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Helmandi Business Resilience

Helmand is still one of the most difficult operating environments in Afghanistan. Despite the security challenges, local entrepreneurs in the country’s largest province display a remarkable sense of resilience, helped by the PDM-Helmand project, which is accredited with having facilitated almost $150 million in contracts awarded to Helmandi companies by international buyers, thereby creating thousands of local jobs. Now, meet entrepreneurs who are building the Helmandi marketplace!

These stories were written by Nooruddin Bakhshi. He is an Afghan journalist who has worked for many years with The Financial Times, The Guardian and The Times. He has also worked on several NGO communication projects. He is based in Kabul.

Adapt and Prosper

Abdul Ghani had had a moderately successful business as a pharmacist, but the building boom in southern Afghanistan was too lucrative an opportunity to pass up! Handing the reigns of the pharmacy to one of his brothers, he and another brother started a construction company. He admits that it was a tough transition, but four years later, he says it was the wisest decision he has made.

Having quickly learned the ropes of the construction industry, his new company was soon contracted to work on a canal-cleaning project that employed 250 people. He credits Building Markets with greatly assisting the firm by conducting training sessions on how to write proposals for international donors, and giving advice on project management and marketing. “Before we had no idea what to do. But they [Building Markets] have given us a lot of information that has helped our business.”

Security Concerns Challenge Growth

One night, when Haji Abdul Sattar Popal’s company was working on a road project in Helmand’s Nawa district, the Taliban attacked. Two pieces of heavy machinery, including a road grader, were gutted by fire. It cost him $100,000 and almost crippled the family business. Haji Abdul, pictured right, has worked hard to rebuild the company, but the attack meant he had to lay off 25 employees, reducing the number of staff in his employ to 45. While the building of roads and canals remains a cornerstone of this company’s work, security remains one of the biggest concerns. “If security was better, we could finish contracts quicker and then start others.”

His office, on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah city, is full of heavy machinery including graders, forklifts and frontend loaders. Building Markets has provided training to him and some of his employees, as well as having helped him register his business. The business has also proved quite adept as an importer of heavy machinery for other businesses. Haji Abdul speaks proudly of his international contacts. “We have people in Japan, London and Dubai. We can show customers pictures of the machines on the internet and they can order them,” he says. Ensuring the machines are imported correctly is vital to ensuring the business runs smoothly, he says, reducing the likelihood of encountering problems with the government.

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