Spotlight on the Afghan Professionals Network

Educated, skilled, and values-driven professionals have a vital role to play in building a better future for Afghanistan and its citizens. This is the philosophy behind the Afghan Professionals Network (APn), a passionate global team of professional Afghan volunteers who are dedicated to leveraging their skills, expertise, and connections to achieve the goal of reinventing Afghanistan one sector at a time. Read on to learn more about this dynamic organization.

 

What is the vision of APn?

APnlogoAPn was established in 2012 with three core objectives. The first is to make a positive contribution to the Afghan community, both within Afghanistan and abroad, by harnessing and channeling the resources of a worldwide network of professional Afghans. The second is to serve and benefit the people of Afghanistan through the development and delivery of educational, professional development, and charitable initiatives. And finally, APn’s third objective is to portray and promote a positive and more representative image of Afghanistan and its people to the global community. In addition, in all its work, APn strives to uphold its central values of unity, equality, tolerance, respect, diversity, and collaboration.

 

Who are APn’s members?

APn truly is a global network: there are APn members and supporters in various cities all across Afghanistan, the United Kingdom, North America, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Australia. Together, APn’s membership represents more than 15 different professional sectors, including law, government, journalism, academia, medicine, engineering, IT, and business development. APn’s leadership teams and board members are primarily located in London and Kabul, with additional board members based in California, and Washington, DC.

 

What kinds of programs and events does APn operate?

Over the years, APn has developed and implemented a variety of initiatives across the following three key focus areas:

Education—APn’s educational initiatives aim to facilitate knowledge sharing both within and without the Afghan community. Discourse Afghanistan is an example of one such initiative: the “think tank” of APn, Discourse Afghanistan sees APn’s intellectual and academic members working with the UK research community to develop reliable, unbiased, evidence-based research on the Afghan diaspora. One of the central goals of the Discourse Afghanistan initiative is to help provide a more accurate and detailed picture of what life is really like for Afghans living outside the country. In Afghanistan, APn operates educational initiatives like Stories for Kids, a project that is working to build an accessible library of children’s stories in Dari and Pashto. The idea behind Stories for Kids is to promote and facilitate a culture of literacy in Afghanistan starting from an early age, while at the same time providing resources for teaching Dari and Pashto to Afghan children living abroad.

Professional development—APn’s professional development activities aim to grow the professional Afghan community by providing inspiration, connection, and support. The two main programs in this focus area are APn Skills and APn Connect. Offered in the UK at University College London and in Kabul at the American University of Afghanistan, APn Skills presents interactive skills development workshops to young and emerging professionals. Workshop leaders are experienced authorities in their respective fields; to date, APn Skills has offered workshops in oil and gas finance, entrepreneurship, creative writing, financial fundamentals, and communications for professionals. APn Connect also operates in London and Kabul, where it targets university students as well as young professionals. Through APn Connect, professional APn mentors help link young participants with internship or employment opportunities, career fairs, seminars and symposia, and networking events.

Charitable giving—APn’s charitable initiatives aim to improve social welfare for people living in Afghanistan and contribute to the country’s socio-economic development. Winter Warmth, for example, is a Kabul-based program that provides poor families and at-risk street youth with survival essentials—including blankets, coal, and flour—during the cold winter months. These critical items are distributed by APn volunteers in Kabul, while APn members in London help with fundraising activities to provide financial support for the program. Spring of Hope, another APn charitable program, operates under a similar model, but here the items being distributed to young Afghans in need are school supplies, like pens and notebooks.

In addition to these initiatives, APn hosts a variety of affairs throughout the year. From fundraising sports events to networking seminars, these occasions are designed to bring APn members together, build awareness of APn’s activities in the broader community, and garner financial and other support for future programs. One of the most popular and important APn events is the APn Aspire Awards: a unique awards program that was created to recognize and celebrate the achievements of outstanding Afghan professionals who have made significant contributions to their field and their community. Awards are given in a variety of categories—including arts, sciences, technology, media, and entrepreneurship—and award candidates are assembled through a public nomination process.

