’s economic empowerment can spike the economy of not just households but nations. They also talk about the “large and disappointing disconnect between research and reality.”

This week I participated in a very interesting crossfire debate for Practical Action’s Enterprise Development and Microfinance Journal’s upcoming gender issue. In the debate, I also pointed out that women’s empowerment is the master key to development. Technically speaking, gender equality and women’s empowerment (Millennium Development Goal #3) is a development multiplier—empowering women not only benefits children but society as a whole. That being said, there’s no arguing that we are running into major barriers to progress.

I see women’s programming at the cutting edge of mainstream development, exposing its inadequacies. We need a ‘pink campus’ vision where we foster learning and experimentation around new and better ways of supporting women in the global south, more scalable platforms for women’s collaboration, and technology and processes that help women work smarter, not harder. I am confident that as we refine and resource a more effective approach to women’s programming, the results will speak for themselves. As women are enabled to address their health and free themselves from oppressive situations, they will raise healthier young men and women. The donors will see the systemic change and just maybe, we will be starting to work ourselves into a vision of development less dependent on the conventional notion of aid.

What does gender mainstreaming mean, anyway?

The term “gender mainstreaming” is universally recognized but generally misunderstood. We owe the term to the Third World Conference on Women in 1985. Gender mainstreaming defines a development approach that is responsive to both men and women in communities, and has gender equality as a conscious development objective. Unfortunately, in practice, gender mainstreaming has become synonymous with women’s programming. This has led to a trend of missing the deeper goal: fostering a higher quality of partnership between men and women in the development of their own households, communities, and nations. Ideally, both women’s programming, men’s programming and combined programming would always be in service of gender mainstreaming in addition to other development objectives.

Women’s programming and gender mainstreaming are currently mainly the purview of women development practitioners. On one hand, women supporting women is critically important. In my opinion, I don’t believe we have enough development organizations focused on women’s programming, and certainly not enough women implementing women’s programs! I’d especially love to see greater investment in building up local women development practitioners. Can you imagine how fast and furious women’s development would move if more local women had the leadership, energy and vision of Vandana Shiva?  On the other hand, more male gender specialists at the table might just help integrate gender mainstreaming into development business-as-usual. It would also be a lot more fun—it does, after all, take two to tango. We can’t really get this show going until both the men and the women show up.

On that note, I’ve been reading Riane Eisler’s The Partnership Way, which discusses practical ways that men and women can work more effectively in organizations and communities on the foundations of gender equality. Check out Eisler’s Center for Partnership Studies for more information.


A Burning Bowl Ceremony for Afghanistan

The wind blustered at the top of the Safi Landmark Hotel on the last day of my recent trip to Afghanistan, as I searched for a view of the city below. The roof, completely open when I had first stepped onto it in February 2007, was now flanked by metal walls. The symbolism was not lost on me. Then, I saw it: one narrow opening revealing mountains and sky. I took out the brass bowl, candle, matchbox and handwritten letter in my purse. I clumsily tried to light the candle, which only sputtered and died out. The matchbox fell out of my cold hands, matches scattering everywhere. A curious hotel employee came over to help—“if you want to burn something, ma’am, we have a big fire in the kitchen.” I declined and kept at it, finally burning the letter. Ashes and flames swirled wildly, as I took a long look at Kabul. The ceremony was a letting go ritual to honor and clear out past experience and make room for new possibilities. It was a blessing from the heart in the winds of change and powerful uncertainty.

In planes, automobiles, hotel lobbies, restaurants and offices, the talk was all the same: what will happen to Afghanistan with the upcoming security transition?  Concern, and sadness. Collective recognition that the government isn’t strong enough on its own to withstand oppositional forces. Some Afghans worried about jobs and commodity prices; others worried about business and educational opportunities. Many worried about corrosion or reversal of the advances made in women’s security, health and inclusion in the economy and in public life.

The current assignment that had brought me to Afghanistan was deeply meaningful and relevant: collecting the life histories of women of different regions, ethnicities, ages and walks of life to understand what conditions, events and decisions had pushed them to develop greater agency and autonomy. Some had moved from carpet-weaving in Iran to owning convenience stores in Mazar-e-Sharif.  Others were producing embroidery and tailoring in secret, afraid of family censure for going to market.  Many had raised children alone with reluctant in-laws or family members while husbands went missing. Some husbands came back broken, others never came back, some were confirmed dead.

