I believe support for economic development in countries prone to conflict has never been more important. Employment promotes peace and stability.
The political and economic landscape in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is very unstable. Support for extremism is fuelled by a lack of education and employment opportunities. The region is land-locked and highly dependent on foreign aid, but faces difficulty in obtaining long-term commitments from international supporters.
Since 1989, I have worked in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region to help establish schools and artisanal enterprises. My experience has taught me that the right kind of education and training not only fosters economic growth, but can completely transform the aspirations of men and women in regions affected by conflict. People with good job prospects and prosperous businesses are often more invested in the long-term stability of their communities and countries.
In 2012, in the run-up to troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of State and USAID representatives asked me to reflect on what the priorities are for this area of the world. I stressed the need for long-term planning and long-term funding for vocational training and workforce development – and the vital connection between enterprise development, jobs, and stability.
I shared my concern that the region might be left without sufficient management and entrepreneurship skills to sustain steady economic growth, due to the inevitable security challenges and the ongoing exodus of professionals. As the rest of the world packed its bags and readied to leave Afghanistan—and as donor budgets were slashed— there had never been a more important time to remain invested in the country and in the region.
After living and working in Afghanistan for four years, I was ready to return home. But my conviction about the vital importance of economic development and peace in Afghanistan led me to found an NGO focused on skills and enterprise development. We registered that NGO, Future Brilliance Afghanistan, at the Afghanistan Ministry of Economy in Spring 2012.
It is my firm belief that to make the region more economically and politically stable, women must be empowered to contribute. Educated, employed women are more likely to invest in the education and health of their children, and are more likely to advocate for a better life for themselves, their families and their local communities. Future Brilliance works in collaboration with local people, men and women, to design projects that can provide women with incomes without having to leave the home. The region is particularly dangerous for women, with extremely low literacy rates and a strict patriarchal culture that leaves most women isolated from educational and economic resources. This is why delivering projects in Afghanistan that help women earn a living from the safety of their homes is so important.
Future Brilliance provides training and mentorship for Afghan men and women in stable locations, where a high level of safety and security attracts world class trainers and allows students to focus on their learning. The organization delivers high-level, personalised training outside Afghanistan, as well as on-the-job training in safer parts of the country. It equips trainees with the skills to train others, ensuring greater outreach when they return home, including to remote villages which are often beyond the reach of non-locals.
Future Brilliance’s first initiative, the Gemstone and Jewelry Development Project, trained 36 artisans, including 11 women, to a high level of technical and business skills in the regional jewelry business hub of Jaipur in India. The Afghan women were allowed to join the training program because we offered it in a secure environment. The location also allowed us to attract world-class experts to deliver one-on-one design and jewellery business training to the artisans. Future Brilliance trainees such as Khala Zainab, an illiterate war widow aged 51, returned to Balkh Province from Jaipur with much improved skills as designers and businesswomen. The sales turnover of Khala Zainab doubled within six months of her return. Thus far, she has trained over 60 local women.
The Gemstone and Jewelry Development Project also built a sustainable sales and marketing platform for branded Afghan jewelry. Five collections were co-created by the 36 artisan trainees and three international designers. These collections were marketed through the brand name Aayenda, meaning ‘future’ in the local language, Dari.
Sales of Aayenda Jewelry have generated work for 1,200 bead-making artisans, including 300 women, who hand-carve beads for the collection from home. Sales royalties further benefit the Afghan artisans through the provision of grants, equipment and ongoing training. For instance, a royalty payment from Aayenda Jewelry in 2015 funded the completion of a training workshop and jewelry boutique for Khala Zainab and her bead-making artisans. This gave the women a safe place to manufacture and market their product.
Khala Zainab and her colleagues registered the Aayenda Jewelry Co-operative with the support of Future Brilliance in March 2015. Members of the co-operative, all of them Afghan jewelry and gemstone artisans, have built on our initial support and continue their groundbreaking work to provide a co-ordinating body for the sector. They will soon be assuming responsibility for the management and ongoing growth of the Aayenda Jewelry social enterprise.
Stability lies in long-term commitment to build local enterprises like Aayenda. These enterprises train local people with the economically productive skills necessary to build businesses and to help locals develop products that can compete internationally on design, price, and quality. By working with young Afghan entrepreneurs and artisans to build international markets for their products, Future Brilliance empowers young people to build a more stable future for themselves and their communities.
Founder, Future Brilliance