Spotlight on the Next Generation of Afghan Tech Entrepreneurs

As Afghanistan rebuilds after years of conflict, a new wave of young, ambitious Afghans are slowly but surely revitalizing the country’s tech sector, but they’re not doing it alone. Startup Grind Afghanistan is one of a number of organizations dedicated to supporting the next generation of forward-thinking Afghan entrepreneurs and ensuring they have the tools, knowledge, and connections they need to succeed.

As a result of this help, the future is looking brighter than ever for Afghanistan-based startups. Read on to learn more.

 

What is Startup Grind Afghanistan?

startupgrindStartup Grind Afghanistan is a member of a global startup community known as Startup Grind, which is a connected network of vibrant new startups. Powered by Google for Entrepreneurs, Startup Grind was created with a mission to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs around the world.

In support of this goal, the organization hosts regular events in more than 250 cities. These events bring the personal stories, life lessons, and knowledge of successful founders, innovators, educators, and investors to emerging entrepreneurs who are just starting out on their own paths to success.

Driven by the values of connecting, giving back, and helping others before helping yourself, Startup Grind now has local chapters in 350 cities worldwide. It has supported the startup journeys of more than one million entrepreneurs.

Startup Grind Afghanistan, also called Startup Grind Kabul, is Afghanistan’s local Startup Grind Chapter. It was launched by Ahmad Fahim Didar, the CEO and founder of Aghaez Consulting Group, who is passionate about entrepreneurship because it allows individuals and groups to create businesses that truly reflect their values.

Didar first conceived the idea of launching a Kabul chapter of Startup Grind in 2014. In August of that year, he contacted Startup Grind’s founder and CEO and applied to be a Startup Grind local director. Although his application was accepted, Didar wasn’t quite ready to commit at that time given Afghanistan’s tense political and economic environment. A year later, however, he dedicated himself to building a startup community in Afghanistan, and Startup Grind Afghanistan/Kabul was born.

 

How does Startup Grind Afghanistan support entrepreneurs?

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Startup Grind Afghanistan is working to build a thriving startup community in Afghanistan by showing young people that entrepreneurship is not only possible, but is a viable career choice and way of life. By sharing stories of successful entrepreneurs and providing support and tools, Ahmad Fahim Didar and Startup Grind Afghanistan want to encourage young Afghan graduates to be proactive about their own futures and the role they can play in rebuilding and revitalizing their country.

As Didar has said in previous interviews, changing young people’s mindsets from “the government needs to create jobs for Afghans” to “what can I do to create jobs at the micro level?” is one of Startup Grind Afghanistan’s most important endeavors.

Practically speaking, Startup Grind Afghanistan also offers regular events, networking opportunities, and other resources, tools, and support to emerging entrepreneurs and startups. For example, at the Startup Grind launch event, participants attended information sessions on topics covering everything from how to make the leap from having an idea to starting a company, to the benefits of working with a mentor, to practical ideas for securing startup financing.

In addition, Startup Grind Afghanistan’s regular speaker series, held on a monthly or bi-monthly basis since early 2016, features presentations from some of Afghanistan’s most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders. These include Farshid Gyashi, the founder of Afghanistan’s largest job website.

 

What do Afghan startups need and what are some of their biggest challenges?

According to Didar, the most important thing that Afghan startups need right now is inspiration and awareness. Entrepreneurs need to believe that they can succeed and attain a higher profile within the startup community, both locally and internationally. Didar also believes that facilities—like incubator and accelerator hubs and co-working spaces—are essential for giving startups not only the physical space they need to create and develop their ideas, but also the connection and support of a community of their peers.

The need for facilities links naturally to the question of the challenges faced by Afghan startups. Of these, a lack of resources for larger-scale initiatives like incubator centers and co-working facilities is one of the biggest. It should be mentioned here that a few of these facilities do currently exist. They include the DAFTAR co-working space, Afghanistan’s first ever co-working facility established by the Afghanistan Center for Excellence, and the Ibtikaar tech incubation center.

However, Didar believes many more facilities are needed to help grow the Afghan startup community, particularly in areas outside Kabul. Other challenges that affect Afghan entrepreneurs include a lack of formal government support for startups, as well as a lack of clarity in government rules and regulations, especially when it comes to taxation.