As I listened deeply to their stories, I felt a tremendous rapport and solidarity with their suffering and their courage. There was a quality of being together we shared that transcended the typical researcher-respondent relationship. I thought of Marianne Williamson’s beautiful words: “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” An important slogan to remember as I begin to work on a staff training program to guide urban women development workers in more sensitive and effective ways of working with rural women project clients.

I have come away reflecting that whatever happens in Afghanistan, we can stay listening. We are keepers of a development process. We are advocates for human rights. We can continue to encourage individuals, families and communities to maintain strength and persist in identifying the solutions that will enable them to cope with uncertain times.

Collectivization and Market Development

Building on my previous post, I’d like to offer six broad points on producer collectivization that I have learned from a range of implementation efforts and evaluations over the past six years. These mainly relate to the assumptions that inform project design. Although you can correct course at any time, it’s such an advantage to have a good design out of the gate.

  1. Go With the (Right) Flow. Wherever possible, work with existing groups. Take a close look at the integrity of group leaders, ask the important questions, and determine if change is necessary and possible or if the facilitation of an alternate group would better help a critical mass of producers and project clients organize into a group with healthy dynamics. Make sure you take the project to producers that are committed to the cause, see the benefit, and are willing to devote the time and energy. This will require some coaching but it’s necessary to work with those who believe.
  2. Develop Institutions With Clear Ownership and Management Models. Formally registering a group of marginalized and low-literate producers upon group formation often makes little sense. But development agencies have a responsibility to help groups no matter what their starting capacity develop a clear vision of their identity, mission and vision. Experience demonstrates that volunteer institutions set up by development projects are rarely durable.  There is also a tendency to over-emphasize community representativeness in management structures when more commercial models that take into account the profit motive and other business incentives are likely to perform better in the long run. Even where a formal model is in place, the private sector may be reluctant to do business and financial institutions may be unwilling to lend. Development agencies can be important advocates and brokers.
  3. Free Stuff Will Not Result in Quick Wins. Gifting large assets or grants to groups closely after they have been formed—or identified in the community without an evaluation of leadership integrity and dynamics—is a recipe for corruption and strife. Groups need time to form and test their leadership and develop norms and accountability mechanisms. It takes a great deal of trust and developing a track record together to move individual group members in the direction of working in unity.  There’s a role for subsidies and asset transfer, but this should never be done without a clear management model, business plan, and exit strategy. Institutions, however informal, need a business plan focused on becoming revenue generating and independently commercially sustainable (though some reliance on donor funding can be written into the plan). Determining who owns what and facilitating linkages to sources of credit are important dimensions of every exit strategy.
  4. Get Clear on Agency and Group Roles and Responsibilities. Both development agencies and associations need a clear advocacy platform for overcoming industry barriers and understanding of their role in civil society. I argue that in many cases, it’s not the role of the development agency to take on the voice of the marginalized—to advocate in place of them. Development agencies can be effective pro-poor industry growth advocates and technical experts to the producer association and to other stakeholders. But only when they are clear on their own advocacy platform and are committed to a facilitation, rather than service provision, approach. Development agencies will have their work cut out to ensure that all the various interventions they plan reinforce and reward group business behavior.
  5. Developmental Stages. As parents we learn about setting expectations that are developmentally appropriate. This is useful guidance for facilitating group development. There’s good research and writing on group stages available. I would add from my experience that it’s critical for agencies to focus as much on building the membership as the leadership. Basic literacy and numeracy is one key dimension of institutionalizing record-keeping and building up systems of transparency and accountability. It’s important to let trust be tested, and create processes for members and leaders alike to dialogue about what has happened and design solutions. Finally, it’s important for associations to deliver benefits to members from the first day, alongside the long-term work of membership and leadership building. Development agencies can play an important technical support role in this area, but it’s essential that members perceive the value-add as coming from the association itself.
  6. Participation, Yes. Parallel Institutions, No. A lot of great agencies that care about community participation and voice get lost in the trees…that is, an endless chain of paper and meetings and workshops. Participatory processes are critical to ensure that the right clients show up, and to generate community and stakeholder support for a project. Participatory processes can also strengthen understanding of commercial principles and market systems at the grassroots level.  Most market development projects struggle to effectively train staff in these principles, not to mention clients and stakeholders. It is a constant challenge to disseminate these principles in ways that are concrete, practical and accessible to those with less formal education and/or literacy. That being said, too many processes and institutions steal away the precious time, resources and focus of everyone involved.  It’s best to pick a vehicle and stick with it. Grow one institution and use it as a platform for what you hope to achieve in the duration of a development project.

