Sharing The Wealth

Dr. Terry Neese is an expert at business – the business of making dreams come true.

An entrepreneur who has served on numerous government councils and policy organizations, Neese first fulfilled her own aspirations in 2006 with the creation of the Institute for the Economic Empowerment of Women (IEEW). Just a few short years after its inception, the nonprofit organization already has an international reputation for changing lives.

“I founded the institute initially to educate women entrepreneurs in the United States on public policy and advocacy and the importance of being involved in government,” Neese says.

“I truly believe if you run a business and you’re not involved in politics, then politics will run your business.”

Shortly after the institute’s creation, armed with a 50-pound flak jacket and two bodyguards, Neese joined a tour of Afghanistan with the U.S. State Department. It was during her experience there that she realized it was time to take her message global.

“I left there feeling that there was so much hope and so much enthusiasm for women to create businesses and jobs,” she says. “Perhaps this was something I’d been working toward for all my life – to help these women, to be a mentor to them, to share my knowledge and background as entrepreneur with them.”

The trip prompted Neese and the IEEW to implement the Peace Through Business Program in 2007, an initiative aimed at helping female business owners in Afghanistan and Rwanda nurture their entrepreneurial dreams. During an eight-week course, each woman develops a comprehensive business plan while undertaking a fast-paced business basics curriculum. At the end of each graduating class, 15 women from each country are selected to travel to the United States for the IEEW’s Leadership Development Program, during which they are matched with American female entrepreneurs who serve as mentors and inspiration.

The program’s effect on participants has been profound.

“Every one of these women is a success,” Neese says.

She cites an example of Taj Sirat, an Afghani woman who graduated from the first Peace Through Business class in 2007. When Sirat first joined the program, Neese says, she had 28 women working for her, hand-sewing soccer and volleyballs. Today, Sirat oversees almost 300 female employees. Her revenues are up 70 percent since participating in the program, and she even made a bid for a Parliament seat in Afghanistan.

More is expected of Peace Through Business graduates than just success, though. Like Neese herself has done, these entrepreneurs must pledge to pay their newfound knowledge forward to other female business owners in their home countries.

While the IEEW and its Peace Through Business program has become renowned across the globe – and is looking to expand its mission to more nations in the near future – the organization is hard at work in Oklahoma as well, drumming up mentors for the Leadership Development Program and encouraging women entrepreneurs to become more active in public policy.

Neese could not be more pleased with the manifestation of her dream to help female business owners at home and abroad. “The results have been amazing,” she says. “These are truly courageous, brave women.”

Dr. Neese will receive the Association for Women in Communications Matrix Foundation Award when the organization holds its national conference in Tulsa, Oct. 13-15. Past winners include NBC’s Ann Curry, ABC’s Christiane Amanpour and former White House correspondent Helen Thomas.