Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghan Woman Is All about Business

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghan Woman Is All about Business

Article excerpt

In a small office hidden behind a gate in Kabul, Kamela Sediqi sits at her laptop and builds her business. The unlikely entrepreneur is the architect of Kaweyan Business Development Services, a consulting firm she started in 2004 with only her computer and her determination.

Barely 30 and on her third startup, Ms. Sediqi employs 25 men and women, more than half of them full time. She started her first venture, a tailoring business, to support her mother and brother during Taliban rule. In the end, it provided work for more than 100 women. And it gave Sediqi the entrepreneurial bug that eventually led her to Kaweyan - a service firm that had few capital needs at the outset.

Now, traveling across the country on buses and planes operating on unpredictable schedules, Sediqi trains adults in the basics that will help them launch their own ventures. Over a few days, Sediqi teaches skills ranging from developing an idea to marketing and accounting. Many participants go on to start their own businesses.

Sediqi's goal is to grow Kaweyan into one of South Asia's leading consultancies. By the end of January, the firm will be operating in Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif, and Herat, making national reach nearly a reality. Many of Sediqi's contracts still come from foreign donors, but that is changing as Kaweyan matures and the private sector develops.

Longtime clients say they are impressed with Sediqi's growth - and see her gender as an opportunity in this segregated society.

"With her training materials and her approach, she is able to put her clients at ease," says Bryan Rhodes, head of a US Agency for International Development program to grow Afghan small business. "And [being female] opens up a market segment.... She can train men and women where others cannot."

The success of Sediqi and a handful of other Afghan businesswomen come amid difficult circumstances, despite steady growth in the overall economy. In the face of a resurgent Taliban, stagnant reconstruction, and the high-profile kidnappings of foreign aid workers, these women push forward, propelled by entrepreneurial grit and desire to support their families. While no official figures track their numbers, they can be found in pockets of Afghanistan, launching consultancies, furniture factories, and printing houses. Many of them say better business conditions, rather than more talk of their plight, are critical.

"Business is the only way to support Afghanistan," says Sediqi, noting that the foreign money now funding the country soon will dry up. "We can make our country by establishing businesses and supporting businesses and creating more investment."

Government officials say business is critical to women's advancement as well as Afghanistan's, tracing some of the stubbornness of the hurdles they face to an "externally injected" aid effort. …

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