Tag Archives: afghanistan

Wrapping Up Global Entrepreneurship Week

Tashabos students in Afghanistan celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week.

“Entrepreneurship thrives where what you know matters more than who you know. Entrepreneurs are natural champions of these ideals; they crave space for creativity and possibility. These aren’t just economic ideals. They are political ideals too. Not just American ideals, but universal ones, and entrepreneurs are among their strongest advocates.” - Thomas Nides, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, speaking at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Washington, DC.

Last week was Global Entrepreneurship Week, which CIPE and partners celebrated here on the blog, on Twitter, and at events around the world.

On November 12, CIPE kicked off the week with a blog post from CIPE Chair Karen Kerrigan discussing why entrepreneurship, and particularly the “entrerpenruial ecosystem,” matters.

At a #GEWChat Twitter chat on Tuesday, November 13, 56 contributors discussed the economic, social, and political importance of entrepreneurship, reaching more than 390,000 people.

In Pakistan, CIPE hosted three major in events in Karachi, Islamabad, and Peshawar. The students at all three events discussed the difficult regulatory environment in Pakistan for start-up businesses, the lack of access to finance, law and order issues, and the discouragement of entrepreneurial risk-taking. Hammad Siddiqui wrote about the importance of supporting the next generation of Pakistani entrepreneurs.

In Latin America & the Caribbean, CIPE partner Revista Perspectiva organized a Spanish-language Twitter chat on entrepreneurship in Latin America. The discussion reached nearly 65,000 Twitter accounts and directly engaged entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the field.

In Afghanistan, an event held in collaboration with the Ministry of Education built awareness of the contributions of young entrepreneurs to Afghanistan’s economy and society. An exhibition at Bibi Sahrah girls’ high school gave 11 students from CIPE’s Tashabos high school entrepreneurship course the opportunity to display crafts and products they have developed and practice their marketing skills.

In Ukraine, CIPE partners hosted events all around the country, including the 5th “Ecoenergy” Youth Festival in Sevastopol.

Entrepreneurship is an especially important topic in the Middle East & North Africa region, where frustration with high youth unemployment and restrictive regulations led to the Arab Spring in 2011. On the blog, Brandon Nickerson discussed some of the barriers young entrepreneurs face in the MENA region and how they can overcome them.

On the blog, contributors also wrote about social entrepreneurship — what it means and how to categorize it.

Learn more about CIPE’s entrepreneurship programs around the world by watching the Prezi below!

Youth Rebuilding the Economy in Afghanistan

Afghan high school students undertaking the Tashabos course. (Photo: CIPE)

In 2004, CIPE partnered with the Afghanistan Ministry of Education to launch a pilot program to help Afghan youth learn more about entrepreneurship and basic business skills, in addition to the core national curricula. Since the program’s inception, approximately 13,000 high school students have successfully completed the three-year Tashabos youth entrepreneurship course – half of them girls and young women. The skills that the students acquire during the Tashabos program better equip them to take leadership positions as entrepreneurs, empowering them to advance democratic and market-oriented reforms in their communities.

Tashabos may sound like just another class, but the students who participate in these courses take the lessons to heart and seek opportunities to start small businesses, thereby making their local communities better places. By helping Tashabos students understand the principles behind small business, CIPE is helping these students make a positive contribution to Afghanistan’s business environment. In addition, many Tashabos students contribute to the success of their family businesses. Youth are too often left out of political and economic policymaking, but with the right skills as business owners, these students are preparing for active roles as decision makers.

The Tashabos classes incorporate business competitions alongside regular courses. In October, CIPE worked with three high schools in Parwan Province to conduct local business proposal writing competitions, where students presented their business ideas using the knowledge and skills acquired during their Tashabos studies. More than 30 students participated, and the winners took part in a final competition at the end of 2011 between the top students from each school in the Tashabos program. CIPE also assisted the schools in organizing exhibitions for the students to display and sell products they have developed.

In December, CIPE supported another proposal writing competition with four schools in Jalalabad, where more than 60 students participated, applying their classroom knowledge to a real world business venture. In 2011 alone, 177 Tashabos students used their knowledge to successfully start their own businesses.

Of the Tashabos graduates, 1,362 have set up their own small business, 204 have revived a family business, and 350 have helped expand an existing family business. In total, the students have created 7,336 jobs in their communities.

This article by CIPE Afghanistan Communications Officer Ahmad Masoud originally appeared in OverseasREPORT No. 51.

Building Business Ties Between Afghanistan and Pakistan

Trucks from Afghanistan await clearance to cross the border into Pakistan. (Photo: EPA)

The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a rough road. But it also serves as a vital economic lifeline between the two countries, whose trade is valued at some $3 billion annually — equal to about 15% of Afghanistan’s GDP.  However, many legitimate businesses still find it difficult to navigate the complex web of regulations, bureaucracy, and corruption which hamper legal trading across a frontier best known as a conduit for smuggling drugs and weapons.

