ARZU, which means “hope” in Dari, is an innovative social enterprise that aims to empower Afghan women and their families to break the cycle of poverty, earn a steady income and gain access to education and healthcare by sourcing and selling the rugs they weave. The founders correctly understand that all lasting change begins with economic empowerment, typically in the form of small and medium sized enterprises. ARZU is structured as a 501(c)(3) in the United states and is registered as an international NGO in Afghanistan. It operates as a for-profit corporation that uses private sector practices to create jobs in poor rural areas where otherwise little job opportunity exists.
Since its establishment in 2004, ARZU has trained and employed over 1,300 rural Afghans and created direct social benefits to over 4,000 beneficiaries. It also directly and indirectly impacted the lives of tens of thousands of other villagers in the country due to the ripple effect of broad-based community development programs. Up to date, 95% of the venture’s employees were women. In this context, ARZU particularly focuses on unleashing what they call the “Girl Effect”. They do this through mandatory school attendance and internship opportunities to broaden the skillsets of the girls beyond rug weaving.
According to the social enterprise, its primary aim is to rebuild the Afghan civil society through the development of economic opportunity. They aim to:
1) Empower Afghan women and girls
2) Develop local human capital through the delivery of benefits including training, education and healthcare
3) Pilot, evaluate, and document successful and replicable enterprise initiatives, such as vocational training and best-practice model facilities that can stimulate economic growth at the community level
The venture’s top-line goal is to become self-sufficient. Until then, it still requires funding from grants and private donors to fill the gaps. All fundraising is currently done in-house and 93% of the money raised goes directly back to the projects and beneficiaries.
Due to the expansion of rug distribution channels over the past year, and the introduction of a new, low-priced, high volume product called PEACE CORD, ARZU was able to increase its revenues (sales + funding) significantly and is now expected to become self-funding by the end of 2014.
To find out more about ARZU, their projects and their products, please visit their website >>