ARZU STUDIO HOPE- Empowering Afghan Women Through Innovative and Sustainable Job Training and Market Solutions

ARZU STUDIO HOPE- Empowering Afghan Women Through Innovative and Sustainable Job Training and Market Solutions

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

ARZU, which means “hope” in Dari, is an innovative model of social entrepreneurship that helps Afghan women and their families break the cycle of poverty by providing them with a steady income and benefits, including access to education and healthcare. Central to each ARZU project is the principle that all change begins with economic empowerment, typically in the form of small and medium size enterprise. ARZU has employed and trained over 1,300 rural Afghans 95% of who are women. ARZU implements its programs at the household level, producing immediate, visible change in the lives of women and their families, while seeding long-term transformation.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

ARZU has worked at the grassroots level for the past seven years in rural Bamyan and Faryab provinces as a registered Afghan NGO. ARZU believes in the power of Afghans, in particular women, to rebuild the private sector in Afghanistan and in the power of markets to improve lives. At inception in 2004, ARZU made the critical decision to employ an all-Afghan staff in support of our mission to expand local human capacity. From a starting point of a single employee, Hamid Hekmat, our Country Director who joined ARZU in 2004, ARZU’s local team has grown to 52 Afghans, who execute all in-country programs. Their positions include Country Director, Social Programs Director, regional managers, office and facility managers, teachers, education monitors, health monitors, carpet experts, graphers, drivers, cooks, and guards. ARZU’s Social Programs Director in Kabul has always been held by an Afghan-American to serve as the critical bridge between the two cultures. ARZU’s all-Afghan field team has become a trusted partner in the seven villages where we operate by developing strong local relationships, by effectively delivering promised results, and by meeting expectations through competent execution. The key to ARZU’s success is being embedded at the village level, which positions us to experiment with and implement new initiatives at will. Having the full cooperation of local stakeholders allows us to shift the focus from simple program execution to innovating, piloting and testing tactics in expeditionary economics.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

From starting point in 2004 of only thirty weavers, ARZU now provides employment for over 1,300 Afghans, direct social benefits to over 4,000 beneficiaries and impacts the lives of tens of thousands of other villagers due to the ripple effect of broad-based community development programs. For the past seven years, ARZU has successfully overcome the many challenges and unexpected obstacles encountered while working in a conflict zone by identifying, piloting and implementing innovative solutions. It is this unique ability to rapidly adjust to changing conditions through innovation that has made ARZU successful while other organizations, both large and small, falter. A key difference between ARZU and traditional NGO’s is ARZU’s focus on developing a reliable stream of earned income that will ultimately ensure sustainability for all programs. ARZU uses pilot programs as a low-cost and pragmatic direct form of market analysis to determine the feasibility of new micro-enterprises, to understand real costs and potential for profitability under real operating conditions, and to make important adjustments based on actual experience before committing to rolling out a business in scale. An important outcome of our pilot process for starting new enterprises is to understand the economic viability of each opportunity before committing to a long-term involvement. We have found this implemented approach to be highly effective as compared to theoretical studies utilized by other NGO's and Government agencies.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Rebuild Afghan civil society through the development of economic opportunity; • Develop local human capital through the delivery of benefits including training, healthcare and education; • Pilot, evaluate, and document effective and replicable enterprise protocols, including vocational training and best-practice model facilities that will stimulate economic growth at the community level; • And continue the empowerment of Afghan women and girls.
About You
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name


Organization Country

, IL, Cook County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, XX

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

In 2002 ARZU Founder Connie K. Duckworth was invited to join the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, a bi-partisan commission formed to insure Afghan women a voice in post-Taliban Afghanistan. In January 2003, Connie took her first trip to Kabul where she witnessed firsthand the daily hardships experienced by Afghans, especially women. Compelled to act, Connie drew on over 25 years of private sector business experience to create ARZU, a social business enterprise to create fair labor jobs for destitute rural women, to invest in a better future through education and healthcare, and to transform society through civil engagement based on sustainable economic and community development.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

The constant monitoring and evaluation of ARZU programs is a critical component to our success in operating in rural Afghanistan. From the start, ARZU has worked to build trusted relationships with all constituencies—the women and their families (including the male head of household), the village shuras, local provincial leaders, and other NGOs operating in the area. We take a culturally sensitive approach with a great deal of local input as we develop programs and then make adjustments based on feedback.

ARZU maintains a detailed database to track income, production, education and healthcare statistics for each of the families enrolled in our program. We follow our families’ progress closely, with annual household interviews to assess life changes, to understand how the additional income is spent and to identify the greatest needs for these families.

