Spotlight on Turquoise Mountain – 5 Important Achievements

Turqoise MountainIn 2006, the nonprofit organization Turquoise Mountain was founded in Afghanistan with the mission of preserving and regenerating important historical and cultural areas, as well as reviving and revitalizing the practice of traditional arts and crafts. Today, just over a decade later, the organization has made remarkable progress on its mission, transforming the lives of thousands of Afghans in the process. The following are some of Turquoise Mountain’s most important achievements to date.

 

  1. Restoration of Kabul’s Old City

The stunning transformation of Kabul’s Old City, also known as Murad Khani, is perhaps Turquoise Mountain’s most impressive achievement so far. The historic district in central Kabul was once the heart of a vibrant community. However, as a result of years of unrest, it had fallen into significant disrepair. By the time Turquoise Mountain began its rehabilitation project, much of the area lay buried under many feet of accumulated garbage, and the entire district was ranked as one of the world’s most endangered sites on the World Monuments Fund Watch List.

Turquoise Mountain has slowly and painstakingly set to work to rehabilitate Murad Khani. Workers cleared mountains of garbage, lowering the street level by up to 2 meters and uncovering beautiful, though derelict, homes and buildings. Artisans then carefully restored 150 of these structures to their original glory using traditional skills and techniques like mud-plastering and architectural woodwork. Today, Murad Khani is once again home to a thriving community of residents, as well as to the Turquoise Mountain Institute, an artisanal and vocational training facility for traditional Afghan arts and crafts. In 2013, the restoration of Murad Khani was awarded the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award of Distinction.

 

  1. Implementation of Community Development Projects

The Turquoise Mountain Institute is only one of a number of community facilities and development projects that call Murad Khani their home. In order to better serve and meet the needs of local residents, Turquoise Mountain also constructed a new medical clinic and primary school in the rehabilitated old city. Located on the banks of the Kabul river, the Feroz Koh Family Health Center was established in 2011 to provide high-quality family medicine to some of the city’s most vulnerable populations. Services offered at the center include pediatric and maternal services, radiology, psycho-social counseling, dentistry, and minor surgery. The staff estimates that the center serves more than 20,000 patients every year from cities as far away as Nuristan and Kandahar. The Murad Khani Primary School, which was established in 2012, serves more than 100 students. Subjects that are covered include English, Dari, mathematics, and peace education. Students also learn some traditional arts and crafts such as calligraphy and miniature painting. In order to accommodate even more young students, a new primary school with improved amenities is scheduled to open in 2019.

 

 

  1. International Exhibitions

Turquoise Mountain has sought to not only boost domestic interest in a revitalized Afghan arts and crafts sector, but to raise the profile of these traditional arts on the world stage. With this goal in mind, the organization has successfully arranged and executed a number of high-profile international exhibitions of Turquoise Mountain artisans. From March 2016 to October 2017, for example, the Freer and Sackler Galleries at the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, hosted an exhibition titled “Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan.” Featuring the work of some of Turquoise Mountain’s most dedicated craftsmen, the exhibition gave hundreds of thousands of visitors a new perspective on Afghanistan and its traditions. In addition, during the summer of 2018, the work of Turquoise Mountain artisans was displayed in the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace in London in honor of the 70th birthday of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (HRH is one of the founders of Turquoise Mountain).

 

  1. Prestigious Commissions and Partnerships

For Turquoise Mountain, reviving traditional arts and crafts means enabling artisans to earn a living from their work. To this end, Turquoise Mountain aims to help its craftsmen secure prestigious commissions and partnerships that can bring their work to a wider international market. For example, the first major international commission received by Turquoise Mountain was for the celebrated Connaught Hotel in London’s exclusive Mayfair neighborhood. For this project, Nasser Mansoori, one of the finest woodcarvers in Afghanistan and a master at the Turquoise Mountain Institute, worked with London designer Guy Oliver to create beautifully detailed wood panels and carvings for one of the hotel’s principal suites.

 

  1. Expansion into Other Countries

Turquoise Mountain’s work in Afghanistan has been so successful that the organization has recently expanded the scope of its activities into other countries. As of late 2014, for example, Turquoise Mountain has been working in Myanmar to preserve and restore key historic buildings in downtown Yangon in partnership with the Yangon Heritage Trust. During the first restoration project (of a building at 491-501 Merchant Street), the organization undertook a comprehensive program of vocational training in traditional construction techniques, such as decorative lime plasterwork, alongside the renovation work.

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?

startup

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.