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Ann Marie Etergino never thought an event about her support for women in Afghanistan would become one of the most topical conversations she’d have with clients.
Etergino, founder of The Etergino Group and the firm’s top female financial advisor, located in RBC Wealth Management’s Chevy Chase, Md. branch, has been involved with Women for Women International for more than a decade.
“Women for Women invests in communities with the greatest need by helping women learn job skills, earn a living, and assist their families and communities. At the end of the program, women — some of whom have never touched money in the past — learn to set up savings accounts and support themselves financially,” said Etergino, “The program embodies my passions for investing and giving back.”
Etergino and RBC Wealth Management have sponsored events for the organization in the past. Last year, she planned a program on Women for Women’s work in Afghanistan. That same day the United States announced U.S. troops would pull out of the country.
“For weeks, Afghanistan had been in the news,” Etergino remembered. “It’s hard to convey a situation as complex as Afghanistan, but they were able to get a better sense of how dire the situation was.”
The response was overwhelming and clients were moved to get involved, she added.
Etergino began volunteering for Women for Women as an advisor to the board and quickly shared her expertise in finance and auditing. A couple of years later, she was appointed to a position on the board and now serves on several committees, including chair of the audit committee as well as a member of the finance committee.
Her passion for helping women and girls, empowering them with education, job training and money management skills, has kept her involved beyond her service on the board.
Etergino has participated in the “sponsor a sister” program several times, focusing her support for women in conflict zones including South Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Congo and Rwanda.
Inspired by the program, Etergino has visited Rwanda twice and met her Rwandan “sister” on one of her visits to that country. She heard how Women for Women taught her to grow and sell pineapples, helping her to generate an income for the first time.
The woman told Etergino, how that income changed her life. In the past, her landlord would beat her when she couldn’t afford to pay her rent. Now making money, she could afford to pay, and the landlord stopped beating her.
“As she became more empowered and was able to generate income, her life dramatically improved — she wasn’t as passive as she was before,” Etergino said. “It was an amazing story. I was transformed with this idea that you could literally change someone’s life for only $30 a month.”
Helping Women in Afghanistan
When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021, Women for Women needed to be strategic about how to continue its work in that country. Etergino heard from Women for Women staff about their meetings with the Taliban, where they worked to convince male leaders to allow Women for Women programs to continue.
She learned creative ways the organization innovated to help women access money and food during a tumultuous time that affected the country’s economics and food supply.
“The whole money transfer system was shut down,” Etergino said. “Women for Women figured out a different way to send money. Now every woman gets cash and poultry since they have such a dire need for food as well.”
Part of a Community
Through the recent support for women in Afghanistan, and the many other programs run by Women for Women around the world, Etergino has seen firsthand the difference the organization can make, and not just through the impact of direct monetary donations. The emotional and community support Women for Women provides can help to lift women out of dire living conditions, ranging from physical and sexual violence to health issues, social isolation and much more.
“You’re bringing these women into a community, and they become part of a strong support system,” Etergino said. “There is a saying, ‘If you help a woman, you help her family, and if you help her family, you help a community, and if you help a community, you have a chance to make the world better.’”
The stories Etergino hears are often graphic and difficult, but they push her to act. Women for Women has put a lot of emphasis on educating women about their rights in each of the regions where the organization works. It empowers women to advocate for themselves, and gives them the confidence to fight for what is theirs, whether property or the right to work.
“It’s so humbling,” Etergino said. “You think about how privileged we are, not only in where we live — that we’re safe and not living in a conflict area — but in all that we know and all the resources we have.”
Etergino’s passion for making an impact in her community is a conversation that often comes up with her clients. Her motto is “connecting wealth with purpose” and she says her volunteerism is a good way to illustrate the importance of philanthropy.
“Our clients are inspired, asking what they can do to help — or how they can do more with causes important to them.
“I don’t know that a lot of people appreciated what was really happening on the ground in Afghanistan until they heard from Women for Women,” she said. “We see the headlines, but we’re not thinking about what’s happening to real people there. Having the chance to learn can have a ripple effect. Even if it ends up helping just one person.”
Ann Marie Etergino serves on the Board of Directors of Women for Women International. RBC Wealth Management is not affiliated with Women for Women International.
RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, registered investment adviser and Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.