Our all-local staff makes this kind of communication and dialogue possible. Since Afghanistan is a gender-segregated society, with differing cultural and tribal customs depending on region and ethnic group, we select a Regional Director and teams of monitors (both men and women) from the provinces in which we work. Someone from ARZU is typically in the weaver homes on a weekly basis. It is this consistent and reliable presence in the lives of our families that forms the backbone of ARZU’s effectiveness.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

1,001- 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

1.Sustain and expand ARZU’s flagship weaving project that currently employs over 700 highly skilled rug weavers;
2.Establish a “best practices” prototype finishing facility and “learning laboratory” to develop new eco-friendly processes for the benefit of the greater commercial rug-making industry in Afghanistan;
3.Develop new alternative livelihood projects for non-weavers and expand those successfully piloted in 2010
4.Enhance and expand Peace Cord™ bracelet production
5.Partner with Hagar International to adapt and launch their innovative social enterprise model to Afghanistan
6.Expand and improve workers health and educational benefits, with an emphasis on advanced literacy and maternal health services.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

As is true of all non-profits, the most pressing problem facing ARZU is a continuous and sustainable stream of funding to support existing projects and implement new ones. ARZU's most significant innovation is our economic model, which Ramin Asgard,U.S. State Department, called “a new model for post-conflict reconstruction.” ARZU brings together culturally sensitive development activities and best practices of sophisticated consumer marketing, building an organization that operates like a competitive “for-profit” business, but that distributes its cash flow entirely “for-benefit”. The difference between ARZU and a typical for-profit company is that profits are returned not to the owners or shareholders, but instead are invested in benefits for the Afghan women weavers, their families and their communities.

ARZU is a direct result of Connie’s passionate belief in the power of women and her experience in highly successful best-of-class competitive business environments. In ARZU, Connie has created a company whose core principles implement her philosophy “that the road to equality in every field springs from the practical reality of economic independence.” ARZU is a test case for a program that relies ultimately not on public support or private charity, but one that is built on solid business principles of value and markets and that can be self-funding in perpetuity.

Improving lives requires an investment to scale innovations to a tipping point of change. ARZU makes well-considered investments in operations based on a return on investment. By creating a self-funding structure that is based on the principles of a successful for-profit business that will be supported by sales revenues, ARZU is able to provide the most cost-effective for-benefit results.

Tell us about your partnerships

One of ARZU’s particular strengths is recognizing the importance of collaboration and partnerships to leverage expertise and execute programs efficiently in order to meet local needs effectively. When another organization (public, private, or military) has a proven model for effectively meeting an identified need, ARZU actively reaches out to bring their model to ARZU communities. ARZU uses our extensive knowledge of Afghanistan and operating experience on the ground to facilitate the successful implementation of that model.

Explain your selections

ARZU's top-line goal is to create a self-funding model to sustain its projects. Until this happens, funding from private donors and grants fill the gaps. All fundraising is done in-house, greatly reducing the ARZU's operational overhead, and ensuring that the money raised(93%)goes directly back to the projects and beneficiaries.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

Due to diligent expansion of rug distribution channels over the past year and the introduction of a new, low-priced, high volume product PEACE CORD™, ARZU projects total revenues (sales + private funding) to grow at 25% per annum during the first 18 months of the next three years(July 2011 through December 2012) and 30% per annum during the balance (January 2013 through June 2014), causing ARZU to be self-funding by the end of 2014. At that time and going forward, existing ARZU programs will no longer require outside funding. As we develop other new projects and programs, we may seek additional funding, as appropriate.

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.




Lack of skills/training


Lack of efficiency

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

Our objective is to simultaneously create economic opportunities while solving some of the most pervasive community needs. Each ARZU program was selected after carefully researching community and market needs and assessing the potential to generate new jobs through apprenticeship training programs. The intended outcome for each project is the same: with a consistent source of income, families can begin to shift their focus to educating their children, addressing health-related issues and improving their overall quality of life. It all starts with a job.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.



Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services


Repurposed your model for other sectors/development needs

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

Primary-Immediate Future
Tertiary-Immediate Future

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Government, Technology providers, NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

One of ARZU’s particular strengths is recognizing the importance of collaboration and partnerships to leverage expertise and execute programs efficiently in order to meet local needs effectively. When another organization (public, private, or military) has a proven model for effectively meeting an identified need, ARZU actively reaches out to bring their model to ARZU communities. ARZU uses our extensive knowledge of Afghanistan and operating experience on the ground to facilitate the successful implementation of that model.