In hopes of overcoming these issues, several Chambers of Commerce in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with technical help from CIPE and funding from the British High Commission in Pakistan, have been working for the past three years to set up the Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PAJCCI), which held its first meeting on March 13, 2012. The new chamber will seek to address crucial issues on both sides of the border that have hampered the development of legitimate and documented cross-border trade.

“Given the critical role that private sector growth must play in Afghanistan’s future development, and the importance of Pakistan as a major trading and trans-shipment partner for Afghan business, this organization is long overdue,” said Andrew Wilson, CIPE Regional Director for South Asia. “There are many complex trade issues to overcome, and this group will have its work cut out for it.”

The joint chamber’s leaders are optimistic about the economic possibilities. Zubair Motiwala, who was elected PAJCCI President at Tuesday’s meeting, said that the chamber aims to double the volume of trade between the two countries to $6 billion annually.

In addition to advocating for reforms that would remove barriers to trade, the chambers have already begun to cooperate on more immediate issues, such as identifying products in specific sectors that firms in Afghanistan would like to buy from Pakistani companies. This kind of knowledge will be vital for companies trying to do business in a country where transportation is costly and dangerous and information is scare.

Looking ahead, there is also hope that a more stable and economically developed Afghanistan could provide a conduit for Pakistan to access Central Asian oil and gas resources. “Afghanistan can play a key role in providing access to the central Asian countries for energy deals,” said Khan Jan Alokozai, PAJCCI co-president from Afghanistan. However, the chamber’s leaders said that they had no plans to get involved in the politics surrounding current proposals for a new gas pipeline.

Given the complex political and security situation in the region, the PAJCCI has many obstacles to overcome. But developing strong business ties with its largest and most economically advanced neighbor will be essential to the Afghanistan’s long-term stability and development.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: Entrepreneurship Under the Taliban

In this video from our recent Democracy that Delivers for Women conference, the bestselling author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana talks about the challenges and opportunities that face women entrepreneurs in conflict and post-conflict countries. As Gayle points out, women entrepreneurs are important not only to the economic recovery of conflict zones, but to ensuring that “there is a community to go back to when the war is over.”

CIPE is working with partners around the world to support entrepreneurs in regions that have been devastated by years of war, including Afghanistan, where Tashabos helps teach tens of thousands of school-age girls and boys valuable entrepreneurial and business skills. Find out more about what Tashabos is doing for Global Entrepreneurship Week at the Community of Young Entrepreneurs blog.

You can also read a full transcript of Gayle’s remarks in this week’s Economic Reform Feature Service.

Three grains of salt

 

Greg Mortenson poses with Sitara ''Star'' schoolchildren in Wakhan, northeastern Afghanistan in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters March 11, 2009. (Photo: Reuters/Central Asia Institute)

This week I received an email with the subject “Microfinance for Mother’s Day.” Mother’s Day is quickly approaching and with just a simple donation I can give the gifts of “empowerment, dignity and hope” to another mother, somewhere in Kenya. Narratives like this are emotional and powerful, but, alas, they are not always true.

Feel-good narratives can fuel well-intended initiatives, but revelations last week by 60 Minutes questioning the veracity of parts of Greg Mortenson’s novel “Three Cups of Tea,” as well as the work of his charity—the Central Asian Institute—in building schools for girls in Afghanistan, raise serious questions about how such narratives can result in oversimplified development interventions.

The troubling allegations leveled against Mortenson involve misappropriation of charity contributions for self promotion; exaggerated or outright fabricated tales of capture and triumph; and the dismal underperformance, underutilization or non-existence of those schools Mortenson’s charity claimed to be building in the rugged border region.

These allegations have generated such a buzz because, for the past five years, Mortenson has been an international celebrity—traveling the world promoting his narrative of schools for peace and understanding. “Three Cups of Tea” has sold more than four million copies and become required reading for U.S. military serving in Afghanistan. Americans, including President Obama, have contributed millions to Mortenson’s charity to build schools.

What is most problematic about Three Cups of Tea isn’t what it stood for—the undeniable importance of gaining the respect of elders and building understanding through educating the next generation—but the power of the narrative it crafted and sold: that building schools was somehow an antidote to the intractable problems of insurgency and radical extremism metastasizing throughout the Afghan/Pakistan borderlands.

As Greg Jaffe wrote in the Washington Post, “Mortenson’s narratives of wise, patient and kind Afghan and Pakistani elders made it seem as though progress in Afghanistan was achievable.”

“The U.S. military was just dying for his story to be true,” Celeste Ward Gventer told Jaffe, a senior civilian advisor to the U.S. military.

Another central tenet of the Three Cups of Tea narrative is what Swarthmore professor Timothy Burke calls “messianic” development, referring to the promise of accomplishing unrealistically high goals under very difficult circumstances. As Burke explains, “I don’t think cynicism is the issue. The thing we all really need is a sharper understanding of the development industry and a wiser appreciation of how our own desires for sweeping messianic transformations are as much of a target market as any other consumer demand.”

