Rumi Spice Hosts SXSW Panel - Peace Through Business
Rumi Spice Hosts Panel at SXSW in Austin, Texas
It is unfortunate that most people associate Afghanistan with warfare, opium, and terrorism. That is the stuff that makes the news. We’ve seen that side of Afghanistan, having served there in the Army. But we’re here to tell you that there is a different side of Afghanistan. This is a country filled with tremendous human capital, a land of entrepreneurs, a country with young innovators looking for an opportunity.
Rumi Spice recently hosted a panel "Social Enterprise: Peace through Business" at SXSW. We are honored to have as our guest the Honorable Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan Ambassador to the US, and Victoria McColm, CEO of McColm & Company. We are grateful for this opportunity to share a unique perspective on development in post-conflict countries and spark a broader conversation about development.
When goods do not cross borders … armies will
Afghanistan has been cut off from international markets by 30 years of war. Few people know that prior to the Soviet invasion Afghanistan produced 70% of the world’s raisins, for example.
Yet Afghanistan has tremendous produce, varieties of melons not seen anywhere in the world, succulent pomegranates, exotic varieties of cumin, and the world’s best saffron. Unlocking the potential of export markets has its challenges, but these are not insurmountable. We’ve proven this through saffron, where Afghanistan saffron is no served in the finest restaurants in the US.
Business is directly related to peace and stability, and in fact is a much more efficient means of achieving stability than any number of “boots on the ground” or foreign intervention. As Ambassador Mohib explained, groups of insurgent forces have been laying down arms and joining the side of the Government of Afghanistan. All that is needed is a promise of jobs to support their families.
In the same way we see a displacement of opium production as the success of the saffron industry grows. This year Afghanistan produced nearly 8 metric tons of saffron. Many farmers who have previously grown opium, out of necessity not because they want to, are switching to saffron cultivation. The calculus is simple, grow opium and deal with nefarious forces and the risk of the government burning your field down, or grow a legal crop, provide jobs for your family and community, and make a bigger profit than poppy.
A Country of Entrepreneurs
The majority of Afghanistan’s population is under 30 years old. Among this generation are engineers, coders, farmers, managers … tremendous human capital.
The Ambassador relayed a story of a woman coder from Herat province. She had learned to code at an incubator that Victoria McColm was instrumental in beginning. This woman, only 16 years of age, became a skilled coder, yet could not provide services to companies outside of Afghanistan. Electronic payment systems such as paypal do not currently work in Afghanistan. The coder, however, came up with an ingenious solution… she accepted payment in bitcoin. This is just one example of how Afghanistan is poised to grasp opportunities.
Improvements in Business Infrastructure
Businesses everywhere do not like risk. More so than the perceived instability of a country that suffered from years of warfare, lack of legal and business infrastructure have presented the business risk in foreign direct investment.
Afghanistan has worked hard over the last three years to solve these problems, Ambassador Mohib explained. The establishment of a one-stop shop for business licensing has dropped the time for establishing a business from months to days. Improvements in contract law and arbitration courts have made Afghanistan one of the most business friendly environments in the region.
Afghanistan is Open for Business
Despite the obstacles Afghanistan is laying the foundation today for a self-reliant and prosperous country. We encourage individuals and other businesses to accelerate this growth by investing in Afghanistan today. One doesn’t have to start a export business themselves to help Afghanistan. You can support companies like Flying Scarves, Rumi Spice, Combat Flip Flops, Turqouise Mountains and others who are promoting Afghan exports.
Thank you to Victoria McColm and the Honorable Ambassador Mohib for participating in our panel and thank you to SXSW for the invite.
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