Counter-Terrorism Kickstarter

Want to help stop terrorism? Don't want to pick up a gun? Maybe a campaign on Kickstarter is the place to start. And thereby hangs a tale.

You can't meet Silbi Kelly Stanton, the founder and chief executive officer of Peace of the Action, based in Aspen, without thinking of Claire Danes in "Homeland" and Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty"--and what might have been. In 2000, pre-9/11, Stanton was studying Al-Qaeda at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, at a time when no one foresaw the cataclysm to come.

She graduated in 2002, after the attacks on the World Trade Center, at a time when her knowledge and skills were at a premium. But instead of choosing diplomacy or black ops, Stanton founded the Marshall Direct Fund in Aspen, a foundation with a mission to keep "investing in education and women's economic empowerment for a more peaceful world." The fund continues its work--with 1,600 scholarships granted for kids and 3,000 for women in vocational training--but Stanton branched off into the for-profit Peace of the Action, working on the ground with women entrepreneurs in Pakistan.

Why would an Al-Qaeda counter-terrorism specialist go into economic development for women?

"I'm interested in how to prevent conflict and asymmetric war," she says.
"Force-dominant counter-terrorism does not prevent the ideology from taking hold and recruiting new terrorists. I do think force is needed at times but it's not the only solution."

She hopes the solution might look like Her Own Two Feet, a line of sandals manufactured by a company she helped form that consists of ten hard-working women in Pakistan. Peace of the Action sells the sandals wholesale to retailers for $22 a pair; the suggested retail price is $45. Sales started in summer 2014 at the Women's Partnership Market in Denver; 02 and the Gallerie in Aspen; and in a store in Canyon City, Oregon. The idea is to increase distribution to larger retailers and eventually to expand the product line. Ten percent of sales go to educational and/or vocational scholarships in Pakistan. Carola Lovering was just hired a week ago to handle sales and marketing.

"They are changing their lives," Lovering says of the women in Pakistan. "They are empowering themselves with higher income and education."

Because Stanton is matriculating alone in hotbeds of terrorism, her work in Pakistan also takes guts. She talks of approaching village elders, of being the only woman among 35 men and being "momentarily intimidated."

"I'm very cautious," Stanton says. "I dress appropriately. I follow protocol."

But there is considerable evidence that meaningful economic development can fight terrorism. When the Marshall Direct Fund built a school near Islamabad, for example, plans for a nearby Wahabi madrassa were shut down.

Pakistan in particular needs help. The World Economic Forum Report on the gender gap has Pakistan ranking 56 out of 58 developing countries studied when it comes to the percentage of women engaged in the work force. Stanton said there is considerable evidence that women in the work force there invest more of their earnings in the family--and that the birth rate of such women plunges to just 2.2 children per family.

Silbi Kelly Stanton comes by her interest in counter-terrorism honestly. The daughter of both Irish Catholic and Protestant Irish descendants, Stanton also studied The Troubles in Ireland before turning to the Al-Qaeda conundrum. Understanding and fighting terrorism is in her blood and in her bones.

So maybe she could have been the star of her own "Homeland" or "Zero Dark Thirty." We'll never know.

"People think these are the most dangerous place on earth," Stanton says, "but I see the bright lights who light the way."