Ever since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, Afghanistan has been trying to get back on track. In amongst the ex-pats and military types that frequent the series Kabul Kitchen, now available on SBS On Demand, everyday Afghans are returning in droves. Afghanistan is once again open for business and despite lingering instability and government corruption, clever entrepreneurs are finding ways to rebuild their country- and make money doing it.
Spice route reopened
Rumi Spice was founded by a group of US Army Vets who had become close to Afghani farmers during their time in the country. The farmers had warehouses full of saffron and no way to sell it - and so Rumi Spice was born, connecting Afghan farmers directly to the international market. The company also works directly with Afghan horticulture specialists and whilst run out of the USA, invests a percentage of its profit back into the community, building infrastructure.
A universal idea
Afghan immigrant Mohammed Sayed spent years in his own country as the local tech wizard, fixing mobile phones and repairing computers before his mother took him to the US to escape the war. Wheelchair bound, he invented, patented and began selling a “universal arm” that could be made with a 3D printer and then simply attached to a wheelchair as a table, a shelf or, yes, an arm. His invention raised over $12,000 in a kickstarter campaign and even got him an invitation to the White House!
No busted pluggas here
Seeing how local Afghanis adapted their own boots to be easier to slip on and off (for prayer, among other things) some ex US Army Vets created “Combat Flip Flops”, mixing a heavy-duty hiking boot with a humble thong. Whilst the flip flops are now manufactured in Colombia (helping to employ the local people there) the success of the venture has led to other projects: The “cover and concealment” sarongs are handmade in Afghanistan. Each sale puts an Afghan girl into school for a week. The “Peacemaker Bangles” are made from actual bombs and come from artisans in Laos. Each bracelet sold clears three square meters of unexploded landmines. Just this year the company has been able to put 68 Afghan girls in school and clear 3200 square metres of landmines in Laos.
Entering the digital world
Impassion Afghanistan was founded by Eileen Gou and is the first Digital Media agency in the country, bringing together a team of tech wizards, culture experts and writers to help other start-ups and organisations build their brand online. One of their biggest projects was the launching of Paiwandgah, Afghanistan’s first citizen journalism website.
A woman's work
Fatema Akbari is a carpenter and the owner of a furniture manufacturing business in Kabul employing almost 100 people, mostly women. Fatema started the business out of necessity - she was a widow whose husband had been killed in the war - and when hiring she gives priority to other women who are in a similar situation in an attempt to help them gain control over their lives. She also runs an NGO - The Women’s Affairs Council - which provides Afghan women with literacy classes and training in areas such as cooking, crafting and carpentry, among other vital skills.
The drugs do work
Most of these start-ups wouldn’t be possible without the enormous amount of aid money provided by countries like the US and Great Britain. That was the case for pharmacy owner Zabi Ullah who started the country’s first counterfeit-free, 24 hour chemist chain. Fake drugs are a huge problem in Afghanistan but Ullah lets customers check via text if their drugs are real. Ullah is the first person to own a “chain” of companies - something that is essentially illegal. He worked around it by opening each store under the name of a different family member, though he retains the franchise.
Education: A weapon for change
In 2002, Sayed Khalidand and three of his friends chucked in $100 each to rent a projector, hire a room and teach business management to a group of students, starting, essentially, the first private university in Kabul. Returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan after years of war, they realised there was a huge need for education that wasn’t Taliban run and didn’t exclude women. Just over 10 years later, Kardan University is the top university in the country, has over 8000 students- 30% of whom are women- and continues to expand.
Series 1 of Kabul Kitchen is available on SBS On Demand.
Watch the first episode right here: