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December 13, 2006

Ten Questions With Aziza Mohmmand

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What’s the most inspiring story of entrepreneurship that you’ve heard in 2006? My answer does not involve two guys in a garage who sell their company to Google for $1.6 billion. No way...my answer is a woman who runs a soccer-ball factory in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Her name is Aziza Mohmmand, and she told me what it takes to be a woman entrepreneur in Afghanistan. I met Aziza when I spoke to a group of Afghani women who were attending a class in entrepreneurship at Thunderbird in Glendale, Arizona. (Interestingly, Thunderbird is a former Air Force base.)

  1. Question: What is your life story?

    Answer: I was born in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1959 to a liberal family. My father was a prosperous businessman. After high school I went to Kiev, Ukraine and received my masters degree in Social Sciences. Soon after I came back to Kabul in 1983, I was hired by Kabul Institute of Pedagogy as an instructor.

    In 1997 I continued my endeavors in education by starting a tutoring business in my home. My courses were offered to boys and girls both in one class, and they were popular across Kabul City especially during the Taliban regime when the girls were deprived of education. Gradually my classes were limited only to girls, and my home was the hope for 385 girls to study from first to ninth grade.

    Despite all the restrictions set forth by the Taliban regime and the challenges I faced every day, I continued my work until June, 1998 when the government confiscated girls’ schools all across the country and banned young women and girls from social life or participating in any educational institution. Consequently my school was forcibly closed, and I was desperate to find a safe place for my family.

    Thus, we moved to Pakistan to find our destiny and the lost hopes of my family. In Haripour, Pakistan I was hired by an American institute called Safe Children and worked as an instructor for three years. When the interim government announced its arrival in Afghanistan, I came back to Kabul and started my nonprofit organization named Moscau, and it was soon registered at the Department of Economy.

    In my NGO, I trained more than 2,000 men and women in baking, sewing, leather treatment, ball assembly, carpentry, electrical, blacksmith, plumbing, computer, and English language. In the ball assembly department, I hired 200 trainees who were widows and their family’s bread winners. They had no opportunities to work elsewhere.

    In order to help them improve, I hired some masters of leather goods to advance these women’s skills in ball assembly with my own money, but I soon realized that I couldn’t sell my products through my NGO. Therefore, in 2003 I registered the Moscau Leather Goods and Ball Production company with the Investment Committee of Afghanistan.

    My intention was to make a difference in the life of women in Afghanistan and keep them busy while they have an income with an active role in the growth and building of the new infrastructure of the country. In 2006, I established a foundation named Women’s Handicraft and Ball Assembly Industry and registered it with the Afghanistan Department of Justice.

    This foundation serves women of Afghanistan to improve their skills for making leather goods and leather balls. I am the first woman in Afghanistan involved in the leather goods industry. Despite numerous challenges in the beginning, now I feel very successful. I can produce any design in leather goods and return the finished product in any volume on the agreed-upon deadline.

  2. Question: How many people work for your company?

    Answer: There are 220 widows who are the bread winners of their families in ball assembly and forty women in the leather goods department. I also work with five masters who specialize in treatment of leather goods.

  3. Question: What kind of products do you sell?

    Answer: Different kinds of soccer balls, volleyballs, and handballs. In the leather goods department, I sell suitcases, wallets, purses, and other leather goods products.

  4. Question: How many balls do you sell per year?

    Answer: In the first years we didn’t sell much, maybe 5,000 or 6,000 per year. In 2006, however, we sold 10,000 soccer balls, more than 3,000 children soccer balls, and 1,000 volleyballs. Our revenue in leather goods department was also good. Right now we have a contract with UNICEF for 173,000 school bags.

  5. Question: How much do your employees make per month?

    Answer: Women in the ball assembly department are paid by piece. The skilled masters, however, are paid $150 per month.

  6. Question: Where did you get the money to start the company?

    Answer: I started with $5,000 personal savings. I also took loans from friends in the beginning. I was lucky to have $3,000 worth of machinery from my previous business which I could use in the leather goods production.

  7. Question: What’s the first thing you’re going to tell your family about America?

    Answer: The kindness and hospitality of the Americans.

