Bpeace Blog Briefs

Stories of bravery, transformation and impact.


Marketing skills to Afghanistan via Dubai

The desire for marketing skills is truly tangible among Bpeace’s Afghan Fast Runner entrepreneurs and I was excited to fulfill that need in early May 2011.

I took a week off from my job at Microsoft in Seattle to share my marketing skills as a member of Bpeace.  The Dubai Summit was originally scheduled for Mazar, Afghanistan.  The trip was moved, however,  after the raid on the UN compound in Mazar on April 4th.  My training colleagues  were Jonathan  Liljegren from PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Phyllis Rosen, a retired Ogivly exec.

Originally I was disappointed that we weren’t going into Afghanistan, but was later excited by the hospitality of the Dubai Women’s College (DWC) where we held all of the workshops and one-on-one clinics.

On the opening day of the Summit we heard from two graduated Afghan Fast Runners--Taj and Aziza--who now collaborate on a joint venture--DOSTI soccer balls.  Together, they employ more than  500 women who hand-stitch balls for export to the U.S., Canada and Germany.  From her own home, a woman who stitches DOSTI soccer balls can earn more than the average Afghan government worker.

The following three days were spent in classroom workshops in the mornings and individual clinic sessions in the afternoon. The Fast Runners were split into three teams and each morning I taught a session on marketing to one of the teams.  We went through a Bpeace Growth Guide marketing workbook that I helped develop to  improve their core skills.  Then we discussed real-world examples. The entrepreneurs were quick to give their input and ideas and build off of each other.

In the afternoons, I paired with a DWC faculty member and met individually with each of the Fast Runners from the morning session.  These meetings gave us the opportunity to hash out individual problems or questions and have an in-depth discussion about implementing change.  When not in clinic sessions, the Fast Runners worked as teams on business case challenges.

Our work with Zarghuna, who owns a beauty salon, really highlighted how a combination of marketing, finance and HR can be used to address a given issue.   Zarghuna is having a problem--after she trains her employees across all services (hair, nails, massage, etc.) they soon leave to start their own businesses.  We recommended that she have employees specialize in one service instead of training them in all areas.  Then Zarghuna will reduce the risk of employees leaving to start their own salons, increase the quality of her services by having “specialists” that she can promote, and also reduce training costs.

It was truly an inspiration to work with these men and women to help grow their businesses in a very challenging nation. Their passion for creating sustainable jobs and rebuilding their country is remarkable, and I believe is key to bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Filtering HR practices to the Afghan culture

The Bpeace Dubai Summit was a whirlwind trip that gave me the opportunity to teach HR management skills to 16 of Bpeace’s Afghan Fast Runners.  I was part of a specialized training and coaching team that included Jonathan Liljegren from PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Johnna Hobgood from Microsoft.

We were fortunate to have access to the terrific facilities at the Dubai Women’s College (DWC). It’s so interesting how bold the Afghan women looked with merely their head scarves next to the local women in Dubai – the Emirati – all in abayas (black head coverings and robes, many with their faces covered, some even with the old metal face coverings).

In the mornings, I taught a workshop on HR to each team of five Fast Runners. In the afternoon I held an HR clinic with a DWC faculty member where the Fast Runners met with us individually to talk about an HR issue they were dealing with in their business. I pulled so much knowledge from my Ogilvy days into those sessions.

These problems were fascinating:

• Entrepreneurs losing trained professional staff to the NGOs (non-profits) that pay them three times as much – despite the fact that the NGOs are in the country to help develop Afghanistan!
• The younger sister who is the head of an electrical business but has an older brother who prices jobs incorrectly and doesn’t show up on time-- but she cannot fire him or even correct his performance in a straightforward fashion because her parents won’t allow it.
• The young woman who must have a third person in the room to speak with a male employee who condescends to her because of her gender.

I love what I have been able to do with Bpeace and to see these entrepreneurs grow and create jobs--which are so needed in Afghanistan.

Shahla will help Afghan women stand taller

Shahla is unique to Bpeace--she is not only the youngest Fast Runner but also the first cross-generational Fast Runner.  Shahla's mother, Fatima, is just completing her three-year Bpeace program.  Fatima runs a furniture manufacturing company employing 80 women she trained as carpenters.  Clearly Shahla was raised seeing how women can accomplish anything.

There are few non-imported shoes in Afghanistan, making Shahla's shoes a hot commodity in Kabul among the "Be Afghan, buy Afghan" locals.  The 26 employees in her factory hand-make 20 shoes a day using one pedal-operated sewing machine and re-purposing used vehicle tires for the soles. The craftsmanship of her shoes astounded the employees of P.W. Minor, one of her host companies, who now proudly display a pair of Shahla's shoes in their own factory to inspire employees.

