Afghan woman makes her name in business world

From war-torn Afghanistan, where her printing business came close to being destroyed by a suicide bomber earlier this year, Parwana Wafa traveled to Lindenhurst Thursday and Friday to learn about some of the latest technological innovations in her industry.

Wafa, her country's only female commercial printer, visited the printing company Action Envelope. She spent time there as part of a business road trip sponsored by Manhattan-based Bpeace, a nonprofit international group of business professionals. The founder is Toni Maloney, a Water Mill resident.

"I've learned a lot," said Wafa, 40, who speaks fluent English, which she learned in Pakistan.

At Action Envelope she observed the company's pressroom and its graphics and Internet operations, said president Sharon Newman.

Said Ray Maloney, a Bpeace volunteer and Toni Maloney's husband, "Some of the problems that Parwana is facing, Sharon, with her experience, can help to solve them."

Wafa participated in the three-week road trip with 11 other women from her country, touring 40 companies in the eastern United States. Wafa also visited companies in Westchester and New Jersey.

The group's mission is to help female entrepreneurs from war-torn countries rebuild their homelands' economies by establishing businesses and creating jobs.

After a recommendation from the Printing Industry of America, Bpeace paired Newman with Wafa, who owns Afghan Women Entrepreneurs Printing Service in Kabul, the capital.

Wafa started the business in 2005 with $50,000 in savings and loans from Afghan friends in the printing business in Pakistan, where she once lived as a refugee of the Afghan civil war that began in 1989. She especially wanted to provide jobs for women. She has built a business with $1.2 million in annual sales and 49 employees, including 18 women.

The company's business includes newsletters and books, and its customers are Afghan and United Nations agencies.

She wants to expand and update her equipment, which she calls third-hand. With just three printing machines, she recently had to turn down a $165,000 contract because she lacked the printing capacity.

She faces a lot of obstacles, besides the war. Women are still scorned by many men for owning a business, and because of her gender she faces certain restrictions in Afghanistan.

For example, she cannot venture out alone at night by herself, so when she works nights she is accompanied by her brother.

But Wafa said she is proud of what owning a business represents.

"I have 49 people working, and they can feed their families," Wafa said. "It's a drop in the ocean. But still I can do something."

She could get some help here in finding more modern equipment. Newman and her son, Seth, who is Action Envelope's chief operating officer, introduced her to some larger local companies in the hopes that she could get ideas for expanding and for obtaining more modern, used equipment.

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