With Afghanistan plagued by prolonged violence, Afghan entrepreneurs in general and women entrepreneurs in particular are taking a leaf out of India’s start-ups to do business. A war torn environment has not discouraged people from striving for excellence. They are engaging themselves in a host of reconstruction activities offered by India over the last few years.

A group of Afghanistan women entrepreneurs, who are on a visit to India, told The Sunday Guardian in Hyderabad this week that Indian entrepreneurs’ success stories serve as an example. These Afghan women entrepreneurs are undergoing a leadership programme at Indian School of Business (ISB) in association with a US based business school, Thunderbird School of Global Management, as part of its non-profit initiative.

The current batch, consisting of 12 women entrepreneurs, is the sixth batch to be exposed to different business stakeholders and social interactions to shore up their skills. The women, who are aged between 22 years and 52 years, come from diverse backgrounds. Whereas some are first generation entrepreneurs from rural areas, some others hail from urban areas and are inheritors of family businesses. For most Afghan entrepreneurs, India is a better option than the US to learn skills and acquire business knowledge. “Indian conditions are more similar to them than those of the US. Besides that, they want to continue their business links with India in the future, too,” Kellie Kreiser, executive director, Thunderbird for Good, told this newspaper.

A batch of 12 Afghan women entrepreneurs are undergoing a leadership programme at Indian School of Business (ISB). 

Zahara Hi, 39, who runs a private high school at Kabul with an intake of 300 students, said: “In spite of a bad security situation, more and more women are trying their hands at business. It is interesting to see a lot of women even in the remote areas entering business.”

Zahra was first exposed to India when she came here for the delivery of her baby in Hyderabad two years ago. She intends to increase the strength of her school to 700 pupils soon. Zahra currently employs 18 persons including 12 women. “I believe this is because women have had more freedom in recent years which has allowed them to express themselves in business,” she said. Explaining the expanding business opportunities for women in Afghanistan, Zahra said that there was a difference in the business culture of women in the cities and in remote areas. “Women in remote areas are involved in farming and artisan work mostly. Women in cities can avail of a lot more opportunities including import and export, manufacturing, services and dried fruits and jewellery,” she said.

Fifty-two-year old Atifa Mansuri, who is from Herat, runs a company, Abdulla Muslim Limited that deals with carpets and saffron. She said that she intends to enter new areas like making organic products that people can use in their everyday life. “I work with saffron now, which has both food and medicinal properties. I plan to work together with other women to create products that would be useful,” she said.

According to her, Afghanistan was an ideal place for organic production since the country has many of the raw materials needed for it and the soil was suitable. Atifa feels that Indian and Afghanistani entrepreneurs can join hands for successful ventures in organic food and other commodities across the borders. Atifa was all praise for India and its leadership. “India is great. I think we can have a great relationship with India because we are very close culturally and have a lot of political interests in common. Indians have always had a positive outlook about Afghanistan, and Afghanistan has the closest bond with India in all of Asia,” she asserted. She said they prefer India to China for their future business dealings.

Zahra Jafri, 35, who runs a recreation centre for women at Daykundi, and Zakia, 35, also from Daykundi and who runs a private radio station with 14 employees including five women, are greatly inspired by India’s women entrepreneurs. Zahra Jafri’s recreation centre has sections like swimming and indoor games and feels is encouraged by  the sportswomen in India.

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