- Posted on 23 April 2013
- by Marla Gitterman
When Bpeace was ready to enter Afghanistan in 2004, we needed money. Our friends and partners at that time – Women for Afghan Women – pointed us to a grant opportunity at the U.S. State Department.
When Bpeace was ready to enter Afghanistan in 2004, we needed money. Our friends and partners at that time – Women for Afghan Women – pointed us to a grant opportunity at the U.S. State Department.
We needed more than a map to find Rwanda and Afghanistan in our early days. UN Women was Bpeace’s Lewis & Clark and Christopher Columbus. We are proud to present UN Women with the Bpeace Pioneer Gamechanger Award.
We wanted something very special to present to our Bpeace Pioneer Gamechangers at our Gala celebrating Bpeace’s 10th Anniversary. Sculptor Anne Kellett rose to the challenge.
It's been eight months since Abdul Rashid Reshad travelled to the U.S. on the Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip. Since returning home to Afghanistan, he has transformed his for-profit vocational school and it was recently accredited by the Afghan government as a University. He has hired 25 people, most of them new faculty.
Reshad is the founder and owner of Reshad Educational and Higher Educational Institutes in northern Afghanistan. As one of Bpeace's most successful Fast Runner entrepreneurs, we asked him for the secrets to his success.
A: “I have been successful through continuing to improve my own knowledge and my team’s managerial capacity. I joined social and cultural groups that allow me to network locally. Now, the people in my city support me. Most importantly, I am honest and hardworking.”
Q: What distinguishes your University from other programs in Afghanistan? What makes the Reshad School special?
A: “My University is different from others in my city. We have a democratic atmosphere and we provide entertainment and extra-curricular opportunities for the students. We also conduct trainings for the entire staff. This is unique to our school”
Q: It took you many months to receive your University License. What challenged did you face throughout the process?
A: “There are many procedures that needed to be passed. I had to get special documents for all the teachers. We had a shortage of financing. It was also the first time I was working with Ministry of Higher Education. All of the roles and procedures were new to me.”
A: “I dream of being an international educator. I believe in building my country through education. Sometimes, I was upset and frustrated but my vision allowed me to struggle through the challenges. I contacted other private universities and sought guidance and support. Learning from my colleagues was a great help. Afghanistan is suffering because of our lack of education and that always continues to motivate me."
Q: How many women attend your educational institute? What are you doing to encourage women to attend your school?
A: "Currently we have 28 women (13%) enrolled on our higher education Institutes, 12 of them attend for free through our scholarship programs. Because of unique economic challenges Afghan women face, they represent a low percentage of students in my Institutes. To encourage women to attend, I decrease the fees for women; provide scholarships; and in the future will provide them post-graduation with career services to help them find employment."
Q: When you look at the future, what is the next big goal for your business?
A: “My first goal is to strengthen the quality and quantity of my Institutes. I want to establish more branches in other provinces in Afghanistan and create more fields of study. I am interested in creating partnerships with international universities. I want to grow my school internationally."
Q: What advice do you have for other business owners in Afghanistan?
A: “All business owners must have a strategic plan. It is very important to keep learning more about your industry and general business skills. Never stop being creative."
Q: What do you want to tell people in the United States about growing your business?
A: “I am pleased to learn skills and different achievements from Bpeace and the U.S. State Department. I am grateful for being invited to the United States to learn. It has really helped me promote my business. I am 100% sure I am doing right thing in the right time for my country."
A: “Afghanistan still needs support. We have achieved a lot since 2002: democracy, private business sectors (especially in education), a human rights delegation, a growing media, and freedom of speech. Every day Afghan businesses are growing. We still have new resources to grow our businesses but Afghans need international partners to work and share. We still need industry expertise and experience to support our efforts and exchange mutual business benefits.”
You can contact Reshad directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or +93 799 154 137
I had planned to spend two months in country, scouting for the start-ups to feature and putting together a pitch tape for producers. Bamiyan was my first scouting trip. I chose it because of the fascinating tourism development initiatives taking place, including the Afghan Ski Challenge and the country’s first national park; because of its reputation as one of the most secure provinces in Afghanistan; and (to be perfectly honest) because it is home to the Hazara people, for whom I am regularly mistaken.
