Monthly Archives: October 2011

Technical Strategy Development

As part of my role here in Herat, I’m developing an overall technical strategy for the project, as part of outreach – I’ve contacted the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program in Afghanistan and the Harakat foundation which invests in local entrepreneurs – pretty much an Afghan VC fund until 2015. I would also like to network in with an entrepreneur based in California who happens to be running two IT businesses in Kabul – hopeful to do this on my trip to Kabul this week.

Will be attending a conference which seems to be a psuedo “Request For Proposal” process. Ideally will be meeting some individuals from IBM Pakistan that may be working alongside us on a new contract coming through.

It’s amazing to have read about initiatives only a couple years ago, like OLPC, and flash forward a couple years to potentially have the opportunity to work with them.

I’m coming to realize a lot of times success is based on how good you are at using the tools around you – with some creativity.

The amount of work

to be done here is overwhelming. You pretty much live at work here as you’re surrounded by colleagues day and night. Travel on a day-to-day basis is limited by coordinating with your security detail and every other day seems to report news of casualties in some part of the country.

Needless to say I had my first tinge of home sickness today, I spent 8am-10pm working with the entrepreneurs and doing other research.

The process of launching a full-fledged NGO may be in the works and the prospect is very exciting. Today we were playing with the idea of doing IT market research to try and extrapolate on a McKinsey study briefly discussing IT in the area – creating out own publication of IT prospects in the country. Next week I’ll be attending a conference and ideally speaking with some more established entrepreneurs. Exciting and tiring all at the same time.

More to come.

Went to a halloween party

tonight, yes – in the middle east , and met someone who is using the same strategy i’m using; leveraging the “gift of gab” to achieve their dreams outside of the cookie cutter traditional way of living the steady-climbing professional life. Instead of necessarily having multiple years of experience in doing something, leveraging the fact that you can skillfully communicate in order to land the work you want to do; of course, with atleast a LITTLE experience in what you’re doing so you can speak to it. He seems to be doing quite well for himself, I intend to make my life just as comfortable.

Rolling with

a couple ridiculously large security personnel today. Talking about workout routines – just picture a small brown man with two very large security guys talking about working out.

Me, “Yeah man, I gave up on my Arnold game, so I’m trying to get on my Bruce game”

Security #1, “Yup …Bruce was a badass”

Security #2. “Yup, I have a video of him playing ping pong with nunchucks, I’ll send it to you”

Security #1, “Yup”

Me, “How often do you guys work out?”

Security #2, “Every day”

Security #1, “Yup”

I think if one of them flexed, their biceps are the size of my head. These guys are awesome.

Each passing day

is a reminder of how much untapped potential and opportunity exists within this country. Today we met a relief worker whos mission is similar to ours, find enterprising young Afghans, equip them with the skills they need to become entrepreneurs, and provide a support structure in order for them to continue and launch their businesses, each success story heard is another moment of inspiration. It’s nice to finally work in something you believe in, because then it’s not work, it’s a hobby. My largest concern? Financial sustainability; focus needs to shift towards that. It’s easy to throw money at a problem, it’s difficult to invest in that problem and see it morph into an opportunity.

Distractions

Preface: this is going to sound fake, but I mean it

On the plane to Kabul, I was thinking about how clear the night sky must be from the lack of city lights, and how visible every star would be. It got me thinking, when you think about life, when you’re surrounded by the daily distractions of day-to-day life, it’s hard to see and feel what’s real. What life is really about. It’s similar to being in a city and trying to see the stars, surrounded by all the ambient light – you can’t see what really exists above you; only until you remove yourself of man-made distractions do you see the real beauty that exists.

Learning Culture

Coming up to completing my first full week in Herat, Afghanistan. The experience has been incredible; the people are very energetic in their desire to learn, teach, and excel. I’ve been speaking with many locals, trying to pick up Dari/Farsi as quick as possible so I may communicate with them in a similar medium – although since Bollywood culture is so popular here, speaking in Hindi/Urdu usually is sufficient to quickly build trust and literally get people smiling. Everyone claims to watch the movies quite frequently.

Overlooking a section of Herat

CULTURE

Indians are appreciated in Afghanistan, I haven’t inquired too much about it, however a couple of them have mentioned Indians do a lot of great things for the country. The other day I was told there is an Indian clinic in the heart of Herat, full of Indian physicians (naturally). Pakistani’s on the other hand are not looked upon as kindly, Afghans see Pakistan as almost the root of the entire Taliban issue. They believe the Taliban originate from Pakistan and are crossing the border to extend their rule
here. The same person was telling me stories of the Taliban rule and some of the rules they would enforce, which I will leave unmentioned here.

Hookah above Herat

BEARD

On a more exciting note, my beard is getting bushy and I intend to keep growing it out. Due to my look, frequently locals will speak to me in Dari/Farsi; to my dismay, I have to burst their bubble all too frequently.

LOCALS

Are very warm and welcoming, at least the ones that I’ve encountered. They are always friendly, as stated before, when they learn you are Indian and you speak Urdu. If you speak Hindi/Urdu AND are Muslim, you usually are within their trust zone quickly. I was told if you are Pakistani, you will be immediately judged – therefore it is not advisable to be introduced as a Pakistani. Karzai announced the other day that if Pakistan were to go to war, Afghanistan would be behind them. This caused quite a stir among the mainstream population which is definitely at odds with Pakistan, it seems primarily due to the Taliban issue.
I was in the city last night en route to a restaurant, and got to see the Afghan souks (markets). Colored lights seem to be popular here, as well as with the rest of the world – any place I visit seems to be strung up in colored lights – except the US.

RETROSPECT

Overjoyed I did not pass this opportunity up, thus far it has been absolutely eye-opening, humbling, and simply incredible. The people are amazing, the opportunity for positive change in this country is only reigned in by security issues and stagnation in cultural change in keeping up with education/technology. The students have a strong desire for change, though the culture will have to be tweaked to accommodate this, as with any other culture and education/technology shifts. The airport in Herat will soon be international, with direct flights from Dubai and elsewhere, further opening the economy to the world. There is a buzz of excitement, uncertainty, and nervousness that’s tangible. But the hope is definitely there.

Herat

Currently discussing with the project team regarding how much can be publicly discussed online – will need to hold on updates until a conclusion is reached. Discussing launching an official blog for the project with myself and the project team as contributing writers. Bookmark and visit back for an updates to come!