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Business strategist Connie Duckworth transferred her skill set from Wall Street to war-torn Afghanistan. The retired Partner and Managing Director of Goldman, Sachs, & Co. set up Arzu Hope Studios, a rug-weaving co-op, to give Afghan women a fair price and global market for their products in order to lift their villages out of poverty.

After decades of smashing glass ceilings in corporate America, Ms. Duckworth, the first woman sales and trading partner in Golden Sachs' history, wanted to give something back to the world. Not knowing anything about rugs or Afghanistan, she used her sales savvy and business smarts to grow a company in an unstable land with limited resources and virtually no infrastructure.

Starting with 30 weavers, Arzu has transformed into a learning laboratory for holistic grassroots economic development. Today it employs some 700 women, providing access to education and basic healthcare; seeding multiple micro-business start-ups; building community centers, pre-schools, and parks; and creating award-winning fair-labor rugs—all in a country ranked as “the world’s worst place to be a woman.”

Ms. Duckworth continues to serve pro bono as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer while promoting her employees' work worldwide and teaching the business community that they have the power to help alleviate some of the world's greatest social challenges.

Full Profile

Connie Duckworth founded ARZU, Inc. in 2004 and serves pro bono as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. She is a retired Partner and Managing Director of Goldman, Sachs, & Co., where she was named the first woman sales and trading partner in the firm’s history during her 20 year career.

Ms. Duckworth is currently a Trustee of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and a Director of Russell Investment Group and Steelcase Inc. In her philanthropic work, Ms. Duckworth serves on the boards of The Wharton School in Philadelphia, the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago and NorthShore University HealthSystem, in Evanston, Illinois, where she was the first woman to be named Chairman of the Board. She is a member of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, a public/private partnership aligned with the U.S. State Department and past Chair of the Committee of 200, the organization of leading women entrepreneurs and corporate business executives in the U.S. She also co-authored a primer on entrepreneurship entitled The Old Girls Network: Insider Advice for Women Building Businesses in a Man’s World (Basic Books 2003).

The recipient of numerous awards for leadership, advocacy, social impact, innovation and global presence, Ms. Duckworth received the 2012 UNICEF Chicago Humanitarian Award and was honored as the 2012 Woman Extraordinaire by the Chicago International Women Associates. In 2011, she was awarded the Wharton School Dean’s Medal, the school’s highest honor and was named a 2008 Skoll Foundation honoree for Social Entrepreneurship. She holds an M.B.A. from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. from the University of Texas.


Connie Duckworth Speaker Videos Back to top

Connie Duckworth, Social Entrepreneur: Keynote


About a decade before social entrepreneurship started to come into style, Connie Duckworth created Arzu Studio Hope, a rug weaving co-op to equip women in Afghan villages with the skills and market opportunities to get themselves out of poverty. She explains how over five years her team handled the challenges of training an illiterate workforce in a barren land that had been terrorized by war and poverty for over three decades, although she confesses she had no idea initially how they were going to succeed.

Admitting she knew nothing about Afghanistan or rugs, she likens the experience of creating Arzu Studio Hope with sitting in the front row of an advanced college course without having taken the require prerequisites or studied the right material. "We had to learn how to operate effectively in a gender segregated highly tribal rural society," she states. "We had to work around the aftermath of war: returning refugees, disrupted supply chains, no commercial shipping, and in the early days, no banks, no internet, and limited cell phone access."

Connie Duckworth, Social Entrepreneur: TEDxBerkley


Connie Duckworth, Social Entrepreneur: The Story of Arzu Hope Studios


Keynote Speech at Pepperdine University



Speeches / Speaking Engagements Back to top


Connie Duckworth is a central figure in reframing business, having created new models for social entrepreneurs. She shares the touching and inspirational story of how she set up Arzu Hope Studios, a rug weaving co-op in rural Afghanistan. Ms. Duckworth outlines the necessary ingredients for running a successful social business, detailing how she grew Arzu from a work force of 300 to 700 women while learning to operate in one of the most dangerous, impoverished, and isolated locations on the globe.

Suggested Keynote Speeches & Programs:
  • Betting Against the Global Trifecta
  • Social Entrepreneurship




* Please note that while this speaker’s specific speaking fee falls within the range posted above (for Continental U.S. based events), fees are subject to change. For current fee information or international event fees (which are generally 50-75% more than U.S based event fees), please contact us.

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The Old Girls' Network: Insider Advice For Women Building Businesses In A Man's World
Why is it that 95 percent of all investor financing for new businesses goes to men? Women certainly don't lack viable business ideas or the leadership skills to make them soar, but-as the authors, four highly successful entrepreneurs and investors, explain-female creativity and heartfelt commitment alone don't inspire seed-money decision makers. To persuade these mostly-male panels, a woman needs to present her idea in ways that are proven to "speak to" men. Alas, there is as yet a lack of mentors for would-be female entrepreneurs, no "old girls'" network in place to teach them these skills.Stopping this gap with wit and hard-won wisdom, The Old Girls' Network divulges the secrets to start-up and funding success and connects women to the resources they'll need along the way. Written with you-can-do-it attitude, The Old Girls' Network includes inspirational and instructive women-in-business stories, self-assessment quizzes, and recommended strategies for every stage of the entrepreneurial process. A veritable start-up Bible, The Old Girls' Network comes complete with a "tool kit" of sample forms, documents, letters, and templates for necessary agreements, ensuring that the next generation of female entrepreneurs will be admitted to the proverbial locker room of business success.
Suggested Keynote Speeches & Programs:
  • Betting Against the Global Trifecta
  • Social Entrepreneurship


Connie Duckworth, Social Entrepreneur: Keynote


About a decade before social entrepreneurship started to come into style, Connie Duckworth created Arzu Studio Hope, a rug weaving co-op to equip women in Afghan villages with the skills and market opportunities to get themselves out of poverty. She explains how over five years her team handled the challenges of training an illiterate workforce in a barren land that had been terrorized by war and poverty for over three decades, although she confesses she had no idea initially how they were going to succeed.

Admitting she knew nothing about Afghanistan or rugs, she likens the experience of creating Arzu Studio Hope with sitting in the front row of an advanced college course without having taken the require prerequisites or studied the right material. "We had to learn how to operate effectively in a gender segregated highly tribal rural society," she states. "We had to work around the aftermath of war: returning refugees, disrupted supply chains, no commercial shipping, and in the early days, no banks, no internet, and limited cell phone access."

Connie Duckworth, Social Entrepreneur: TEDxBerkley


Connie Duckworth, Social Entrepreneur: The Story of Arzu Hope Studios


Keynote Speech at Pepperdine University