Shahla truly touched everyone she met while in the U.S. during the Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip (BART) and created buzz in the press too.   Glamour magazine blogged that Shahla is, "challenging stereotypes, breaking barriers, and creating unparalleled independence for herself..." You can read the full post here:   To learn more about Shahla's experience at P.W. Minor, you can read this article in The Batavian:  The Syracuse Post Standard describes Shahla's experience at Aurora Shoes: In this article in The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Shahla's experience at both host companies is detailed

Currently, Shala is producing men's shoes, and women's flats.   Shahla also plans to add a line of high heels to her collection, something she says that, "all the young women in Afghanistan will love to wear!" Shahla spent the day with shoe designer Heather Williams, and together they designed two spectacular shoes using Heather's silhouettes, trimmed with Afghan coins and medallions.  Shahla plans to create these shoes when she gets back to Afghanistan.

You can listen to Shahla describe her inspirations and new goals at Bpeace's annual meeting:

Thank you to Shahla's host companies:
Aurora Shoe Company
Gabriel Saca
Heather Williams Designs
Jutta Neumann Leather
P.W. Minor

BART is partially funded by the U.S. Department of State, Office of Citizen Exchanges in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Sora is chipping away at Afghanistan's future

For Sora, snacks are a serious subject.  She doesn't just want to eat them, she wants to produce them.  Specifically, Sora wants to be the first potato chip manufacturer in Afghanistan.

Chips are a favorite snack among Afghans yet they only have access to ones imported from Pakistan that are often burnt and can only be purchased in large, open packages.  For Sora, who believes that Afghanistan has the best tasting potatoes in the world, this is an opportunity.  Sora has a secured some land in an industrial park and is working on the funding for her factory. Initially, she will employ 10 people but hopes to quickly grow that number to 100 and then expand to provinces across Afghanistan.

Local ingredients will be crucial for Sora when she is producing chips, which is why she spent time at North Fork Chips on Long Island--long known for miles of potato fields.  She held bundles of potatoes, smelled the oil and tasted lots of chips, all in the name of her business.  Sora saw first hand how North Fork Chips efficiently operates their business and learned about their approach to processing, packaging and distribution. Carol Sidor of North Fork Chips commented that, "Sora was was so excited, and it made us excited, too."

Sora not only excited Carol but she piqued the interest of the entire Bpeace Young Professionals Team during a potato chip taste-off hosted by Credit Suisse.  Sora and the rest of the Bpeace Fast Runners in the U.S. for the Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip (BART), and about 10 New York young professionals exchanged stories about their emerging careers. Most importantly though, pounds of chips were consumed and 10 different flavors of chips were tasted and evaluated by all.  The Afghans and the New Yorkers definitely had different points of views on their chip preferences.

Sora was surprised at how many different flavors of chips exist in the U.S.--they only have "plain" in Afghanistan.  She is already dreaming of what flavors to offer her future customers.

Sora also visited potato chip manufacturers in Pennsylvania.  In the coming months, Bpeace will be helping her create a logo and brand.

To share more about Sora's experience in the U.S. and her host companies, you can read this article about her in the Dans Paper: and this one in Newsday:

A special thanks to all of Sora's host companies:
Foster Farms
Martin's Potato Chips
North Fork Potato Chips

BART is partially funded by the U.S. Department of State, Office of Citizen Exchanges in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Khalid brings new flavor to Afghanistan

Khalid's father founded the Haji Abdul Rahimi Ice Cream Shop in 1954. Today, the 81-year old patriarch works for Khalid as his cashier.  With a broad smile, Khalid says they offer one flavor--"plain."  It's really cardamom with rosewater--a flavor so exquisite, that when Khalid demonstrated the recipe to one of his host companies--Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream--they immediately wanted to add the flavor to their menu.

Flavor was a recurring theme for Khalid's visit in the U.S.  He was excited to learn how to mix fruit into yogurt (again, the only yogurt flavor in Afghanistan is "plain") and to make fruit flavored ice cream like the kind he tasted in the U.S.  Strawberry, blueberry and mango are just three of the flavors that he plans. He also hopes to offer those flavors as milkshakes, a new and favorite treat of all the Afghan Fast Runners while in the U.S. during the Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip (BART).

