Sophia Swire did not set out to be a social entrepreneur. It was a calling that found her. She began her career as a successful investment banker in London, but the market crash of 1987 started her thinking about taking a very different path, one that could have a more direct and immediate positive impact on people's lives. She traveled to Pakistan for what was supposed to be only a few weeks, but ended up staying a year, helping set up a school in a remote valley of the Hindu Kush.
That year changed her life. She went on to co‐found the UK charity Learning for Life that supported the establishment of over 250 village schools for girls in rural Pakistan and India and for which she was awarded the 2010 Pakistan Achievement Award. In the 1990s, she also launched and managed an innovative, profitable, ethical, cashmere brand and is widely acknowledged as the entrepreneur who launched the international fashion for pashminas.
In 2008 she started the first Afghan Jewelry and Gem-Cutting school for the charity Turquoise Mountain and has since worked with various Afghanistan based government and non-government organizations to try to formalize the gemstone mining sector and put more value into the hands of Afghan designers and artisans.
In 2012, she founded the non-profit Future Brilliance Afghanistan Organization (FBAO) to foster stability and prosperity through enterprise and workforce development with a special focus on developing access to the gemstone and jewelry value chain for Afghan women. Aayenda Jewelry, an FBAO project, was established as a social enterprise in the US to build a sales and marketing platform for Afghan jewelry (Aayenda means "future" in Dari, the language spoken in Afghanistan). In 2013, the first collection was launched as a collaboration between 36 Afghan artisans trained by FBAO and 3 international designers: Paul Spurgeon, Anna Ruth Henriques and Annie Fensterstock.
Sophia is delighted to present the talented young Afghan designer, Storai Stanizai, who is joining us from Kabul to talk about the challenges of doing business in Kabul as an Afghan woman, her first collection and her dream to develop her own Afghan jewelry brand, ZyB.