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Grad Helps Immigrants Become Their Own C.E.O.s

Grad Helps Immigrants Become Their Own C.E.O.sByassisting poor immigrants to become entrepreneurs, Tufts graduateFarhana Huq is helping them realize the dreams that brought themto the U.S. Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.18.05] When she started a company with a $1,000 check froma philanthropist five years ago in Oakland, Farhana Huq just wantedto help low-income immigrants get their feet off the ground. Nowthat company, Creating Economic Opportunities (C.E.O.) for Women,has an annual budget of nearly a half million dollars and oneof the nation’s first programs to help needy immigrantslearn the basics of starting a business while developing theirEnglish skills.

“Whatwe are doing is building the training tools, the modules and theframework for how to serve this population and get them into theeconomic mainstream,” Huq explained in an interview withthe Contra Costa Times.

As an undergraduateat Tufts, Huq double-majored in economics and philosophy. Sherecalls a visit to her father’s native Bangladesh that lefta lasting impression.

“Comingfrom a place where we have so much to one of the poorest countriesin the world changes you,” she recalled to the Times,contrasting Bangladesh with her New Jersey upbringing. “Ithumbles you. It gives you a different perspective on life.”

In the courseof her studies, Huq was inspired when she discovered the conceptof microenterprise as put forth by Bangladeshi economist MuhammadYunus. By emphasizing entrepreneurship, Yunus’ bank helpedextend millions of small loans to those trying to rise out ofpoverty.

With a goalof helping immigrants in the United States, the nonprofit C.E.O.Women aims to build on the drive that brings immigrants and refugeeshere in hopes of finding security. A personal touch is part ofHuq’s approach.

“Noone is a number. Farhana knows everyone’s story from beginningto end. She helps them from beginning to end,” Lori Barra,executive director of Isabelle Allende Foundation, told the Times.

Foundationsare recognizing the work performed by Huq and C.E.O.Women. Besidesa recent award bestowed by the Allende Foundation, The Walterand Elise Haas Fund recently donated $80,000 to the organization.

“I wasimpressed by their focus on empowering immigrant women to realizetheir dreams,” Amanda Feinstein, a program officer withthe fund, told the Times. She commended the program forits “Shine Your Brilliance” seminars that pair immigrantswith successful businesswomen.

In addition,Huq was recently noted by, a South Asian web portal,as one of 2004’s South Asian movers and shakers around theworld.

Part of thereason for the program’s recognition is its success. Ofthe 21 graduates, 76 percent either launched a small businessor got a job, and 50 percent notably improved in their Englishskills. C.E.O. Women has helped over 200 low-income women in totaland Huq hopes it can add 150 more women this year.

Success storiesabound as result of the program. Wen-Fei Hsu, a 31-year-old Taiwaneseimmigrant, came to the U.S. three and a half years ago. She hadto drop out of art school because she couldn’t understandthe teachers or the assignments.

In C.E.O.Women’s training programs, the Times reported,Hsu improved her English skills and her knowledge of business.She is now building a portfolio, interning at a magazine, pursuinga master’s in fine arts and teaching Chinese to supportherself.

“Thesewomen have the will, but they don’t have the money, knowhow, the support and mentoring and, in a lot of cases, the confidenceto start their own businesses,” Flora Sun, a C.E.O. Womenboard member and vice president of customer and marking for ProvidianFinancial Corp., told the Times. “C.E.O. Womenprovides that kind of motivation and confidence.”



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