Let me be clear. Greg Mortenson’s quest to provide Afghan children secondary schooling is admirable, as is his determination to make a difference in such an uncompromising environment. The problem lies in convincing Americans with big hearts that making a difference is something that can be done easily and by writing a check. The number of schools built by Mortenson’s charity that remain vacant, understaffed, underfunded or used for crop storage attest to how difficult and complex development really is.

To be fair, Mortenson’s is not the first memoir to be challenged as part fiction, nor is building hundreds of schools for children is the first half-promise to entice caring do-gooders. Websites like Kiva.org came under fire in 2009 for giving microloan donations to microlenders to invest in advertized projects, rather than sending donated funds directly to the specific microenterprise projects donors were led to believe they were supporting. Microcredit is another idea that has “spread contagiously, propelled in part because so many of its proponents want its promise of poverty reduction to be true.” Most of the recent research, however, suggests otherwise.

As many have pointed out since the 60 Minutes story broke, questioning the practices of one philanthropic charity should not deter all Americans away from giving to the hundreds of needy causes out there, many of which have been taken up by non-profits with long standing integrity. For this Mother’s Day, I know my mother expects me to do due-diligence on my gift to her, even if it means just choosing a good restaurant.

Removing obstacles to private sector development in Afghanistan

The question of how to create economic basis for peace and prosperity in Afghanistan has been on the minds of local policymakers and international development experts alike. What better way to find answers than to ask Afghan entrepreneurs what challenges they are facing? The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has done just that. A newly released paper “Bactrian Gold: Challenges and Hope for Private-Sector Development in Afghanistan” is a result of more than 130 interviews with business owners and other economic stakeholders conducted in cities across Afghanistan. The authors Jake Cusack and Erik Malmstrom – U.S. combat veterans in Afghanistan and Iraq – traveled without security or organizational affiliation to Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Mazar-e-Sharif and Heart in order to gain first-hand perspectives of the Afghan people.

Their findings complement the results of CIPE’s 2010 Afghanistan Business Survey of 738 Afghan businesses who identified the three leading factors most adversely affecting the growth of the Afghan private sector to be: lack of security (78 percent of respondents), corruption (53 percent), and lack of electricity (44 percent). The report delves deeper into the complexities behind those and other problems facing Afghan entrepreneurs.

Cusack and Malmstrom observe that despite increasing violence, business continues. The key problem is that because of security issues and poor infrastructure, it is difficult to maintain predictability in business and expand operations, as businesses find themselves cut off from raw materials or technologies they need, and unable to deliver their goods to the market. But ultimately it is uncertainty – not just regarding physical security but also government policies, foreign investment, infrastructure, etc. – that makes doing business in Afghanistan a challenge.

Corruption, a key theme in both the CIPE survey and Cusack and Malmstrom’s interviews, is another crippling factor for Afghan businesses. A 2010 UN Office of Drugs and Crime study revealed that bribe payments in Afghanistan were equal to 23 percent of GDP. Not just bribes, but also widespread favoritism and nepotism rooted in weak governance institutions and crony capitalism, hinder the development of a market economy where businesses can compete on the level playing field. As the report puts it, currently “many businesses in urban areas view the government as both weak and malignant. It is not strong enough to protect or guarantee private property rights, yet it still wields enough power to make things very difficult for the disfavored or very easy for the connected.”

These problems are compounded by limited access to capital, corrupt judiciary, underdeveloped human capital, unfavorable trade and land policies, and distortions caused by the poorly managed influx of foreign aid. Businesses do adapt to such a difficult environment but that’s a short-term strategy that cannot guarantee long-term sustainability for individual businesses or the desired development outcomes for the country as a whole. The authors have these recommendations based on their on-the-ground experience:

  • Infuse private-sector talent, foreign and Afghan, to support local businesses.
  • Change development incentives to reward implementation and long-term results.
  • Support Afghan enterprises with a better regulatory and operating environment, public-private partnerships, and linkages to multinational firms.
  • Increase access to capital and business advisory services.
  • Make clear long-term commitments by the international community to reduce harmful uncertainty in the business environment.

The authors conclude that, despite challenges, Afghanistan has a significant untapped economic potential that can be capitalized on through the development of its private sector. Cusack and Malmstrom warn that “war should not be an excuse to resurrect flawed concepts—for instance, that centrally planned growth is necessary due to a chaotic environment or that, with enough money, donors can simply create a developed economy.” Instead, “a vibrant private sector must be built from the ground up, where government provides a basic level of security, removes as much unpredictability as possible, and provides a regulatory framework for success (…) Afghan entrepreneurs must be empowered to be the key drivers.” One can only hope that the international community and the Afghan officials alike heed this advice.

Recognizing the value of education…and educators

Afghan high school students undertaking the Tashabos course. (Photo: CIPE)

For the last four days I have been a delegate to the second World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) hosted by the Qatar Foundation.  The 1200 delegates, presenters, and laureates of the WISE Awards for Education Innovation represent a phenomenal range of talent and devotion to education around the globe – from Jeffrey Sachs, speaking about the Millennium Development Goals for Education, to CIPE partner Martin Burt of Fundacion Paraguaya to an educator from Guatemala working with indigenous peoples to maintain their education traditions.

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