Maheen Sakhizada is a talented artisan who immigrated to Houston in 2016 from Kabul, Afghanistan. She began working as a caretaker at a hotel. However, as with many others during the COVID-19 pandemic, she lost her job. Rather than becoming discouraged, it was this loss, along with the encouragement of her husband, that motivated her to take advantage of the classes offered by the Aga Khan Economic Planning Board’s (AKEPB) Cottage Industry Initiative, to utilize her artistic skills of jewelry and candle-making.
Through the valuable training offered by the initiative, Maheen learned fundamental skills to help jumpstart her business, including how to advertise her skills and products through effective marketing—including packaging, price tagging, and other aspects of presentation; she also learned effective sales techniques, all while improving her English.
Since completing the program, Maheen has had the opportunity to showcase her products in various forums, such as the Jamati Eid Mela. More importantly, she has gained the confidence and support to put her skills to work for her and her family.
She credits the program and program leaders for their continued support and mentorship. “Although I was very nervous and didn’t know how to communicate or deal with customers, I am very thankful to the coaches for being present to provide support. I was extremely excited to sell my products for the first time.”
To other individuals, Maheen stresses the importance of programs such as the Small Business Initiative (SBI), saying, “Skills are for life. No matter which country you go to live in, you can always benefit from learned skills.”
SBI is one of several programs under AKEPB aimed at improving the livelihoods of talented individuals, particularly Jamati members who run or would like to run their own small “cottage industry” businesses. These businesses span a range of skills, such as mehndi application to jewelry-making and catering services. SBI empowers these entrepreneurs to market themselves and their skills so that they may earn a living independently, allowing them to overcome any personal or other constraints that may otherwise have prevented them from working all together.
Within AKEPB’s Economic Services platform are two other initiatives besides SBI--the Jobs Initiative and the Auto Loan Program. All of these have improved tremendously the lives of members of the Jamat.
Other AKEPB initiatives are Financial Services, Business Services, and Professional and Business Alliances. Their programs assist Jamati members in increasing their financial well-being. The key mandate of the Jobs Initiative is to connect Jamati members with job opportunities or provide job readiness training to Jamati members. The Access to Finance / Job Readiness Training (JRT) program assists Jamati members with all aspects of the job hunt, including creating a resume and preparing for interviews. The JRT program has also partnered with companies like Amazon, FedEx, and Walmart to enable Jamati members to acquire better-paying jobs by arming them with the tools and training they need to succeed, like customer service skills, interview skills, and more.
Nasrin Hamid is one beneficiary of the JRT program. She immigrated from Mumbai, India, to Canada in 1999, and subsequently, to the United States in 2002. Nasrin received her Bachelor’s of Commerce in Mumbai and specializes in human resource management.
Upon moving to the US, Nasrin and her husband managed a gas station. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she began searching for a job of her own. She was introduced to JRT and paired with a mentor who helped her strengthen her resume and perfect her interview skills.
Armed with the confidence and preparation she needed, Nasrin applied for and secured a job at ADT. “I’m thankful to the Job Readiness team for instilling in me the confidence and skills I needed to take the next step in my career.” She hopes to continue to grow in her profession.
Finally, the Access to Finance / JDT (Jamat of Diverse Traditions) Auto Loan Program, developed in conjunction with the Nizari Credit Union, is aimed at assisting Jamati members—particularly those from Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria, who may have immigrated to the United States. It was developed to support those who may not have a credit history and therefore could have trouble obtaining a loan for a vehicle. The Auto Loan Program enables individuals to acquire these loans and, therefore, vehicles that in turn enable them to go to work, school, or the doctor, and thus be more independent.
One example of how the Auto Loan Program has benefited Jamati members is Habibullah Azizi, who immigrated to Richmond, Virginia, from Afghanistan in 2017. After immigrating, Habibullah found a job working in a warehouse, where he made a modest salary. He eventually connected with EPB to obtain a loan, with which he purchased a car. The vehicle enabled him to earn additional income as a food deliveryman, thus more than tripling his income. Habibullah advises, “It can be very tough to obtain a loan without good credit without the help of EPB’s JDT loans initiative” and encourages Jamati members to take advantage of these resources.
These three programs encompass only a fraction of the impactful work being done by the volunteers of the Economic Planning Board to pay it forward to other Jamati members and ensure that the Jamat grows stronger everyday through new skills and increased opportunities for growth.