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The Afghan Entrepreneurs – complex context, high contacts!

Entrepreneurship is a new ball game in the Afghan context. While some foreign-educated Afghans, especially the post 2000 generation who are endowed with international networks, local contacts and modern communication skills do maximize gains from entrepreneurial ventures, the overwhelming majority of the Afghan entrepreneurs fail to sustain their ventures. The most recurrent reason for the demise of entrepreneurship is that Afghan entrepreneurs fail to learn lessons from failed ventures. Most entrepreneurial ventures in the Afghan context are not stemmed from instinct or built in light of informed decision; rather they are imitations of the profitable trend. Whatever venture has proved to pay dividends, a plethora of the so-called entrepreneurs have jumped to replicate that. Such a scenario may perfectly represent a competitive environment; nonetheless, it also is recognizant of an environment that lacks sophistication and innovation.

 In the Afghan context, access to information and certain skills, especially command of written and spoken English, is the building block of an entrepreneurial venture. Being in a country where aid equals GDP, entrepreneurial ventures have to satisfy donors of the viability of the venture. Ventures that seem convincing for donors, or donor-funded agencies, do get the go-ahead and a substantial amount of financing to launch activities. However, the project cycle of such ventures is debilitating. Such ventures live from one grant to another, one contract to the next -- always chasing donors, chasing resources and chasing audiences. The direction and orientation of such ventures is never clear. They are simply a stopgap measure in the short run to help donors enhance disbursement as well as improve public relations. In the long run, the venture is doomed to fail.

In the highly complex scenario of Afghanistan, if youth are really to be expected to pursue entrepreneurial means, then the youth have to stay up-to-date and informed on the latest in the sectors of interest. Sector-specific knowledge and skills are of supreme importance for sustaining any venture. Uninformed youth are less likely to act; a less informed youth is unlikely to meet the labor market and social demands of the population, and an unskilled youth is unlikely to innovate. In order to innovate and provide enterprising solutions to the Afghan context, we need to equip the new generation of youth with modern entrepreneurial skills. Modern entrepreneurial skills in the Afghan context mean a decent general knowledge, command of written English and convincing communications skills.

Afghan youth still take entrepreneurial risks. For such ventures and risk takers there are significant trade-offs. Simply put, the opportunity costs of entrepreneurship outweigh pursuing the routine route of taking a salaried and stable position. However, this group of risk takers put their career as well as reputation at stake when launching a venture. Their aims are resolute; their vision of their own future and the future of the country are crystal clear. These are youth that want to strengthen the civil society, enhance the capacity of the public sector, and help invigorate the private sector in Afghanistan. The long-term dividends for this group extend beyond contracts and monetary compensations.

My message to youth from low-income and conflict countries is to pursue skills and to follow your convictions – whether it be in entrepreneurship or improving policy – just give it your all! Dear fellow youth, it is good to be confident for these are our times to matter. Equip yourselves with what matters. With knowledge and education cometh skills – with skills cometh entrepreneurship – with entrepreneurship cometh responsibility.

Photo: © Michael Foley / World Bank