A few years ago, SH International did a project in Kabul, Afghanistan. I personally oversaw this project,
albeit from the US, managing subcontractors on the ground in Kabul. We were helping an ICT company position itself for market entry into Afghanistan and Central Asia.
I had the opportunity to go to Kabul myself, but turned it down. I did a lot of "soul searching" about whether or not it would be practical for me to go, and ultimately decided the following. I was more concerned about what the US government would think of me on my way back through US border control and customs, than I was of actually being in Kabul. So I missed my opportunity to have "Lunch in Kabul."
Today, while I did not get to go to Kabul, I did get to go to the City Club of Washington D.C. for a lunch and learn with His Excellency the Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States, Hamdullah Mohib.
As an entrepreneur, and an advisor to multinational entrepreneurs, I do not have a strict agenda when I go to these events. My job is to simply learn, take notes of interest, and meet people who might be able to help my clients. These are the notes that I took today, based on a mix of comments made and my own thoughts. These are not the views of the others in the room, unless noted:
- There seems to be a gap between what Afghanistan is ready for, and what U.S. business people believe that Afghanistan is ready for. While I see most companies interested in Afghanistan in terms of developmental and military work, there are rich opportunities to get involved across sectors, and with all sizes of businesses. There needs to be work done in order to bridge the gap between what they are ready for, and U.S. companies' capacity to take advantage of those economic opportunities.
- According to the Ambassador, there are more women in the Parliament of Afghanistan than there are women in the U.S. Congress. These strong women were there before liberation from the Taliban as well, but they were working underground, in schools and in other capacities, fighting passionately for the future of their people and of their families.
- Americans need to be educated in general on the state of affairs of Afghanistan as a nation. We really have such a limited grasp of the reality on the ground, of the feelings in the hearts of Afghans, on the future and vision that they are working towards. I remembered Afghan refugees I met almost two decades ago, people living simple lives, selling french fries on the streets of Islamabad. I would ask them why they had left Afghanistan, and they would answer that they wanted their daughters to be educated and the Taliban were restricting them. Malala isn't the only girl from that general region of the world whose father wants a future for her.
- Finally, I wanted to note something about H.E. the Ambassador. I ended up incidentally sitting at his table. When he arrived, I laughed and said "I hope you do not mind that I am breaking up your diplomatic ranks as an ordinary person." He said, quite seriously, "We are all ordinary people." This was charming, but took on a whole other level of resonance when I learned about his background. His family fled Afghanistan to Pakistan, and as a child he grew up in the harsh environment of a refugee camp. From where he was then, to where he is now, is a testament to the human capacity to take charge of one's own destiny and come out a strong and brilliant servant to one's people. It was an honor to meet him.
On another note, just for fun, I asked my friend who owns Afghan antique shops in Georgetown and in the Hamptons, to lend me a necklace worthy of the occasion. Temur Zamani generously complied, and this is the lovely piece of lapiz lazuli art that I wore. I met Temur as part of my personal odyssey to embrace getting to know my clientele, the multinational entrepreneurs of the world. I have taken great effort to identify these entrepreneurs, and to fall in love with their work. I encourage you to check out his stores. Walking through his store in Georgetown (3145 Dumbarton St. NW) is reminiscent of walking through a bazaar or souk, and I recognize items from Turkey, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Some of his items appear to be antiques from the palaces of the Ottoman Empire, collected by his grandfather ages ago. His stores are an experience, and he is a fine example of a multinational entrepreneur bringing the beauty of the world to his clients.