Most importantly, Khalid wants to extend his business beyond the spring and summer when ice cream is in demand.  Since he already has a pipeline to 14 dairy farmers, he wants to extend into year-round products--cheese and yogurt production.   To read more about Khalid's time learning to make cheese at Mecox Bay Dairy, here is the Newsday article:

If Khalid wasn't already the most famous ice-cream shop owner in Mazar, Afghanistan, he might be Afghanistan's first comic with perfect timing.  Here is Khalid at the Bpeace annual meeting describing the "machines" he uses in his business.

Thank you to Khalid's host companies:
Blue Marble Ice Cream
Candy Kitchen
Cold Stone Creamery
Dan Francis Organic Farms
Dwight Martin Farms
Maple Hill Creamery
Mecox Bay Dairy
Organic nymilk
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream

BART is partially funded by the U.S. Department of State, Office of Citizen Exchanges in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Tahera is counting on Afghanistan's progress

It only takes a few minutes with Tahera to understand why she has been such an inspiration to the women in her family.   Tahera grew up in Iran--her parents sought refuge there as newly-weds when the Taliban seized power.  After returning to Afghanistan five years ago, Tahera instantly knew that she wouldn't be sitting idle watching while her brothers became fully immersed in a country she always considered her own, but never truly experienced.   Tahera was the first woman in her extended family to get a job outside of the home, and now 20 female relatives have followed her example.

Tahera is the manager of the Balkh Business Development Company--a consulting firm in Mazar, Afghanistan.  After her visit to the U.S. during the Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip (BART), she is ready to expand her firm's services to include budgeting, bookkeeping and accounting.  In fact, Tahera might well become Afghanistan's first woman charter (certified) accountant!

Mention the word QuickBooks, and Tahera lights up at the name of this accounting software.  As the manager of a firm that helps other entrepreneurs grow their businesses, Tahera knows the importance of organization and accurate accounting.  Tahera spent her time in the U.S. becoming more familiar with the software, understanding how accounting firms are managed, what to look for in hiring the best accountants, and how to market these new services to her current clients.  She is so energized, she is already planning to expand her formal education and study for an accounting degree somehow--perhaps by a remote academic degree program.

This desire and will was evident to all of Tahera's host companies. The Sag Harbor Express captured Tahera's energy a while working at the CPA firm--Banducci, Katz and Ferraris.  You can read the full article here:

Tahera is back in Afghanistan with new business ideas, gifts for her son and a wish for the future--that she will graduate from the Fast Runner program and become a volunteer member of Bpeace herself--so that she can share her own business acumen with younger entrepreneurs.  To hear Tahera's wish in her own words, watch her speak at the Bpeace annual meeting:

A special thanks to all of Tahera's Host Companies:
Banducci, Katz and Ferraris LLP
Integrity Financial Partners
The Gotham Research Group
The Greener Group
The Jackson Group
Women's Business Development Council

BART is partially funded by the U.S. Department of State, Office of Citizen Exchanges in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Zabi is building a better Afghanistan

Zabi is extremely well rounded--he runs his family's business, has a medical degree and is a champion boxer.   He proves his love of boxing by pushing his cartilage-free nose all the way down to his face.  He laughs when he does this and you know he is recalling the incident with utter glee.

When Zabi isn't in the ring, he is busy building community projects in Mazar, Afghanistan--including schools, clinics and government buildings.  Zabi's family construction company, JAC, focuses on these projects because he understands that rebuilding the physical structures in Afghanistan is essential to rebuilding the country and sustaining peace.

Most of Zabi's U.S. time during the Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip (BART) was spent at CCI Construction in Montvale, New Jersey visiting their diverse job sites and completed buildings.  The team at CCI said that Zabi has a solid understanding of his business, from drafting proposals to executing his plans.  There were lots of discussions around the differences in construction planning, working with sub-contractors, and of course building materials and techniques.  As a true techy, Zabi was thrilled to have the chance to learn how to use Microsoft Project Manager.

Jake Lindsay of CCI even showed Zabi how to entertain clients--out on the golf course.  Zabi proudly announced he is now the "best golfer in all of Afghanistan!"

Technology is an integral part of Zabi's personal life.  While in the U.S. his friends and family in Afghanistan accessed real-time updates of Zabi's trip by staying tuned to his Facebook profile.

Zabi does have a not-so-secret dream.  To grow his construction business to a point that his younger brother can take it over.  And then Zabi will return to the practice of medicine to become a world-famous orthopedic surgeon!

