In a traditional country like Afghanistan where entertainment and sports opportunities for women are rare, opening a fitness club for females is full of challenges. But 48-year old Zarghona, mother of four, opened the first-ever such facility in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of the northern Balkh province in 2012. She formerly ran a beauty parlor, and after feedback from her clients, she realized there was a need and demand for women’s health and fitness. Immediately popular, Setara Fitness Club rapidly expanded into three locations, but it lacked modern billing, accounting, management, and marketing systems, so tracking members, accounts, and revenue intake remained problematic.

USAID: Promote Women in the Economy (WIE)’s Masters of Business (MBA) Corps Program held a matchmaking event in Mazar-i-Sharif in September of 2017. These events pair women-owned Afghan businesses with recent MBA graduates for the purpose of providing modern management expertise to traditionally run businesses. After Zarghona paired with a suitable MBA advisor, the two developed a business plan for modernizing the fitness club’s administration and marketing outreach. In less than five months, the embedded MBA advisor developed a computerized accounting and billing system, and launched a social media marketing campaign to regularly update customers about the club’s fitness offerings. The club attracted 50 new members, thus expanding its client base to over 180 in the city. This prompted Zarghona to open a fourth branch, which has increased her monthly income by 30 percent; from approximately USD 2,500 to USD 3,300. Her clients are diverse and include women from university, to house wives, to professional working women.

Assistance I received through MBA Corps helped me understand the digital world. Streamlined accounting systems and online marketing changed my business and took it the next level.  I opened a new branch, and am now able to offer more services to more women. Setara is leading the way in women’s health and fitness; I see only positive growth on our horizon.”  - Zarghona, Owner, Setara Fitness Club, Mazar-i-Sharif

Through the MBA Corps program WIE demonstrates the value of professionally trained managers to small business owners. The program currently operates in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, and has helped almost 50 women-owned businesses or those employing substantial numbers of women receive technical and administrative assistance as well as mentoring, and thus increase their revenue. MBA Corps will roll out into Herat, Jalalabad, and Kandahar in coming months, with a target to assist 120 eligible businesses over the life of the WIE program.