Last May a truck bomb detonated in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter, killing at least 90 people and injuring almost 500. It was another deadly chapter in the city’s modern history. For the trio who would become impACT, it was a wake up call.
Soon after the blast Afghan entrepreneurs Ahmad Fahim Didar and Matiullah Rahmaty met with author and social entrepreneur Nicole Bogott. They agreed the narrative around Afghanistan had to change. Kabul was already fostering a small but thriving startup scene, complete with company successes and coworking spaces.
Didar, Rahmaty and Bogott wanted to bring it to the world. By August they created impACT, a social movement seeking change through entrepreneurialism, especially in “fragile contexts”. Its holistic structure supports top-down, and bottom-up, approaches to entrepreneurship that, it hopes, can address the many issues those in difficult situations face when starting a business.
“Local entrepreneurs are deeply rooted within their communities,” the team tells Red Herring. “They have skin in the game and therefore a strong motivation to initiate change. Many Afghan entrepreneurs are ambitious and believe their business can go global. They hope to provide solutions for other countries with similar problems. So, creating these connections is valuable to them.”
The UN and other international organizations often launch social entrepreneurship movements in nations, like Afghanistan, where access to funding and basic amenities are tough. But they rarely understand innovation, and are oftentimes far-removed from the communities they purport to serve.
impACT’s global approach is remedying that. From Kabul it moved to Berlin, Germany, last November. This February it ran a workshop in Beirut, Lebanon, and is planning an event in Delhi this June. From there it hopes to visit Oman, Cairo, Paris and New York – as well as cities up and down Afghanistan.
That will connect Afghan and other entrepreneurs with hitherto-unseen access to funding, the team says: “We do see a growing number of venture capitalists and angel investors moving beyond their traditional geographical markets. But funding does not necessarily need to come from a financial investor.
“Public institutions, affluent individuals and international institutions may also have an incentive to support social entrepreneurs who have innovative ideas tackling challenges their communities are directly affected by in sustainable ways.”
Subjects covered have ranged from medical solutions for diabetes patients to helping refugees who are relocating to Europe. Right now impACT is focused on “bringing entrepreneurs out from isolation. The next step is to access global policy, to change systems at their core. “Fragile environments need a seat at the table; or they create their own table,” says Didar. “We are open to either scenario.”
Eventually impACT envisions a model that democratizes the movement, incorporating cosmopolitan and liquid structures, exploring blockchain technologies and allowing others worldwide to copy impACT’s plan. It would be “a bit like TEDx talks,” the team writes. “But besides spreading ideas, implementing them too.”
When that is successful – and impACT’s incredibly fast development suggests it will be – perhaps the team, and social entrepreneurship in general, can help change Afghanistan’s narrative from one of pain, to one of hope, and talent.
“There is desire of a new generation of entrepreneurs to follow a broader purpose than just the bottom line of their business, which is fueling the social entrepreneurship movement,” the team writes. “And it works, as many examples demonstrate.”