Women as Rule-Breakers and Culture-Makers

As a project designer, I’ve been trained to identify women outliers and create interventions that build on the unusual ways they are participating in the economy.  ‘Outliers’ is a nicer way of saying ‘outsiders’—those who are detached enough from the community (often as a result of difficult life situations) and so pressed financially that they are willing to do something different in order to capitalize on a market opportunity.  These women give development projects the opportunity to innovate and facilitate the development of new business models and new market systems. Sometimes, we miss the question of what we give these women back. Considering this question involves taking a closer look at the rules women are socialized to live by, and what happens to them when they break them.

If there is one thing I’m observing with increasing clarity, it’s that control over women, at family and social levels, is written into cultures everywhere. As shorthand, I’ll call this “the rules”. There are many but here is an illustrative shortlist:

  • Women don’t take dominant roles over men (i.e. must not exercise direct forms of authority, power and influence)
  • Women don’t consider their own needs first, but rather must prioritize others’ needs
  • Women should put up with abuse and foibles of men, particularly from within their families
  • Women don’t define their own identities
  • Women don’t express angry feelings or act out their emotions
  • Women don’t exercise control over their own bodies

‘The rules’ function at both the community and family level. Rules at the family level often take the form of stereotyped roles women are expected to play out. While there are some common themes, often the rules are family-specific.

So what happens when a woman breaks the rules?  Anything that just came to your mind is probably true in some cases. Likely criticism, abuse and harassment. Possibly loss of family, and official or unofficial exclusion from groups or communities. Sometimes worse. Whatever might happen, it is guaranteed that a woman taking on a new business model that increases her profile and agency will experience some backlash from her family, friends and/or community.  One person challenging the rules calls them into question for everyone, whether this is consciously considered and discussed or not.

Development workers—expatriate and local—are ‘culture-makers’. Many of us are not conscious of this role we play in the communities we serve, and all of us could be better prepared for it. There’s a lot of talk about respect for cultural diversity, often by people who have a poor understanding of the norms and values of the various cultures they might be referring to, not to mention all cultures on earth. I’ve been uncomfortable with this terminology, and I’m becoming clearer about why.  All cultures have oppressive dimensions, norms of behavior that do not serve the interests and needs of all its constituents.  For women, some long-entrenched cultural norms are not life serving and certainly do not prepare women for roles as leaders and change-makers.  I’ve come up with a new term—how about “cultural critical analysis within a container of respect for individuals”.  We don’t need to have some kind of all-inclusive respect for conceptual constructs of ideology or history, we need respect for communities and people and the journey that they—and we—are on. When we implement projects that challenge prevailing norms we are doing the work of making new culture, culture with new opportunity and less limitation.

As development workers, we may not be breaking the rules ourselves, but when we encourage women into greater mobility, autonomy, leadership, influence and choice we are certainly encouraging them to break some rules. We have a responsibility to help keep women safe while they take on the risk of being culture-makers. We also have a responsibility to offer them some supports—from technical tools to ongoing coaching.  Advancing innovative models like these is staff-intensive. Projects need well-trained, conscious and sufficient staff to coach women in their pioneering roles and take development impact objectives to scale.

Beyond Brand Equity: A Lesson From East is East

“The main theme of the Mayor’s inaugural speech when he was re-elected was that in order for Vancouver to realize its potential the local government has to work together with creative entrepreneurs to make our neighborhoods more vibrant by creating venues that showcase the arts and Vancouver’s multicultural mosaic. Well, it’s time to hold these politicians responsible for their rhetoric.” –Mustafa Reza

Two social entrepreneurs I admire very much taught me an important lesson this quarter about brand equity and integrity—as well as the art of getting out of the way and letting the voices of the people that love your business drive your marketing and even fight your battles!  It’s far too important a tale for me to miss the opportunity to share more widely, and a powerful reminder that moral authority (and a well-executed media strategy) can carry the day.