  8. Question: What did you like the most and the least about America?

    Answer: What I liked was the discipline in driving, great roads, advancement in the infrastructure of the country, respect, cooperation of people with each other, the value of human beings, execution of the law, hard-working people, peaceful environment, and beautiful nature. During my stay in the US, there was nothing that I didn’t like.

  9. Question: What are the general living conditions for a woman in Afghanistan?

    Answer: Just in the center of the Kabul City living conditions are good for some women, but life in rural areas is not so good. Freedom for women outside big cities is very little. Maybe 10% of the women in rural areas are independent and have freedom of action.

    In rural areas, life is better for educated people. In general, life is okay in villages and small cities. Girls can now go to school the same as boys. Unemployment rate is pretty high for young people even in Kabul, but in rural areas unemployment is much higher.

  10. Question: What factors does a woman have to overcome to start and run a company in Afghanistan?

    Answer: If a woman decides to do business, she should be ready for many problems dealing with security, religion, family, regional concerns, and gender. Women have to overcome all the above problems in order to be successful in their businesses. Most women who start a business normally enjoy their husband’s, brother’s, and father’s support.

  11. Question: Under Taliban rule, what was your life like?

    Answer: My family and I had a lot of problems at the beginning of the Taliban regime. My home tutoring practice didn’t observe Taliban’s regulations for separation of boys and girls. Later in 1998 I was forced to immigrate to Pakistan where I was constantly threatened to death by the religious hard liners. Eventually I was supported by the security forces of Pakistan and could have a safer life in exile.

  12. Question: How has your life changed since the war?

    Answer: After the fall of Taliban, some circumstances, including the establishment of my NGO have made great changes in my life. I started my own business through which I could educate thousands of Afghans. I could rub elbows with men to achieve the freedom of running my business and dive into the future.

  13. Question: Are you living in greater fear of terror because you are an entrepreneur?

    Answer: Obviously, no life is without problem, but human beings have a great power of adaptation. We work hard to annihilate the dangers and the risks that we take every minute of our lives. Over the past four years, since I started my business, I have never been threatened for doing business per se.

  14. Question: What would happen if America pulled its troops out of Afghanistan?

    Answer: The US forces allied with the international peacekeeping troops are the major support for peace in Afghanistan. Without their active support, bloodshed will cover all the country and people of Afghanistan will no longer experience peace.

  15. Question: What can someone who’s just a “regular person” do to help your country?

    Answer: Anybody in any country can help his/her fellow human being. However, in an advanced capitalist country such as the US, entrepreneurs can greatly help the Afghans who are novices in investment. Americans can further provide social, economic, and humane support for Afghans. I need your support in order to better help the women in Afghanistan who are expecting my support.


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Comments

Dear Guy:
I love this story, it touches my heart. Can you tell me how I could get in touch with Aziza Mohamand? We have a small non-profit 501c3 based in Mesa, Arizona and we are supporting a new boys youth soccer program at a boys orphanage in Jalalabad that cares for 650 boys ages 12-18.

We will be traveling to Afghanistan later this year and would love to purchase some soccer balls locally to distribute in Jalalabad, Kabul, Hesarak and Kunduz while we are there.

Any information or an e-mail address would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Diana Tacey, Founder
ChildLight Foundation for Afghan Children
Mesa, Arizona, USA
(480) 964-5484
www.childlightfoundation.org

Great story and very inspiring. If only more people in the middle east were as determined to make a positive difference as she has.

That is a terrific story. I hope that a lot of entrepreneurs read it. The economically disadvantaged countries of the world would do a lot better if more entrepreneurial activities emerged in them.

Aziza and I have a lot in common when it comes to business and making the world a better place, however, I have the privilege of being an American citizen. Makes me a little humble and want to work a little harder reading about the challenges she faces. Thanks for a great blog. Your blog may be free to access, but I have found the information on it thought-provoking whether I agree or not. That is priceless (that sounds like a credit card commericial even to me, sorry!)

thanks for mentioning this in your year-end recap of blogging. Wonderful human story.
Cyrus
http://blogging4burgers.blogspot.com

Makes me realize again, that anything is possible. Thanks for the great interview Guy...more like this.

Best, Stacy

Thomas Levy and other guys, i agree with you! It's good article.

Thank you for an inspiring story, I appreciate that people find these heartwarming and feel-good stories much more useful than the Youtube story that has gotten all the media press.

Aziza truly is inspiring.

