Lake Forest woman’s overseas rug company empowers exploited women

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After a successful career as Goldman Sachs’ first ever female trading partner, Lake Forest resident Connie Duckworth never expected her next life step would lead her to alleviating poverty halfway across the world. It all began on a special trip to a remote Afghanistan village for the U.S.-Afghan council.

“I don’t think I had any idea what going to Afghanistan would be like,” Duckworth said. “It was as if I stepped back 2,000 years and seeing the conditions was so heart-wrenching. And I came out of these shelters and said I’m going to do something.”

Duckworth said Afghan women work countless hours painstakingly making handmade rugs , often exploited by middlemen who reap the profits. She started Arzu, a rug company, and created a business plan to help improve conditions for working Afghan women.

“Having been in that whole part of the world you know how important it is to empower women,” Margaret McCurry, Chicago native and one of Arzu’s designers said. “We even remember when one of the Arab women said to us ‘if the world were ruled by women, there would be no war.”

CaptureThe company makes higher quality rugs with new, more marketable style and help keep more of the profits within the village. In 2004, Arzu employed only 30 women, but now employment has ballooned to 700 workers. Arzu rug designer Stanley Tigerman believes the company helps not only women financially in the short-term but will help bring long-term success to the village.

“When a woman is employed and earns her own income, she firsts not only invest in her own family, typically through education of her children, but then reaches out to a neighbor and to her broader family group,” Tigerman said.   “So what we see when we make an investment in women, is the whole level of the village rise.”

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