Today is the grand opening of Mustafa and Rezavia Reza’s new restaurant, Chai Gallery, at 4453 Main Street (they also own the East is East restaurants and Chai in Kitsilano). It’s a magical space, consciously created to celebrate the natural world, universalist spirituality, cultural diversity and art. It’s in the great tradition of Gaudi and Hundertwasser, architects and artists who deeply resonated with the spirituality of nature and the ethic of unity in diversity. It would have looked and felt a lot different if the Rezas would have caved to the City of Vancouver’s imperative that the restaurant mirror the steel modernist building in which it is housed. The Planning Department in particular insisted that Chai have a conventional storefront and plastic neon sign, akin to fellow tenants McDonald’s and the BC Liquor Store.  No City design guidelines backed the Department’s decision.

The Rezas not only thought closely about their brand, but asked their staff, customers and local community to articulate what Chai and East is East means to them. Most businesses forget that their brand is simply trust—a trust that lives in the mind of their customers, and ultimately belongs to their customers. The response was overwhelming, with over 9,000 people signing a petition of support, and hundreds submitting letters to both Chai and the City. I had the pleasure of reading through many of the letters. I saw the words authentic, natural, creative appear over and over again. It was unanimous: customers felt that the exterior façade and building materials were necessary to the restaurant’s identity and brand image.

There are a lot of people in this great city that care–about sustainability, diversity and local business.  The façade of the new restaurant galvanized significant debate on the City’s bold commitments in these areas – a debate that our Mayor Gregor Robertson (who himself co-founded the sustainable enterprise Happy Planet) heard and supported.

It takes a lot of nerve, and some audacity, to take on a long fight when every day that passes carries overhead expenses without revenue. Yet the Rezas were always clear on the bigger loss that loomed in front of them if they went plastic—their vision diluted, creativity pruned, agency as entrepreneurs harnessed, current customers disillusioned, and future expansion and growth potential altered forever. It was never really an option. For those well-equipped to fight, it’s a greater challenge to play the role of facilitator.  The Rezas stepped up to address the City, marshall the media, obtain expert advice and manage the complexities of the build-out under an uncertain approvals process. But they let the voice of their community lead the debate.

A final word on the benefits of the community-led brand battle. The Rezas’ three restaurants have already seen a spike in business and there’s widespread excitement about today’s opening. A great day for a celebration with many more great days and nights at Chai and East is East to look forward to.

Collectivization and Market Development, Part 1

I’ve never yet designed or implemented a development project that doesn’t involve the organization of project clients into groups. It’s convention. Development agencies spend a lot of time and effort mobilizing producers into groups, delivering a planned training program and creating a culture of regular meetings. Then along comes a project evaluator (like me) and reports that groups have not reached the kind of maturity promised in the project proposal and results framework, that groups are just not cohesive enough to continue working together after the project closes. This, sadly, has also become convention.  I’ve come to believe that implementers, donors, evaluators and researchers alike have become exhausted with the issue. We wonder why the whole world can’t be like India.

You can run, but you can’t hide. I’m here today to say that collectivization is the key to pro-poor market development.  In a lot of cases, the private sector is ready and supportive: organized communities reduce risk and often strengthen the case for investment.  Producers—often marginalized in society—need a continuing source of support on the ground to manage the many barriers and risks in their industry as well as advocate for fair wages, conditions and policy and legal supports. Producers benefit from gaining greater influence and ownership over the means of their production, and from reducing transaction costs and achieving economies of scale. They also benefit from sharing and analysing their own experience and advancing their own voice. Through the process of coming together they learn the lessons of leadership and learn from each other. There is no substitute for this process.

Yet help from development agencies is critical.  Agencies can—through resources, projects, and social enterprises—offer much-needed technical assistance. The best recognize that collectivization does not happen in a one, two, or even four-year timeframe. There is only so much a project can accomplish, innovate and pilot in a short duration project, regardless of the size of the project budget.  It is better to implement a smaller number of interventions, and really implement them well. The agency can then find ways of creating continuity between projects to build on gains made.

There are a zillion resources available on the practicalities of group and association formation. Once we all remember why we’re doing this again, and renew our energy and commitment, there’s much to learn on how to apply what works, and to fine-tune the models of management and leadership available to us.  I want to credit two giants in this area, Dr. Kerry Jane Wilson for her tenacity in doing association-development among marginalized women in Afghanistan, and Dr. Linda Jones for her ability to sprinkle collaborative energy like stardust wherever she goes. I owe so much of my thinking in this area to these brilliant, brave and committed women.