You can learn more about Zabi's diverse passions and excitement for life, albeit without much time to sleep, in this video of him at the Bpeace annual meeting:

A special thanks to all of Zabi's host companies:
CCI Construction Inc.
Penguin Air Conditioning
Lisa Dubin Architect
Liz Pulver

BART is partially funded by the U.S. Department of State, Office of Citizen Exchanges in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Azi has Afghanistan's back-up planned

Azimulhaq (Azi as we affectionately call him), appears as the stoic, mature Fast Runner of the Afghans on the Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip (BART).  Yet, bring him to a bowling alley and a whole new side of him emerges--his eyes light up, he throws his hands in the air and he even gives a yelp when he hits a few pins.

Azi is the co-owner of RAHA which offers IT services to local businesses, and computer training courses to individuals.

In Mazar, Afghanistan, RAHA is unique because it is locally-owned and operated.  Azi says this puts him at a disadvantage so the folks at Host Company Global Partners in Waltham, MA gave him guidance on how to compete against large, non-Afghan competition.  Azi learned about ways to deepen trust with his clients, strengthen his current services and increase revenue.  Back in Afghanistan, Azi will work  to focus RAHA and better manage the rapid expansion which is causing some growing pains.

Throughout his time in the U.S., Azi learned through a direct, hands-on approach.  For the first time, he learned about backup systems and the imperative role they play in most American companies. Azi was particularly interested in new ways of coping with computer viruses and how professional service firms manage their staff.

Watch how Azi plans to bring change to his company and community from his brief talk at the Bpeace Annual Meeting:

A special thanks to all of Azi's Host Companies:
Cooper & Dunham LLP
Fenton Communications
Global Partners LP
Morgan Stanley
Tech Networks of Boston

BART is partially funded by the U.S. Department of State, Office of Citizen Exchanges in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Afghan hats off to New York

For the Fast Runners, Tuesday was their first day in NYC started with morning orientation at Fenton Communications. Then sandwiches ("Why do Americans like cold food?) and off on a double decker bus to tour Manhattan. There are 6 young men in this group, four women, plus Fahim our Entrepreneurial Advisor in Mazar, and Soraya our Afghan Country Director based in Kabul.

Bpeacers jumping on and off the bus with the Afghans were giddy to see the city through their eyes.  The Fast Runners were interested in everything---the people on the street, the architecture, the fact that the buildings were so tall, the lighted billboards in Times Square. When the group reached Battery Park they had such an appreciation to be so close to the water!

Agnes Terestchenko: "The most striking part for me is that they all wanted to go to the Apple store! amazing coming from Mazar! A big Hourrah to Steve Jobs!"

Gita Patel found it fascinating that "they were very interested in taking pictures of buildings under construction (not just Iqbal who is in construction)."

Escorting the Afghans to the film Secretariat, Liz Wald reports "they took everything in stride. At one point the movie cut out completely - right at a climax moment of the final race of the triple crown!! - and they joked about how they had power outages in Afghanistan all the time...ha!"

Afghans rising

We’ve known them on paper for months, but this trip—we call it the Mazar Summit—was the first time the Bpeace volunteers were meeting our new group of Fast Runners in person.

Soraya Omar, Bpeace’s Afghan Country Director, and our new hire in Mazar—Dr. Fahim Qaderi—planned the week-long Summit for five volunteers from the U.S. to meet 26 Afghan Fast Runners. And for Bpeace—two big firsts. The program is based in Mazar (with 8 Kabul Fast Runners) and includes men in addition to women! Having men is a surprising non-issue for the women—we believe this is because this is our youngest group of entrepreneurs—age range 21-35. Though on the first day the men and the women were sitting on separate sides of the room waiting for the icebreaker. That quickly changed and by dinner day two you can see the mixing for yourself in the photos.

Bpeace is a witness to the growth and change in Afghanistan, and the business sophistication and worldliness that is emerging. (Of course this doesn’t get much airtime anywhere.) Example: six years ago, the only businesswomen we could find were in handicraft. Three years ago, only 15 percent of our entrepreneurs spoke English and knew how to use a computer, and none had ever heard the term HR (human resources). Today, 70% of our group speaks English, we have women entrepreneurs in IT, electrical engineering and shoe manufacturing, and men in industrial cleaning and jewelry design. (We are giggling with delight at being a part of this.)

After two days of training, dinner was a family affair. We dined under the stars al fresco (oops we’re not in Tuscany, though it felt like it, so in Dari we dined “mila”)with our entire group. Special guests included Mobina and Ferishta from our previous group of entrepreneurs and we met their husbands and babies too.

Speaking of family, our new Fast Runners include the daughter of Fatima, from our previous group; Khan Aga, the husband of BahktNazeria from our first group; and Azam, the husband of Taj of our second group. Entrepreneurship in families is spreading!

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