Bpeace co-founder and CEO Toni Maloney wants to create one million jobs in 1,000 communities--and through employment, create peace. As Maloney explained to me last week, “Working people don’t belong to gangs.” Peace in the household, she said, means increased peace on the streets.
Partially funded by the U.S. State Department, nonprofit Bpeace will bring a group of young female Afghan entrepreneurs to the U.S. next month to learn how to set up their businesses back home. I talked with Maloney about why employment can lead to peace, how Bpeace measures success and how long it will take to reach the goal of one million jobs.
The premise of Bpeace is that more jobs means less violence. Explain that.
The organization started in 2002, the year after 9/11, when many of us were thinking, “What can we do?” A small group of businesswomen at the time said business must have a role in peace-building. It was a couple years after the dot-com [heyday], and in New York City, if you could breathe, you could get a job. Also in New York City, the unemployment and crime rates were both low. In Ireland, as soon as people started getting jobs, they stopped killing each other. Those two things were the inspiration. It didn’t take Einstein to realize that jobs and peace were connected.
You have mentors in the U.S. who work with entrepreneurs in countries where there has been a good deal of conflict. What are the selection criteria for entrepreneurs?
We decided in the beginning to focus just on women, because we felt they were the peacemakers. We thought if we could give them the economic power they could influence peace.
We wanted to identify Fast Runner entrepreneurs. There are many organizations that work with women at the bottom of the pyramid—micro financing, helping those women buy a cow or learn a skill. Those are good things, but it’s not transformative into the community. It’s not creating employment, or enough so that it trickles into the community. We defined a Fast Runner entrepreneur as a woman who already had a business with employees; demonstrated a business sense; and wanted to help the community.
To help these entrepreneurs we decided to work with them over a course of three years. And we decided to put boots on the ground. We have terrific volunteers in all industries in the U.S., but we also have staff on the ground who act as consultants and work with these entrepreneurs on a daily basis. They connect the volunteers in the U.S. to the entrepreneurs.
What are some of the areas where these women need help from mentors?
One of the Afghan women we work with supervises mostly men in her business, and she was having problems with the men not respecting her authority. We connected her with an HR volunteer in the U.S.
What was the volunteer’s advice?
Her advice was to put a male intermediary in place. She said you can't change the culture, but that the employees will listen to the guy, and he’s taking orders from her.
How did you select the countries where you work?
We only work in post-conflict countries—or what we though was “post” at the time. When we started, Rwanda had had the genocide seven years earlier. The U.S. military had been in Afghanistan just under a year. Today, Rwanda is very peaceful. Afghanistan, not so much. We just added El Salvador, which is getting squeezed by drug wars to the north and to the south.
So very few countries meet your criteria?
We looked at a lot of countries where jobs could have an effect on the recurrence of violence. For example, we looked at Tibet, and employment won’t help violence there. We also looked at countries that would want us. And we looked at countries where we can have an impact on women. Finally, we want it to be safe enough for us to go there.
It only works in certain countries where unemployment is high, where idleness contributes to violence. In El Salvador, most of the violence is gang violence. Working people don’t belong to gangs.
How is Bpeace funded?
For our Afghan work, the U.S. Department of State partially funds it. We receive grants from foundations, some organizations and grassroots fundraising. You can tell people to give us money.
I understand one of your entrepreneurs is trying to start a potato chip company in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan in an import economy; they don’t make much of anything. In the old days--30 years ago—they were the world’s second largest exporter of raisins. And most of the Persian rugs you see in this country are made in Afghanistan, but they don’t have the machines to finish them, so they are sent to Pakistan, where they are finished and then labeled, “Made in Pakistan.”
Afghanistan has incredible produce, which is organic by default, because they can’t afford the sprays. But they don’t have cold storage, so they send their apples to Pakistan for cold storage and then have to buy their apples back. Same thing with potatoes. Afghans love chips, but they’re imported.
Sora Stoda [21 years old] decided to start a potato chip factory using local potatoes and local oil. She will be coming here in October and spending a few weeks at potato chip companies here. She’s going to apprentice at North Fork Chips on Long Island and another chip manufacturer in Pennsylvania. She’s not up and running yet, but we’re hopeful she’ll be ready to open by the time she’s done with this trip.
How do you measure the increase in peace, to determine whether this is working?
It’s hard to measure, but I can tell you what we do measure. We never think of ourselves as a charity, and barely as a nonprofit, even though we are a nonprofit. We think of ourselves as a business. We measure outcomes, not activities.
Once a year we have a two-hour interview with anyone who has gone through the program. We ask them a lot of questions about their employees, gross revenue, profit, who are they buying from, how many family members their employees support, what skills they are providing their employees. We synthesize that, and the most important outcome for us is job growth: What amount of revenue they are contributing to the community. We call it the multiplier effect.
Getting a handle on measuring peace—we haven’t cracked that code yet. Our tagline is, “More jobs means less violence.” The women in Afghanistan would never say that means fewer suicide bombings or Taliban incidents. They say less violence in the home. They think if there is less violence in the home, there will be less in the streets. We know anecdotally when a women brings income into the home and the financial stress on the household goes up, the violence decreases. So we’re making a leap of faith there.
There’s a Clint Eastwood movie, A Fistful of Dollars, and his character lives by the creed, “When a man’s got money in his pocket he begins to appreciate peace.”
How many entrepreneurs are you working with in these three countries?
We’re just entering El Salvador, so we don’t have any there yet. We’re managing about 38 now, at various points in their three-year programs.
Our goal is to create 1 million jobs across 1,000 communities.
How long will that take?
We don’t know (laughs). It’s like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield and saying, “I’m hittin’ there.” We’re going to do it as fast as we can, but we have no idea.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com