I had no idea what I would find in Bamiyan, and at first glance at least, I did not find start-ups. At least none that fit into my pre-conceived notions, which were heavily influenced by the tech start-up model of Silicon Valley.
According to Paul Graham, one of the most revered thought leaders in tech-start-up-landia, start-ups are different from small businesses in their focus on a scalable product. Product-based – as opposed to service-based – is key because it means the potential to scale, and scaling is key because the very term “start-up” implies exponential growth.
In the United States, meanwhile, initiatives like Start-Up America promote the idea that entrepreneurship is the key to economic development and job creation, especially in a down economy.
But in Bamiyan, neither of those models seem to hold.
The local economy is still largely agrarian, with endless potato fields producing the best tubers in all of Afghanistan. NGOs and “civil society” play a huge role in the local social and economic fabric. Project funds and implementation pump millions into the local economy, providing not only jobs, but also careers for educated Bamiyanis to aspire to.
Indeed, international organizations and the NGOs that they support seem to serve as the backbone of Bamiyan. The Agha Khan Foundation, widely perceived as one of the most effective development organizations in Afghanistan today, is behind many of the economic development initiatives in Bamiyan, including eco-tourism, infrastructure projects, and small business support. Meanwhile, the development unit of UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan) focuses on basic capacity building projects for local NGOs in several key sectors.
The pervasiveness of NGOs is reflected in the work of the Bamiyan Department of the Economy. Despite its name, it does not focus on general economic issues, but rather on NGO coordination. “For private sector,” said one official I spoke to, “talk to the Chamber of Commerce.” Unfortunately, we were unable to coordinate a time to meet. (“Not surprising,” one international organization’s staff member said, “They are never in their offices.”)
Despite my difficulty in finding start-ups – which were probably too narrowly defined to begin with – I had no difficulty finding entrepreneurialism in Bamiyan. In fact, the province was teeming with entrepreneurs.
The official at the Department of the Economy, a twenty-something with the confident carriage of a man much older, was one example. He had studied economics at university and became a civil servant out of a desire to serve. But such a job came at a price – a much lower pay than an NGO or private sector job – and so he worked on numerous side projects as well. He listed “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” as his favorite book, taught web design and programming in his spare time, and dreamed of the day that he could start his own business.
Then there was the UN staff member, who had come in to work on his day off to help me find start-ups. “The problem with entrepreneurship in Bamiyan,” he said, “is a lack of expertise,” and he told me his story to illustrate the point.
He had once bought an egg incubation machine, hoping to fill a need in Bamiyan for fresh poultry and eggs. But he could not find anyone in the province that knew how to operate the machine optimally, nor could he find the knowledge in Kabul. Eventually, he traveled to Islamabad, where he met with men in the poultry business who convinced him his business idea was much more difficult to implement than simply buying the equipment. They tried to persuade him to import baby chicks from Pakistan instead, “but imagine trying to transport live animals – baby chickens – from Pakistan to Bamiyan,” he laughed.
And then there were the aspiring Bpeace Fast Runners, all of whom I had met without knowing that they had applied to the program. I met three – two of whom worked in media and one in tourism. All of them impressed me enormously in different ways. (They will be traveling to the U.S. in April 2013 through Bpeace's apprenticeship program supported by the U.S. Department of State.)
In fact, my host for the week was Bpeace Fast Runner Gul Hussein. Gul runs a bed-and-breakfast in Bamiyan (perhaps the only one in country), a national travel agency, and is the go-to travel and logistics coordinator for the international community in Bamiyan. He was one of the key organizers of the Afghan Ski Challenge; has everyone’s number from the governor to the local radio personalities in his phone; and, from everything that I saw, is the most successful entrepreneur in the province. Like many of the other entrepreneurs that I met, Gul’s business was entirely self-taught and to continue to grow, he needs exposure to the global standards of the hospitality industry.