Unpacking the Suitcase: PTSD in the Post-Conflict Workplace

I got a suitcase, I take it everywhere I go
People I got a suitcase, I take it everywhere I go
It’s a big old bag of trouble, trouble’s all I know

There’s a great Keb Mo song called Suitcase. It’s about the baggage we bring to our relationships, but it’s also a good metaphor for what we bring to our workplaces. Although in a place like Afghanistan or other conflict/post-conflict zone, bringing a shipping container full of emotions, unprocessed experiences, beliefs and values is more like it. A lot has been written about cross-cultural communication, but I’d like to say a few words about emotion and trauma.

Most of us have a poor understanding of how emotions work. I somehow got through five years in Afghanistan without ever consciously addressing this issue. However, as a parent of two toddlers, I had to reach out for resources so I could understand why my kids were hitting, unable to listen, and challenged with some kinds of learning. A few basic principles emerged from my research (which I largely credit to Patty Wipfler) that have entirely changed my perspective. The basic notion is that people (no matter what age) thrive, work and learn best in the context of relationships characterized by safety, acceptance and connection. When people begin to heal from their emotional hurts (often by expressing tears of futility for what they have experienced), their minds become freer for learning and their hearts open to cooperation.  This sounds pretty basic, but northern management ideology is simply not set up to understand this. The One Minute Manager just isn’t going to cut it in a conflict/post conflict society.

In Afghanistan, ethnic, gender and domestic violence has left almost everyone feeling unsafe, rejected and disconnected. People fall, often unconsciously, into victim and abuser behavior patterns. Culturally, Afghans tend to deal with their turbulent experiences by silence and stoicism, and repression of their feelings. This often manifests as contempt for the expression of feelings in general.  If this weren’t dire enough, add to this situation the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Research has shown that women are twice as likely to develop PTSD as men. However, after violent conflict, almost everyone is left with PTSD to some extent.

We often think of PTSD as frightening flashbacks or nightmares—and those are key symptoms. More subtle and pervasive symptoms are emotional numbness, feelings of disconnection from other people, difficulty cooperating, memory disturbance, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal and loss of interest in normal activities, feelings of hopelessness and lack of future, irritability, paranoia, and depression (for more information, visit the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Association). Sounds heavy. It is. Just reading what I’ve written reminds me why I avoided the issue for so long. But it certainly explains a lot of the office politics, staff behavior, and so-called ‘competency’ issues I witnessed as a manager of various teams in Afghanistan. It also offers a partial explanation for why local staff can lack deep engagement in interventions designed to assist the marginalized and suffering. They haven’t been able to connect with their own suffering!

So what to do? PTSD requires specialized treatment—sadly, often not available in reconstruction efforts. Expatriate and local managers aren’t therapists, nor should they put themselves in that role. But I’ve come to believe that there is something we can and should do about all of this. All the treatment programs for PTSD I’ve seen revolve around one concept: compassion. As managers, we don’t need any special training to develop basic compassion for people that have gone through trauma–this modeling allows them to develop compassion for themselves. However, in order to awaken our compassion, we need to become conscious of our own feelings, and the values and beliefs we bring in our briefcase to work every day.

I’m stunned that none of the projects I’ve worked on—including those with massive budgets—have provided staff with training or resources on PTSD, stress management programs, bullying awareness, or access to counseling. I believe that development and reconstruction projects can and should adapt their overall expectations—from workplans and organograms to training and meeting procedures–to better meet the needs of staff and project clients with PTSD. This would be greatly facilitated by donor awareness and support.

I’ve searched for information in this area, and have yet to come up with easy-to-use resources. Noreen Tehrani is one specialist who has written about PTSD in the workplace, and additional research will likely uncover more. I plan to focus on this issue and offer more resources, so stay tuned. In the meantime, practice management by walking around and awaken your understanding and compassion.

Imagining Afghanistan: A Word on the Mortenson Mess

Many books have been written about Afghanistan since 9/11. The country has captured the northern imagination. To me, therein lies the rub—most books are more imagination than reality. The first book I read on Afghanistan (in February 2004) was the newly published sensation, the Kite Runner. I read Khaled Hossieni’s book to the first Afghan I met as a way of working on English vocabulary. To me, the contents of the book were shocking.  To him, the portrayal was through rose-tinted glasses compared to what he had experienced.

