“Opportunities often present themselves when we’re not expecting them,” Connie Duckworth wrote when she began her blog, STIR, in early 2010. For Duckworth, founder and CEO of ARZU STUDIO HOPE, this was definitely the case. Prior to ARZU, Duckworth had enjoyed a long and esteemed career as a partner at Goldman Sachs, where in the 1980s and 90s she was a pioneering force for women. Shortly after she retired—which was also shortly after September 11, 2001—Duckworth was invited to join the U.S. Department of State’s U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, designed, as she describes it, “to make sure women have a seat at the table in the new Afghanistan.”
Having no professional experience with government or international development, Duckworth only had a vague sense of what she was getting into. Certainly, she did not anticipate the dozens of desperate mothers she would find in Afghanistan, living with their children in bombed out buildings with no windows, heat, furniture, sanitation, and little food or clean water. After her first trip to the region in early 2003, Duckworth recalls vowing to “do something, even though I had no idea what the something would be.” That “something” eventually found the form of a social enterprise called ARZU, from the Dari word for hope.
A calling—many years in the making
In retrospect, building a small business in Afghanistan—a country where women and girls are virtually invisible—was a logical next step for Duckworth, who had spent her entire career helping women carve out a presence in the business sector. Duckworth, who earned her MBA in 1979 and was promoted in 1990 as the first female sales and trading partner at Goldman Sachs, was “one of the very few women who did what I did.” She enjoyed her career and worked hard to ensure other women could do the same. Indeed, Duckworth authored nearly all of the family-friendly and diversity policies at Goldman—benefits that now seem standard (maternity leave, lactation rooms, mentoring policies) but were revolutionary in the financial services industry in the early 1990s.
With this background, there is little question why folks at the State Department sought Duckworth’s help, though they could not have anticipated how much she would personally take on. While at Goldman, Duckworth had found time, together with her husband, to engage in philanthropic causes the couple felt passionately about—particularly in the field of cancer research. But her experience in Afghanistan ignited a new passion. And she now had the time and skills to put that passion to work in a whole new way.
As Duckworth charted her
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