While I didn’t find the “start-ups” that I was originally looking for, I most certainly did find entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. They were different, however, and distinctly Afghan. They are side entrepreneurs and serial entrepreneurs, juggling full-time jobs with small enterprises they are patiently nurturing until the right timing. Though growth and scale are important to them, as they are anywhere, these entrepreneurs have a more long-term outlook than the exit-strategy-obsessed start-ups of New York and San Francisco. And they understand – much better than American founders – the competitive advantage of community and personal networks.
But the strongest business network in Afghanistan may actually be the one that stretches beyond its borders. Especially with the uncertainty of 2014, which one interviewee wryly described as “the end of days,” Afghanistan’s entrepreneurs need continued capital and, even more importantly, continued mentorship.
Bpeace Advocates are a rare breed. Part skill-based volunteer and part business coach, they offer specific and often technical advisory remotely through email and Skype. Advocates bring knowledge and generosity to help a Bpeace Afghan Fast Runner grow a business in a very difficult environment.
More than 100 Bpeace Young Professionals and a few over-40 rock stars convened to celebrate the partnership of Bpeace, Blue Marble and the forthcoming documentary, Sweet Dreams.
Down in the atmospheric SL Lounge on West 14th Street, New York City, we met new friends, ate delicious Afghan bites, auctioned off 11 fabulous items and even saw a clip of Sweet Dreams. The incredible owners of Blue Marble--Alexis Miesen and Jennie Dundas--spoke about their journey in helping build Rwanda's first ice cream parlor and of the partnership they have cultivated with Bpeace over the years. Of course, we enjoyed scoops of their delicious ice cream as we listened to their story.
Sweet Dreams documents the tale of Rwanda's first ice cream shop and the partnerships that have been built in order to sustain it. Bpeace's Sabra Richardson has a featured role as she teaches the Sweet Dreams staff to record finances "in the same way."
Thanks to the hard work of Bpeacers Kara Castagna, Delilah Rothenberg and Allie Bartolino, who collaborated with Jordan Browning, Biz Ghormley, Fahima Ahad, Meave Murphy, Rachael Rho, Liz Pulver, and Laura Fedoryk to pull off this very fun event. In the wings was Bpeace staffer Lauren Hass making sure all went smoothly.
"Kate is highly strategic, fearless and totally committed to the Bpeace vision because she has been one of its architects," said Toni Maloney, Bpeace's CEO. "We are lucky to have such a smooth transition from Laurie's Board leadership to Kate."
In non-Bpeace life, Kate is a business growth strategist with a strong retail background and she sits on several corporate boards including Ascena Retail Group, Noble Biomaterials, and Vitamin Shoppe.
In her Bpeace life, Kate's impact has been wide and deep. She has raised more money than anyone--$360,000 over the past 8 years. By a significant margin, Kate logged the most Bpeace expedition miles--13 trips in all, including 4 trips to Afghanistan, 5 to Rwanda and 4 to El Salvador. Just this March, she traveled to San Salvador as a traveling mentor for Marenco, our Fast Runner who produces children's clothing.
Check out the full leadership team here.
Paula Lerner passed away on March 6, 2012 in Belmont, MA. Our sympathy to her husband Thomas Dunlap and her daughters Maia and Eliana.
Paula was an award-winning photojournalist and multi-media pioneer. For more than 25 years, she photographed stories for national and international magazines, including Smithsonian, People, Time and Business Week. Women's issues were a recurring theme in Paula's work.
To us at Bpeace, she was one of our earliest members. In 2004, Paula traveled on Bpeace's second expedition to Afghanistan. From that trip forward her career course was forever altered and Bpeace grew up fast thanks to her lens.
To best understand Paula's work, spend some time appreciating her award-winning multi-media piece that appeared in The Washington Post in 2006. She tells the compelling stories of five of Bpeace's earliest female Fast Runners at a time when Afghans and the world were more optimistic for Afghanistan's future. She was an authentic storyteller with her images and her voice. She was an amazingly fine writer as well.
In those early years of Bpeace, Paula's photography on our web site and in our marketing efforts helped us seem much larger and more accomplished than we actually were at the time.