This story reminds me of my time spent working in a Children's hospital. Whenever I was tempted to feel stressed all I needed to do was take a walk past the emergency waiting room to gain some perspective. Worked every time. Thanks for the reminder.

Good luck to Aziza and all like her.

Hum. My comment was actually tongue in cheek. I didn't DIGG the story, initially. I went back and DUGG it after I read Guy's reply to my comment. The "5 slackers" comment was meant in playful jest, to encourage others to spread the word. If your spreading it, thank you.

Guy, you do good things. I'd like to be just like you when I grow up.

Smittie

A true entrepreneur with meaningful aspirations. Excellent one.
BTW, what's with the "Ten Questions" in the title while there are more than 10 questions answered in the post?

*************

I use the term "Ten Questions" very loosely...not being limited by overly stringent limits. :-)

Guy

Smittie,

The better my blog gets, the lower it ranks in Technorati and the fewer Diggs. I find this mystifying. There's no money or glory in blogging! :-)

Guy
**********

May be some of us are sharing it differently? I know I am. May be some of us are just tired of Digg and the enforced social-networking? May be some are 'blinking' but you are not using Blink, are you?

Didn't realise you were blogging for money or glory, Guy! :-)

This is the type of inspiring entrepreneurial story that I really enjoy reading. I hope you present a follow up in six months or a year. (Yes, I dugg it ;-)) Are you familiar with kiva.org?

Guy, I dugg this story.

There are 17 comments and only 11 diggs. 5 of you are slackers.

Smittie

**********

Smittie,

The better my blog gets, the lower it ranks in Technorati and the fewer Diggs. I find this mystifying. There's no money or glory in blogging! :-)

Guy

Thanks a lot for sharing Guy. Besides being interesting, this interview differs from the usual topics out there in the blogs we all read. It´s genuine and refreshing.

You´re one of the good guys. Stay that way and you win. Always.

Thanks again,

David

Guy,
This is an amazing and inspiring post! It never ceases to amaze me to hear the stories of successful business owners who literally start from nothing and make a go at it (not to mention doing things philanthropically at the same time)!

Guy:

Thanks for that. I can see what makes you successful -- aside from that one book that you've written eight times : - )

Great story! Is there a way to purchase, in the US, any of the items her company makes?

this is an awesome story, with great questions. While it makes me think about how 'easy' it is to do soemthig like this in the U.S. it makes me appreciate the human spirit and resolve, or as she says "human beings have a great power of adaptation." My personal experience is in Mexico, having roots there and having lived there for almost 2 years. I'd love to be involved in helping raise the standard of living in MX just as she has done in her country.

Dear Guy,

Thank you very much for this incredible interview which is another evidence of the interest of reading "good" blogs. If I may, perhaps could you write a post about how to practically help developing countries entrepreneurs (microfinance) - a kind of "Top ten charities to help developing countries entrepreneurs" ;-). I guess with the audience of your blog, readers wanting to do something would thus have the opportinuty to.

Amazing story.

Primary education and empowered women are the need of the hour for most developing nations. More power to Aziza Mohmmand and her team.

Thanks for posting this interview. Cheers.

The key element that stands out for me in this inspiring story is her saying upfront that she was born into a 'liberal family' with a prosperous father, who could afford to and did send her abroad for education.

More than anything that might have catalysed her enterprise, I think this grounding in essential liberal values and education is the most critical. The foundation for the requisite fortitude to succeed, esp in an environment difficult for women, was laid early.

Developing nations need more investment in education, particularly of women. They think and lead differently and in complex situations, that helps. And no brick-bats please. This is not a feminist commentary, just an experiential comment, yes, from Europe too.

You go girl! Can anyone imagine how different Iraq would be if they had a handful of Azizas? She's a national treasure. One piece of advice about the ball business... Don't let someone named David Stern convince you to make synthetic basketballs. And perhaps this was answered elsewhere, but is there a way someone with a credit card could buy one of these balls? Probably too late for Christmas, but it would make me feel good to buy a soccer ball from Afghanistan and give it to one of the kids in my life.

Inspiring story...this is why I read your blog everyday!

Aziza, you're quite an inspiration. Hope more people hear your remarkable story. Labeling your aspirations as the "American Dream" doesn't do you justice... its hard to imagine what your accomplishments would be if you had the opportunities that we have in the States.

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