What You Need to Know about the UNESCO Creative Cities Network

UNESCO logoIn 2015, the city of Bamiyan became the first urban center not only from Afghanistan, but from all of Central Asia, to become a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN). This unique global network fosters and facilitates cooperation between its members as they work to invest in creativity in order to drive sustainable urban development, social inclusion, and a vibrant cultural life. Read on to learn more about the UCCN’s mission and activities, and about Bamiyan’s membership in the network.

 

What is the UNESCO Creative Cities Network?

The UCCN is an international network of cities that have identified creativity as a key strategic factor in promoting sustainable urban development and are actively investing in local creative initiatives to help bring economic, social, cultural, and environmental benefits to their residents. In other words, the UCCN’s member cities place creative and cultural industries at the center of their local development plans and are interested in cooperating at the international level to share knowledge and best practices and develop fruitful partnerships.

Launched in 2004, the UCCN has seen remarkable growth over the years. Today, the network comprises 180 cities from 72 countries all around the world—from Adelaide to Zahlé—and serves as an important partner for UNESCO in implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that drive the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UCCN covers seven creative fields, including crafts and folk art, film, design, gastronomy, literature, media arts, and music.

 

What are the UCCN’s objectives?

As outlined in its mission statement, the UCCN was created to help fulfill a number of key objectives, including the following:

Cooperation—Because knowledge sharing and partnerships are vital for productive growth, the UCCN aims to promote and strengthen international cooperation among its member cities.

Creative initiatives—The UCCN aims to support and stimulate member cities’ initiatives that emphasize creativity as an essential component of urban development (these initiatives often involve local partnerships between the public and private sectors and civil society).

Cultural production—Cultural activities, goods, and services are an important part of a thriving creative economy. As such, the UCCN aims to strengthen their creation, production, distribution, and dissemination within and beyond member cities.

Opportunity creation—The UCCN aims to develop and support creative and innovative hubs in order to broaden opportunities for cultural sector professionals and creators.

Access—For creative and cultural initiatives to make a true difference to a city’s social fabric, they must be accessible to all residents. A key UCCN objective is therefore to facilitate vulnerable and marginalized populations’ access to and participation in their city’s cultural life.

Integration—The UCCN supports the full and comprehensive integration of culture and creativity into its member cities’ development strategies and plans.

 

 

What actions and initiatives does the UCCN work on?

For maximum impact, the UCCN works to implement its objectives at both the city level and the international level. Particular areas of action the UCCN focuses on include the sharing of knowledge, experiences, and best practices among member cities; the development of pilot projects, partnerships, and initiatives that bring together the public sector, the private sector, and civil society; exchange programs and networks for artists and other creative professionals; research and studies on the experience of member cities and their participation in the network; policy creation for sustainable urban development; and other activities that build awareness of the UCCN and its mission.

 

Why is creativity important for cities?

The UCCN strongly believes that people experience culture and creativity primarily on a local level. Given that cities are, by definition, the principal breeding grounds where cultural and creative industries and emerge and develop, those cities that allow these industries to thrive are working towards a future in which sustainable development supports and enriches the lives of all citizens. Vibrant cultural sectors help to foster social diversity and cohesion, intercultural dialogue, and well-being, all of which are vital to local urban populations, wherever they may be.

 

Why was Bamiyan chosen as a UCCN member city?

Bamiyan, which was chosen in the category of crafts and folk art, has a wealth of cultural assets and knowledge that have developed over millennia, particularly during the city’s time as a hub of trade, cultural exchange, and knowledge sharing in the days of the Silk Road. Today, Bamiyan is widely recognized as a trailblazer in revitalizing traditional crafts and folk art, and it prioritizes creativity and culture as important drivers for urban renewal and social betterment. As a member of the UCCN, Bamiyan’s plans include the establishment of the Bamiyan Cultural Center and the development of an initiative to map the city’s creative industries and to identify the highest-priority needs of local creators. Bamiyan is also supporting cooperative exchanges with other UCCN member cities in the same field and directing efforts to promote the city at the national and international levels as a hub of crafts and folk art.