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Woman CEO From Afghanistan Helps Oppressed Women

Woman CEO From Afghanistan Helps Oppressed Women



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Shelley Osterloh reportingA woman who lives in Salt Lake City is having an enourmous impact on oppressed women in her native country of Afganistan, and in other countries as well.

She is just 26 years old and CEO of a 15-million dollar internet company called Worldstock.

As she walks the Salt Lake warehouse of giant internet retailer Overstock dot-com, Neelab Kanishka is grateful for her good fortune and dedicated to helping others realize theirs.

Neelab Kanishka/ Director of Worldstock: "And so for me to actually say that this is a dream come true would be completely untrue because I never could dream of such a thing."

Neelab heads Worldstock-dot com, Overstock's socially responsible department. Worldstock sells items produced by more than 7-thousand artisans from more than 30 countries.

Neelab Kanishka, Dir. Worldstock: "It's economic development, it's uniting people and it's food. That's what Worldstock is about."

She knows what it's like to be hungry, destitute and frightened. She was born in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and raised in a Pakistani refugee camp.

She moved to Salt Lake after marrying a childhood friend who was studying in the U.S.

In 2002 she got a part-time job as a customer service rep at Overstock and is now the director of Worldstock.

She returned to Afghanistan where -- until recently-- women were not allowed to work or even leave their house without their husbands. She hired 13-hundred artisans to take part in the Worldstock program. Ninety percent are women like Sedika who is raising 11 children in one room. Her husband is disabled and unable to work.

Neelab Kanishka, Dir. Worldstock: "She says this is what we eat, with the money we get frm this is what we are surviving on."

Sedika embroiders two scarves each month for 40 dollars -- twice the average Afghan family income.

Neelab Kanishka, Dir. Worldstock: "You don't need to sympathize with them. You need to give them the opportunity. That's what we do on a daily basis, from Kashmir to Afghanistan to Nepal to Peru."

Overstock-dot-com CEO Patrick Byrne says Internet sales keep prices down and 60 to 70 cents of every dollar spent at Worldstock goes directly to the people making the products.

Patrick Byrne/ CEO, Overstock.com: "I like to say that between the woman in Nepal that is making one little copper bowl, and the American customer, there needs to be just one warehouse in Salt Lake City."

Neelab says financial independence can help women fight cultural oppression and abuse as well as live with dignity and hope for the future.

Neelab Kanishka, Dir. Worldstock: "It's wonderful. It makes a huge difference in their lives."

Worldstock is now the largest employment provider for women in Afghanistan and the majority of women earn more than their husbands.

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