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Toni Maloney's path to peace: create jobs

New York-based nonprofit Bpeace provides a network of business professionals who volunteer to help entrepreneurs in conflict-affected countries such as Afghanistan, Rwanda, and El Salvador.

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The volunteers offer pro bono business consulting on financial issues and marketing strategies, as well as technical, customer service, and human resources advice.

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“We’re always looking to recruit members who want to invest their skills, and one of the most important things is having a network,” Maloney says. “Someone may not invest a significant amount of time but their network is the most important thing that they bring.”

The networks can help link an aspiring entrepreneur to companies and business leaders in their respective areas. For instance, one Afghan woman who is an electrical contractor is apprenticing at a school in the US. The connection was made by a volunteer who is a professional photographer.

Searching for volunteers with helpful networks recently brought Maloney to the Clinton’s School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, Ark. The school offers a two-year graduate program that encourages civic engagement and a global field-service program.

When Maloney visited Arkansas, she brought soccer balls made in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, two women own two soccer-ball companies, which employ about 473 women. The two companies primarily sold to aid groups to be given away for promotion in the country.

Bpeace recognized that the aid market would eventually fade. With that possibility looming, Bpeace volunteers suggested the two women engage in a joint venture called DOSTI to export high-quality soccer balls to the US.

The result is the DOSTI ball, which are all hand-stitched by women. No women under the age of 16 are employed. The balls have a dove of peace design on them in the colors of the Afghan flag – green, red, and black.

“We didn’t suggest the women merge their companies, as that would be problematic,” Maloney says. “It is quite pioneering that they came together. It is unusual for Afghans to partner outside of the family.”

Bpeace wants to expand the market for the DOSTI ball in the US and is seeking a distributor so that the project can be privatized.

Bpeace has also made inroads in El Salvador. The group needs to “secure the funding for work over the next two years so we can prove ourselves” in the country, Maloney says..

The group is working with an El Salvador food-processing company to help determine what kind of product they will introduce. The company works with a Bpeace staffer who stays in touch via email, telephone, and Skype. This form of collaborate is a hybrid model of “high touch and high tech,” Maloney says.

Maloney hopes that its work in El Salvador will mirror the success Bpeace has had in Afghanistan.

“We want to plant good roots in Sl Salvador,” she says. “But we measure outcome, and not activity, and that’s all about how many jobs are created.”

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