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McConnell contracting connects women with success worldwide

The McConnell business mentoring team poses for a photo during a lunch committee meeting, March 11, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. The volunteer team provides strategic business mentoring to women-owned businesses in Rwanda and Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Jenna K. Caldwell)

The McConnell business mentoring team poses for a photo during a lunch committee meeting, March 11, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. The volunteer team provides strategic business mentoring to women-owned businesses in Rwanda and Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Jenna K. Caldwell)

Shanon, right, poses with friends for a photo at an IEEW event in Rwanda. Shanon is working in part with the McConnell business mentoring team to establish a logistics company in Rwanda.  (Courtesy photo)

Shanon, right, poses with friends for a photo at an IEEW event in Rwanda. Shanon is working in part with the McConnell business mentoring team to establish a logistics company in Rwanda. (Courtesy photo)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- When contracting Airmen deploy, one of their responsibilities is to visit the local community, find people on the side of the road and inspire them to sell goods and start a business.

Once they've sparked an interest, they provide these individuals with resources and advice to build their business. This partnership provides goods and services for the base and helps promote economic development and stability within the region said Maj. Mark Wagner, 22nd Contracting Squadron commander.

But when these Airmen return stateside, they return to their normal base operation job and don't have the same interactive community relations responsibilities with foreign nations as they did when they deployed.

Missing that social impact, Wagner started a volunteer team here providing strategic business mentorship to women-owned businesses in Rwanda and Afghanistan. 

"It's an opportunity for us to stay fresh on how we do our job, and at the same time, help individuals overseas," said Wagner. "It's a breakthrough and important economically and culturally. We're trying to promote leadership and that willingness to get involved and be engaged in the economic sector, which will hopefully translate to the political sector as well."

The McConnell mentor team works through an organization called the Institute for the Economic Empowerment for Women, which assigns mentors to individuals who are seeking business guidance.

The non-profit organization empowers women to grow their businesses, pursue greater entrepreneurial ventures and become active public policy advocates by promoting business education and developing their leadership skills, said Wagner.

"Over half of all small businesses fail in America within the first few years," said Wagner. "For women-owned businesses in Afghanistan and Rwanda working through IEEW, 80 percent of them are still in business a year later. That's a really high success rate."

The team meets during lunch to review and discuss mentoree business plans and provide feedback through e-mail based mentoring. They help the individual from start to finish with the process--from creating a strategic plan to presentation preparation.

"The U.S. has standardized business practices," said Wagner. "We're sharing with individuals how people communicate and what level of performance and business language to expect."

The team is currently mentoring an individual, Shanon, in Rwanda who is developing a logistics freight forwarding company.

"The program helped me to be a good public speaker," said Shanon. "[The team] was very concerned and always followed up. Having [Wagner] as my mentor contributed much to my well-made business plan."

The mentor team develops individual's business plans so they may compete in the IEEW Summit. The annual summit brings together women from around the world as part of a business leadership conference and competition. If selected, students are brought to Dallas, Texas, for a condensed Master of Business Association program.

"I do this to mentor them and show them that their business education is more than just a way to hold down a job, it's a force for good in the world," said Wagner. "We're improving economies around the world and in the local community."