The desire for marketing skills is truly tangible among Bpeace’s Afghan Fast Runner entrepreneurs and I was excited to fulfill that need in early May 2011.
I took a week off from my job at Microsoft in Seattle to share my marketing skills as a member of Bpeace. The Dubai Summit was originally scheduled for Mazar, Afghanistan. The trip was moved, however, after the raid on the UN compound in Mazar on April 4th. My training colleagues were Jonathan Liljegren from PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Phyllis Rosen, a retired Ogivly exec.
Originally I was disappointed that we weren’t going into Afghanistan, but was later excited by the hospitality of the Dubai Women’s College (DWC) where we held all of the workshops and one-on-one clinics.
On the opening day of the Summit we heard from two graduated Afghan Fast Runners–Taj and Aziza–who now collaborate on a joint venture–DOSTI soccer balls. Together, they employ more than 500 women who hand-stitch balls for export to the U.S., Canada and Germany. From her own home, a woman who stitches DOSTI soccer balls can earn more than the average Afghan government worker.
The following three days were spent in classroom workshops in the mornings and individual clinic sessions in the afternoon. The Fast Runners were split into three teams and each morning I taught a session on marketing to one of the teams. We went through a Bpeace Growth Guide marketing workbook that I helped develop to improve their core skills. Then we discussed real-world examples. The entrepreneurs were quick to give their input and ideas and build off of each other.
In the afternoons, I paired with a DWC faculty member and met individually with each of the Fast Runners from the morning session. These meetings gave us the opportunity to hash out individual problems or questions and have an in-depth discussion about implementing change. When not in clinic sessions, the Fast Runners worked as teams on business case challenges.
Our work with Zarghuna, who owns a beauty salon, really highlighted how a combination of marketing, finance and HR can be used to address a given issue. Zarghuna is having a problem–after she trains her employees across all services (hair, nails, massage, etc.) they soon leave to start their own businesses. We recommended that she have employees specialize in one service instead of training them in all areas. Then Zarghuna will reduce the risk of employees leaving to start their own salons, increase the quality of her services by having “specialists” that she can promote, and also reduce training costs.
It was truly an inspiration to work with these men and women to help grow their businesses in a very challenging nation. Their passion for creating sustainable jobs and rebuilding their country is remarkable, and I believe is key to bringing peace to Afghanistan.