A dedicated proponent of women’s rights, Connie Duckworth made a name for herself as one of the first female partners at Goldman Sachs and did much to pave the way for women in finance. She worked to create policies that allowed women to establish and advance their careers in a more supportive environment. After retiring, Duckworth received an invitation to join the United States Department of State’s U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council. She traveled to Kabul and quickly decided to do even more on behalf of Afghan women. Pulling on her experience in finance, she established a social business enterprise called ARZU Studio Hope in 2003.
Through ARZU Studio Hope, Duckworth has created an impressive number of jobs for Afghan women. On the surface, the organization sells handcrafted, high-quality Afghan rugs. More importantly, however, the organization teaches women how to embrace creativity and innovation while also guiding them in their development as entrepreneurs.
Duckworth founded the organization as a company, meaning that it does not rely on charity and instead embraces a closed funding loop. To create a reliable base of clients, she has continuously emphasized the importance of putting out a quality product. In fact, ARZU Studio Hope previously embraced other products before rugs but was never satisfied with the end result. Duckworth points to 2009 as the year that reinforced her dedication to quality and affirmed the organization’s hard work. That year, Interior Design magazine named an ARZU piece best rug of the year.
Women who secure jobs through ARZU Studio Hope must agree to meet a number of requirements. First, their children, whether male or female, must be in school. Adult women must take literacy classes. Pregnant women can enroll in a maternal health program that ensures they receive the care and attention they need. Each year, organizational leaders meet with every employee to assess major life changes and identify new priorities. These conversations help guide program development for the organization while also motivating employees.
The system that Duckworth has created through the organization provides women with financial security while also ensuring that they have the support and resources they need to maintain that security. These sorts of programs will prove fundamental to the continued development of Afghanistan.