I fell in love this week. It was in Washington DC at a meeting at the State Department. We were in a smallish conference room under tight security.  We had to be escorted to go to the bathroom or to pretty much leave the room at all. The room was locked from the outside so only someone with keys could get in. Yes, it is a curious place to fall in love, let alone fall in love with nine people. Here’s what happened.

The meeting was arranged by the State Department and Goldman Sachs as part of their 10,000 Women Program  where Goldman Sachs is investing $100MM to help 10,000 women entrepreneurs get their businesses going and uplift their local economies and communities. It brought together nine women entrepreneurs from Pakistan, their US-based mentors who will work with them for 12 months, panels of experts in entrepreneurship, representatives from Thunderbird School of Business (where the women had spent 2 weeks developing their business plans), and representatives of the State Department Office of Global Women’s Issues.  The objective was to help these nine women entrepreneurs learn how to succeed in their businesses. I had gone in with the desire to teach them what I knew. What I came out with was a deep appreciation of the challenges these women face, the persistence that is required, and the deep respect and love I felt for these women.

Among the nine is Bushra (my mentee). She has created an enterprise that helps widows of terrorism in the northern parts of Pakistan find ways to support themselves when husbands, fathers and brothers go to work and don’t return.  Her organization trains them in the local handicrafts, helps them get employed, or become entrepreneurs.  She has helped over 300 women and is seeking markets for their products. Another is Shagufta, who has a table wares and textiles business. She became fondly known in the group as the next Martha Stewart of Pakistan. She comes from a conservative family and never went to college. Unbeknownst to her father, her mother let her work in a relative’s business when she was young and she caught the entrepreneurial bug.   Just five years ago she sat in a restaurant in her small hometown observing some Americans, hoping to muster up courage to talk to them. Now she finds herself at the State Department and her company exports products to the UK and Australia. Then there is Rukhsana, whose company creates herbal and agri products. She is a passionate scientist and wants to help the local farmers improve their farming conditions. She fights corruption, the feudal hierarchy, and the lack of government accountability every day.  There is Ghazala, who is in the garment business, running a factory and dealing with lack of electric power on a daily basis. She defiantly refuses to pay off people who expect to be paid under the table for doing their jobs. Each of the nine women have a compelling story of passion, pride in their work, and the persistence that is required for women in that part of the world to be entrepreneurs.

As I walked out this week, I was humbled, inspired, and in love with these women as human beings who are changing the world, creating opportunities for themselves and others. They are truly transformational leaders and I challenge each of us reading this to find ways to help a woman entrepreneur.  When you invest in a woman entrepreneur she reinvests  90% back in her community. So take the time to know and help a woman entrepreneur today. She is creating a better world for us tomorrow.