Sophia Swire did not set out to be a social entrepreneur; it was a calling that found her.
Sophia began her career at Kleinwort Benson Securities, part of London’s largest Investment Bank, but after the market crash of 1987, she started down a very different path, one that would have a direct, meaningful and immediate impact on people's lives.
Whilst trekking in Chitral, a remote, snow-bound valley in Pakistan’s Hindu Kush she was approached by the local Deputy Commissioner who asked her to help him up an English Medium school, and returned to spend a year teaching there.
She went on to co‐found Learning for Life, a UK-based charity that supported the establishment of over 250 village schools for girls in rural Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. For this, she was awarded the 2010 Pakistan Achievement Award.
In the 1990s, she launched and managed an innovative, social impact cashmere brand, Sophia Swire London, that is widely credited with starting the global fashion trend for pashmina shawls.
In 2008, she started Afghanistan’s first Jewelry and Gem-cutting school for the charity, Turquoise Mountain, and has since worked with various Afghanistan-based government and non-government organizations to reform the gemstone mining sector and put more value into the hands of Afghan miners and artisans.
In 2012, she founded the non-profit Future Brilliance to foster stability and prosperity through enterprise and workforce development in post conflict countries. Its first project helped Afghan women artisans gain access to the gemstone and jewelry value chain.
Aayenda Jewelry, a Future Brilliance project, was established as a Social Enterprise in the US to build a sales and marketing platform for Afghan jewelry (Aayenda means "future" in the Afghan language, Dari). In 2013, the first jewelry collection was launched as a collaboration between 36 Afghan artisans trained by Future Brilliance and 3 award-winning international designers.
Since then, the line has been sold successfully at stores and online in Asia, EU, Canada, USA, and Mexico, and in 2016 was featured on the front cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine globally, modelled by Brazilian supermodel, Alessandra Ambrosio.
In 2015, graduates of Future Brilliance training programs registered the Aayenda Jewelry Co-operative. Royalty payments from sales of Aayenda, have funded the completion of a bead-making workshop in Northern Afghanistan, in which a further 80 Afghan women have been trained, and tools and equipment for Afghan artisans and designers.
Sophia is in demand as a expert and speaker on Social Impact Investment and Social Entrepreneurship.
Achievements & Awards
- 1990 – Founder Sophia Swire London, the social impact brand that launched the international fashion for pashminas while supporting 10 schools for Afghan refugees and measurably increasing Nepal’s GDP.
- 1993 Co-founder and Chair, Board of Trustees, Learning for Life, an NGO that established over 250 schools for girls in rural Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
- 2008 - Established the Jewelry and Gem Cutting school at HRH The Prince of Wales’ foundation in Afghanistan, Turquoise Mountain.
- 2009 – Drafted National Gemstone Policy and Strategy for Ministry of Mines & Petroleum, Afghanistan
- 2010 - Pakistan Achievement Award for Empowering Women and Girls.
- Senior Advisor on Gemstones to the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (funded by the World Bank).
- 2012 – Founder, Future Brilliance, a skills’ and enterprise development nonprofit, registered in Afghanistan, UK and USA.
- 2013 – Founder Aayenda Jewelry LLC, now an established Social Impact brand.
- 2015 – Humanitarian Innovation Award for Social Entrepreneurship, presented at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.