by Mentoring Afghan and Rwandan Women


Female business owners across the United States are preparing to mentor Afghan and Rwandan women entrepreneurs in August through the business training program PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS.
Thirty U.S. businesswomen will be volunteering their personal and professional time starting Aug. 19 to mentor these students for five full days – in the home and in the work place. These businesswomen possess the skills and abilities necessary to tackle the business world, but this upcoming mentorship opportunity will likely prove to be one of their most interesting experiences yet.

The matches have been coordinated by the Oklahoma-based non-profit the Institute for Economic Empowerment for Women and its PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS program, founded by serial entrepreneur, Terry Neese.

“Mentorship is the heart and soul of PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS, and it’s because of these American businesswomen that we are so fortunate to have such a successful program,” Neese said.

Since the program was created in 2006, more than 100 women have been directly educated and trained. That includes this year’s program, which brings 14 Afghan and 16 Rwandan students to the United States in August. Upon completing the program, the students are committed to communicate with their mentors for at least a year.

Two of this year’s mentors include Philadelphia businesswoman Dr. Donna Skerry and St. Louis businesswoman Kris Kleindienst.

Skerry, a resident of Philadelphia, successfully runs her own practice that specializes in holistic nutrition. She also practices as a licensed chiropractor. But in her spare time, she has already taken on several mentoring opportunities in the Philadelphia area.

However, in the upcoming month, Skerry will be preparing for the arrival of her newest student and mentee and Afghan medical doctor, Frozan Raufi.

Skerry is planning to coach Raufi on alternative ways to treat patients in Afghanistan, since she won’t have the tools readily available to her like American doctors have. Skerry is also planning to hold special hours at her clinic in order to give Raufi more hands-on opportunities.

Raufi, 30, is a medical clinic owner and operator herself in Kabul, Afghanistan, and she is coming to the United States with high hopes of becoming an even better doctor.

“When I [started] my business, I didn’t know I would get so many patients,” Raufi wrote in an e-mail. “But we have started many health missions in [surrounding] provinces with positive results, and I hope that one day I get to help not only my country, but the entire world. I am fortunate to get into this program so that I can correct some mistakes that I might have [learned] during my training.”

While Skerry and Frozan are tackling the world of medicine on the East Coast, Kleindienst will be helping her Rwandan mentee corner the literature market in America’s “Gateway to the West.”

Kleindienst, a St. Louis resident, successfully owns and runs Left Bank Books, which is one of the only full-line, independently owned bookstores in the state of Missouri.

Using her own success as a guide, Kleindienst will be mentoring and teaching an aspiring businesswoman from Rwanda, Lydie Hakizimana.

“I was excited at the prospect of sharing what I have learned in 35 years of working as a bookseller and owner,” said Kleindienst. “Especially with a young woman from an economically and politically challenged country [like Rwanda].”

Like her fellow student Raufi, 29-year-old Hakizimana is also eager to travel to the United States in hopes that she can learn invaluable lessons that will help her business grow.
Hakizimana started her business, Drakkar Bookshop, with the altruistic intentions of bringing the power of the written word to her native country. Unfortunately, Rwanda’s population is highly illiterate, so Hakizimana is trying to use her connections with publishing company Pearson Education and involve them in helping her fellow Rwandans. 

“With my deal with Pearson, I would like to offer very affordable books to schools,” Hakizimana said. “For those schools who can’t afford [books], I will be giving them books for free. I have been contacting friends in other countries for donations, and so far it’s been really successful.”

The PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS program provides long-term business education to women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan and Rwanda in four phases: In-Country Education, Leadership Development, International Women’s Economic Summit and Pay It Forward. During Leadership Development, the students are given business training through classes and high-level discussions and panels. The women are then paired with an American woman business owner to live and work with her for five days. This allows the students to take the knowledge they have learned in the classroom and apply it to real-life scenarios. The students are then tasked to pay forward their knowledge by teaching and mentoring women in their country.

Neese says that mentorship is one of the most important aspects of the program. In fact, it was what first sparked the program to be created, when a member of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council recommended Neese as the No. 1 woman in the United States who could design a meaningful and successful mentorship program for Afghan women. The program has since expanded to include women entrepreneurs from Rwanda.

 “Despite today’s economic conditions, women business owners across America are volunteering their personal and professional time to mentor women in countries where women are suppressed economically, socially and politically,” she added. 

These women entrepreneurs certainly already have natural leadership qualities and initiative, but their PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS training will only further empower them to rebuild and bring change to their countries.

Count Skerry as one who has no doubt in her mind that her role in mentoring Raufi is one step closer to making the world a better place.

“I think we need to reach out to each other and communicate better in order to change the world, and that’s what IEEW is doing,” Skerry said. “They are the vehicle. If we each touch one person, we keep improving the world.”

As for Kleindienst, she is just excited about the impact that the mentorship experience will have on herself.

“This mentorship has already affected me profoundly as I anticipate the responsibility of both hosting a woman from across the globe in my home for the next few days and prepare to fashion 35 years of experience into a long-term and long-distance relationship with her.”

Learn more about the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women at

And be sure and read the interview we recently did with Terry Neese, Founder of IEEW ~