She became family-close with Rangina, our Fast Runner in Kandahar and Paula spent long stretches of time in this dangerous province to document the lives of women there. For certain, this was the first time these women were photographed.
In 2010, Paula won an Emmy when her Kandahar photographs were the star of "Beyond the Veil" a six-part series for The Toronto Globe and Mail.
Paula used every opportunity to give the world insight into Afghan women. Even while she was ill these past years, she gave more speeches and presentations than any of us combined. At every single one she never missed an opportunity to also plug Bpeace. '
Just 10 days before her death, she filled out a Bpeace membership survey, saying "I wish there were more of an active chapter in the Boston area."
Paula's photographs leave a legacy for generations who will always see Afghan women through her eyes. So many of us were awed by her creativity, tenacity, passion, bravery and generosity. The Bpeace Board has decided to honor her memory with an annual award in her name.
Paula didn't have a chance to see a hard copy, but her new book is now available. More information here.
Paula knew what people everywhere wanted: "When I am in Kabul, my Afghan friends often ask to see pictures of my family," she wrote in The Washington Post. "As they smile at my family snapshots, we talk about our children. The Afghans I know want what people want everywhere: a peaceful environment to live and work in, a safe country to raise their families and go about their daily lives."
My heart aches from pain and sorrow as I write this about my dear friend Paula Lerner who left us way too soon.
As I struggle to find a higher answer for the losses I have felt in the past couple of years of loved ones, I do take pride in knowing ordinary people who have done extraordinary things in their lives and who have made positive changes to others in a very short amount of time. Paula certainly was, and will always remain, an extraordinary soul for me and the thousands of Afghan women and men whose lives she touched.
I met Paula during a Bpeace expedition to Kabul in 2007 where we just simply “clicked” the minute we met. I was one of the Fast Runner entrepreneurs Bpeace was providing with business guidance. Paula's genuine interest in the work and lives of Afghan women was immediately visible with her beautiful photographs. Her eyes were special--they saw things that ordinary visitors to my country did not. Paula would humbly say that her camera allowed her to see things differently, but we all know that a camera is only a machine, the real eyes were Paula’s and the search for that special sight was Paula’s.
Living and working in Afghanistan’s most troubled region of Kandahar was not easy even for me--an Afghan with Kandahari roots. But it did not bother Paula to make the decision to come and be with the women of Kandahar. When many international visitors were trying to discourage others from going to Kandahar for security reasons, it was Paula who insisted, “We must cover the lives of women in a region where everyone refuses to go!” She was not afraid of taking the risk to come there and spend time to tell the stories of women from Kandahar.
We had many visitors come and go in the nine years of my life in Kandahar, but never had I met someone who took such genuine interest to the region and to the cause as strongly as Paula. She came at least three times to Kandahar and was keen to come more often, but in the end I discouraged her after the security situation worsened on the ground. She was not afraid in spite of the fact that she was struggling with cancer.
When in Kandahar, Paula bonded in a very special way with the women there. Without even speaking the same language the women whom we met would constantly tell me “there is something special about this friend of yours...she is not like the others – she listens to us!” This is important for Afghans and for anyone in the world. To feel this connection is special and Paula easily made this connection with the women she met.
During one of her visits the women of my office decided to throw Paula a singing good-bye party. The Kandahari women sang love songs and friendship songs to Paula and they danced and enjoyed themselves very much. Paula decided to sing a song about women to them (my memory fails me to remember the title). Without translating the words the Kandahari women began to cry! Paula was crying with them. I began to cry as well because they both communicated through music without understanding each other. Parween, one of our Kandahari friends, replied when asked why she cried, she said “I don’t know what Paula sang to us but I just felt that it was from her heart and something to do with us as women!” Not many people have this gift.
As I sit and write this painful memory of Paula, I remember one thing my grandmother used to tell me growing up “Do good, throw it in the river; the river will not take it away!” This means that even if one tries to wash away good deeds they cannot be washed away. Paula’s commitment to giving Afghan women voice and helping them tell their stories will not be washed away by time. She may have left this physical world, but her spirit will forever be alive among the women, among her family and friends and certainly with me to continue the legacy for as much and as far as I can.
