Compiled by: Hamid IbrahimKhail
Edited by: Mare Elston
Business as usual in Afghanistan really is business. Despite the endless images that flash on Western TV screens, Afghans are focused on thriving, not just surviving. But because survival is very much a part of their lives, that focus on thriving is unlike anything anyone in the West can understand.
Peace Dividend Trust in Afghanistan recently conducted a survey that shed light on the challenges Afghanistan’s entrepreneurs face. Take, for instance, 37-year-old Malika Sadat.
Originally from Kunduz Province in Northern Afghanistan, Malika, the daughter of a wealthy village elder, moved to Mazar-e-Sharif and eventually Kabul after her father was brutally murdered in a regional dispute. The family lost everything. Malika did not, however, lose her passion for education. Though forced to move around throughout her formative years, Malika received an advanced education in literature.
After graduating from a local university, Malika launched an NGO dedicated to supporting female crafts entrepreneurs. In early 2003, however, she was stymied by false accusations of corruption. Her first enterprise was lost. She, however, was not. Undeterred, Malika turned her attention to one of Afghanistan’s booming industries: construction. Within a few years, she founded the Irfan Milad Construction Company. A woman-run business, Irfan Milad was met with much skepticism. An international contract changed that. It soon paved the way to other contracts.
It also propelled Malika to found the Irfan Milad Women’s Association several years ago. Funded from her company and her own pocket, Irfan Milad Women’s Association offers high school educated females the chance to receive vocational training in practical disciplines such as marketing, management, English and computer skills. A follow up programme then helps the trainees find work within national or international organisations. For those females who are illiterate, the Association also offers training programmes in traditional female handicrafts such as weaving and special literacy courses. Malika offers these training sessions free; she knows well enough the problems women face. She knows that without assistance no one will offer help to women who don’t have family support or the funds to attend university.
So, what is next for Malika?
“I want to be a candidate for Parliament for Afghanistan in the next coming election,” she said. “I want to continue to serve my people more and more.”
Serving other Afghans is also what 33-year-old Idris Obaid wants. The owner of Idris Obaid Construction, the engineering entrepreneur launched his enterprise after not being able to find work after graduation.
Operating alone, Idris was the company’s engineer, proposal writer, cook and cleaner. His fledgling company’s first international contract was to build a school in the troubled, eastern province of Nuristan. But he soon faced serious trouble.
Nuristani government officials thwarted Idris’s work, claiming he had no right to work in their territory. They demanded he pay the Governor’s office a large percentage of his contract. Faced with these accusations, Idris returned to Kabul disconcerted but not defeated.
After various meetings and negotiations back in Kabul, Idris Obaid Construction was allowed to carry out their work in Nuristan. But Idris admits that his biggest business challenge remains battling corruption. Security issues in the provinces are another major concern. Despite this, he remains committed to growing his business and creating jobs for the younger generation of Afghanis.
Based on his own experience, Idris expresses great concern over the lack of jobs in the country for university graduates. He hopes for the day when international study grants will be more easily available to Afghan students. He thinks the future of the private sector lies in attracting foreign investment and the development of light industry and factories that create much-needed jobs. His dream “is to see an Afghanistan in the future where no one is jobless.”