Gregg Mortenson, the American author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, has become the media face—and perhaps also the scapegoat—for bad writing on Afghanistan. I’ve never met Mortenson, but his focus on education for girls in Afghanistan and his organization, the Central Asia Institute have long caught my attention. A year ago, a 60 Minutes report suggested Mortenson fabricated parts of Three Cups of Tea and took benefits for himself from the Institute. Pakistani tribesmen, purported to have kidnapped him in his book, are suing Mortenson for misrepresentation. Jon Krakauer, originally a supporter, became incensed enough to investigate and write an e-book called Three Cups of Deceit —in his words, “the first eight chapters of Three Cups of Tea are an intricately wrought work of fiction presented as fact.” The publisher, Viking, has promised but not yet carried out a review of the veracity of the book. This past week came news that Mortenson must pay US$1 million for misusing the Institute to fund and promote his books in the order of US$5 million.  I haven’t read Mortenson’s books nor Krakauer’s but all three are now on my reading list.

Mortenson’s mess—and megalomania—is a lesson to every expatriate working in Afghanistan or other challenging context. There’s a little Rudyard Kipling in us all just waiting to construct ourselves as heroes. It doesn’t help that northerners have an appetite for the heroic and are quite ready and willing to help us paint these stories about ourselves.

The other side of this is how we construct Afghans. One of the favorite pastimes of expatriates in Kabul is venting frustration with local staff capacity, which often spirals into bad anthropology. I’ve done it myself. Naturally, working to understand Afghan culture is key to helping Afghans design and develop the institutions that will rebuild their country. But jumping to conclusions about corruption and competence doesn’t help. Nor does an inflated admiration for the ‘noble savage’. And making gross generalizations about the intertwined yet distinctive dimensions of culture, religion, and behavior patterns and trauma of 30 years of conflict is the most dangerous of all. Frustrated with all of this, I put reading the bestsellers on Afghanistan on hold for awhile. I’m now ready to reengage with what has become quite a long reading list—starting with Sarah Chayes, Rory Stewart and Åsne Seierstad.

There are voices I trust. An all-around resource for a variety of topics is the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit. My favorite authors on gender in Afghanistan are Sippi Azarbaijani-Moghaddam and Deniz Kandiyoti. For historical information and analysis, see Nancy Hatch Dupree and Ahmed Rashid.

A final word on the Three Cups of Tea fiasco. Mortenson has defended his work, admitting to only “some omissions and compressions”. Many still support Mortenson, suggesting that the ends justify the means. I disagree. No matter what humanitarian work Mortenson has done, selling fiction as fact is totally irresponsible and does Afghanistan a disservice. Afghans and northerners alike have come to distrust many development institutions, for good reason. Those of us working in Afghanistan need to regularly check own motives, get the rest and help we need to deal with our fear, disappointment and exhaustion, reach out for credible information, and be careful of how we communicate about those we are trying to serve. We also need to generate more press on credible and committed development organizations who are making a difference. I hope this blog can help contribute to that mission.

New Publication in Oxfam’s Gender and Development Journal

Oxfam has just released its March 2012 edition of Gender and Development Journal on Business and Enterprise. I’m very pleased to finally enjoy in print an article that I worked on with two of the most inspiring women I know, Dr. Kerry Jane Wilson, Director of Zardozi and Floortje Klijn of Oxfam. Both women have entrusted me with challenging and exciting assignments over the past five years that have enriched my understanding of women in poverty and market development solutions to assist them.

The article is entitled The Markets for Afghan Artisans approach to women’s economic empowerment. The article describes Zardozi’s Markets for Afghan Artisans (MFAA) programme (supported by Oxfam Novib), which has developed an effective approach to facilitating market access for very poor women in the informal, handcrafted garment industry, successfully addressing the multiple barriers faced by women, and developing full business cycle support, customised to their specific needs.

The programme encourages women to create and manage their own production systems, position themselves as commercial suppliers, and follow-through with high-calibre production and delivery.  Zardozi is also supporting women entrepreneurs to develop their own handcraft support association, Anjuman e Sanayee Disti e Khanumha (ASK), which will eventually take ownership of the programme.