By Judi Sheppard Missett
Jazzercise Founder & CEO
I have the best job because I get to be inspired every day. Whether it’s the music I hear, the customers who come to class, or the talented people I work with, I find inspiration in many places. This week, my inspiration came all the way from Rwanda and Afghanistan. l had the privilege of speaking to 21 Afghan and Rwandan women entrepreneurs at the International Women’s Economic Summit in Dallas. What an opportunity to meet such an extraordinary group of women.
While we all face challenges in our lives, hearing the obstacles these women faced puts it all in perspective and was quite humbling to say the least. I met women who lost entire families to genocide. Women who worked to put themselves through school while supporting entire families. Women who own successful businesses yet continue to battle for the equal rights we take for granted. In the face of serious adversity – poverty, genocide, oppression − these women have thrived and are making a positive difference in their countries and for women everywhere.
All of the women are enrolled in the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® program, which was created to assist business owners in Afghanistan and Rwanda, where women face oppression and marginalization daily. The top 15 are invited to come to the U.S. for an intense business boot camp followed by a mentorship with an American woman business owner who owns their same type of company back home. The International Women’s Economic Summit allows them to meet successful business owners to learn valuable lessons they can take back home.
I was honored to be invited to join such a prestigious group of speakers which have included former First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary Hillary Clinton. The theme of the event was SHEconomics: Peace through Business. I was invited to teach these women how to “Build a Business with a Beat.” In this speech, I equate running a successful business to having the three essential elements of music – the bass beat or passion, tempo or change, and melody, or mind, body, spirit connection.
In my speech, I play different musical segments and ask the women to get up and feel the beat of the music. The women were very receptive to the message, they found their beat and were so gregarious, giving me lots of hugs and thanking me after. It was wonderful to see that passion ignite within them.
After my speech, I stuck around to hear a round table discussion titled, “SHEntrepreneurs from Afghanistan & Rwanda Inspire.” And inspire they did. I may have been there to teach them a thing or two about business but they taught me a lot about courage. And I realized that whether you are born in the U.S., Rwanda, Afghanistan, it doesn’t matter. Ordinary women everywhere have the opportunity to step up and do extraordinary things. And that is truly inspiring.