Another typically busy day in Kabul. At one point this afternoon, five different Bpeace meetings were in progress in the gardens of the Park Palace Hotel (see above). We learned essential facts about Afghan food processing—including that Afghans will pay twice as much for a bottle of water if there is mint in it, because they are sold on the herb’s health benefits. We also met an Afghan woman who has written 80 business plans in the past two years, and who reports that 100% of her clients subsequently received bank loans. We learned of a large-scale color offset printer who can produce slick printed calendars and brochures for Afghan businesses.
Dreams do get rained on… and then they get moldy
Meanwhile, cultural conundrums were gaining clarity. Yesterday, Wendy was coping with the leaky roof (above) at the Rangeen Kaman Artisans shop, moving hundreds of dollars of products out of harm’s way. With amazing tenacity, she was up on the roof with a contractor trying to figure out what exactly was going on. But we were encountering more than just a drywall problem. We couldn’t figure it out, and no one was explaining: This leak was discovered several weeks ago. Why didn’t the RKA partners put a plastic tarp on the roof as they tried to get in touch with the elusive landlord?
Today we got answers. It turns out everyone in Kabul has a leaky roof during the winter, spring and summer—just an annoying fact of life. So they don’t even bother addressing it until the dry season in September.
It shouldn’t keep surprising us that our different cultural and communication perspectives are more than politically correct window dressing. Understanding these differences is the first step in solving the practical, nuts and bolts, bread and butter (naan and ghee?) everyday problems that can make or break a business. Our work here can only be successful if we are learning from our Associates as fast as we’re teaching them.
Our Fast Runners’ unstoppable progress
This afternoon, we gathered with our Fast Runners, and received updates from each on their accomplishments during the past year. The last time we were in Kabul, they had made bets with me on who would grow her own business the most, and create the most jobs. We were delighted to hear their progress.
- Nargis, who operates a women’s gym, reported a 25% increase in memberships.
- Habiba has started construction on her new preschool, and has set-up a new accounting system.
- Mahbooba, in addition to her ongoing handicraft business which she operated under the Taliban, has started a farming business. She has provided jobs for 35 women in Kabul and the rural areas. These 35 women work with 750 other women and in the next year they will work with 2,000 families, and with each family having 7 people in it, this translates to 14,000 people benefiting by the program.
- Hanifa completed a large order for tablecloths for Dasnet. In her spare time she also knit hundreds of gloves and socks for her home province of Bamiyan because the winter was very tough. While distributing the items, she found additional women who can do knitting and embroidery for her business.
- Hanifa A’s English and computer school put a competitor out of business. She added 9 more teachers and 60 more students.
- Afifa added 6 embroiderers in Ghazni, 2 in Kabul, and 2 tailors in Kabul.
- Asmat opened a co-op store in Heart with 10 other women.
- Suria doubled her knitting workforce to 30 and has another 10 in training.
- Bakhtnazira added 6 workers, and completed a $3,000 order for Dasnet for draperies, and booked $2,000 in sales on a trip to India. She is under consideration for a major uniform contract.
- Latifa is now working at AWBF (Afghan Women’s Business Federation) and is helping create an international market for Afghan carpets.
AND THE WINNERS OF THE BET…now called the Triple-A Award (Associate Achievement Award) for 2007 are:
Kamela, who now employs 12 people in her BDS (Business Development Services) consultancy, and trained 3,000 people throughout Afghanistan to start businesses in the last year. She has enough business booked for 60% of her expenses over the next 12 months.
Nasima, who employed 35 workers last year and this year added 10 more, and completed an order for 1,000 silk scarves. She continues to keep her old and new workers busy.
Kamela and Nasima were thrilled. And the Fast Runners reminded them that when they win such an award, they have to do something nice for the rest of the team, like prepare a meal or give gifts of sweets.
After the Triple-A Awards, the Bpeacers held their breath with anticipation as we embarked on a very important moment with the Fast Runners: coaching them to formulate and launch Business to Peace (B2P) projects, which are a most important part of their third year in the Bpeace program. Our call to action was this, “We are not the Business Council of Gender Equality. We are not the Business Council of Handicraft. We are not the Business Council of Microfinance. We are the Business Council of Peace. We have invested in you in the past two years. Now we want to see how you can invest back in your own communities to help create peace.”
–Toni Maloney for the Bpeace team, April 2007