As Bpeace enters our 10th year in 2012, we are striving for "more, more, more." Here is our game plan:
1. More Salvadoran Fast Runners. We entered El Salvador in mid-2011, and we now have 8 Fast Runners with the addition of a call center, a social media marketing firm, a high-end baby clothes manufacturer and a shoe manufacturer Herbert of Group GW (see him above). Our goal is to reach 25 Fast Runners by the end of 2012.
2. More Afghan Fast Runners. We just reviewed 140 applications and will accept 12 male and female Fast Runner entrepreneurs into our program. New industries for us include film and animation companies; solar panel installers; and a for-profit vocational school. We will also onboard Fast Runners in industries we know: business consulting; IT and web design; shoe and furniture manufacturing; and beauty salon services.
3. More jobs created. Bpeace doesn't create jobs--our Fast Runners do. We are conducting the 2012 census of Fast Runners. Stay tuned for survey results.
4. More communities. In January 2012, we expanded into Herat, Afghanistan. And later in 2012 in El Salvador, we will expand beyond San Salvador and Santa Tecla. We will also conduct due diligence on a 4th country to enter.
5. More members. Every Fast Runner needs a Bpeace bench of about 7 members. Among them are Bpeacers who refer experts from their network; members who contribute ideas on calls; members who perform skill-based tasks virtually; Advocates who source knowledge for an individual Fast Runner; Traveling Mentors who invest time in the field; and members who cheerlead and spread the word. Since we expect that 2012 will be actively assisting 50 Fast Runners in our portfolio, we need to grow our membership by at least 15%.
6. More Road Trips to the U.S. Two groups of Afghan Fast Runners will visit with Host Companies in April and October. The U.S. Department of State provides financial support for these trips by Afghans. Because El Salvador is only four hours away, Salvadoran Fast Runners will travel to the U.S. individually.
7. More Host Companies. To date, nearly 100 U.S. companies have hosted Fast Runners--including 37 in 2011 alone. We will be recruiting at least 50 host companies for the 30 Fast Runners coming to the U.S. in 2012.
8. More expeditions to the field. Bpeace consulting teams are scheduled to travel to El Salvador on a rolling basis this year. We expect that at least 8 teams in all will travel to El Salvador this year. Security permitting, a training team will travel in December to either Mazar, Herat or Dubai.
9. More corporate partnerships. We ended 2011 with 2 new partners--Citibank and Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Women. Bpeace Executive Council member Mojdeh Barros is developing corporate outreach strategies so that every Bpeace member has a pitch toolkit at the ready.
10. More engagement with the U.S. Department of State. In 2011 we received a $434,000 grant for our next 2 years of activities in Afghanistan. In May and November, we will be attending State Department Global Professional Fellows Congress events in Washington, DC with representatives from 40 other countries.
11. More Growth Guides. Bpeace practical training workbooks are authored by Bpeace experts and provide an interactive experience that receive rave reviews from Fast Runners. This year we will launch Growth Guides in "Partnership," "Lean Manufacturing," "Fast Runner Finance" and "Family Business Succession."
12. More Board members. We welcome Anne Glauber, Managing Director, Finn Partners, back to the Board of Directors. In 2002 at the UN in Geneva, Anne planted the seed that grew into Bpeace. We also welcome Michael Strong, the lead author of Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve Al the World's Problems, co-authored with John Mackey, Muhammad Yunus and others. We will recruit 2 more Directors who have the skills to advance our vision and who can deliver on a $10,000 minimum give or get.
13. More money. Because of $500,000 worth of donated member/volunteer time annually, Bpeace is very efficient. But cash is still queen when it comes to hiring and retaining the talented staff we need to scale the organization. We will ramp up our efforts to expand our relationships with current donors, pursue new grants, and court philanthropists who share our goals.
14. More celebrations. 2012 is Bpeace's 10th Anniversary year. We will hold a GALA CELEBRATION on November 1 or 2. The Bpeace Young Professionals are planning a May or June event.
More health and happiness to you and your family this year.