Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Conversation With Rangina Hamidi

By Sherry Sklar
If you believe in divine intervention, you will appreciate my story of how I came to know Rangina Hamidi, Founder of Kandahar Treasure and became aware of her important mission and work. Rangina started her company to empower women in Afghanistan by selling their traditional Khamak embroidered textiles worldwide. Our connection began not with transport on a magic carpet, but with an elaborately embroidered shawl draped around the shoulders of my friend and former colleague, Deb Glaser. We were enjoying lunch in the West Valley close to her new job at Thunderbird International School of Management. My eye immediately caught the beautifully worked fabric and complicated needlework of the piece she wore. Curious, I asked her how she came to own it…and so began my journey—which unfolded over the next three years—that led me to Rangina Hamidi. Rangina is a Fellow in Thunderbird’s Project Artemis, a program piloted in Afghanistan and launching soon in Jordan and Peru that helps educate women in business. These Fellows move forward with their individual accomplishments and education that contribute to the greater society and make an economic impact to empower women. I had the chance to “virtually” sit down with her and ask her the following questions.  What I took away from our conversation is how different our perspectives are, and how my questions reflected and were limited by my knowledge of the day-to-day reality and challenges that face the people of Afghanistan.

Sherry: In working with the women in Afghanistan, what have you found is their personal concerns and ambitions for their future, the future of their children (daughters in particular) and their nation (and its place and perception in the international community)?

Rangina: To all of the women of Afghanistan, but specifically to the women of Kandahar who live in constant fear, security is the number one priority in their life today.  Local women have raised their voices loud and clear to ask for an end to violence on all fronts.  With 30+ years of violence and war, the women are now saying that nothing has been achieved other than increasing the number of deaths, creating more orphans and widows each day with this unjust violence.  The women all dream of a peaceful Afghanistan where their children can go to school without fear; and a prosperous and developed Afghanistan so that its poor citizens can enjoy their life inside their country rather than aspiring for nations abroad. The women of the South are even willing to give up some of their freedoms to make peace with insurgents because they say "at least I will know that my son, my husband, brother or father will not be blown up in a suicide attack!" The women of Kandahar again selflessly want peace for their children at the cost of their own freedoms - this is trait that the women here are known for!
Sherry: How is Kandahar Treasure sustainably financed? In addition to profit garnered by sales, how is fresh capital obtained for supplies, inventory and expansion? Is the business micro-financed? If so, is this a banking system you developed to fund your venture exclusively (in other words in addition to production do you have a dedicated lending arm?) or are you working with other established non-profit funding organizations such as FINCA?

Rangina: Kandahar Treasure is solely financed by its sales and some personal donations from friends and family from time to time. We are a for-profit entity so we do not qualify to apply for grants, but individuals who are not interested in getting tax benefits do donate to us and we gratefully appreciate their gifts. But this is about 5% of annual budget. The remaining 95% of our annual budget comes from sales. We now have a permanent shop at the Kandahar Air Field where we sell our fine hand-made products to all of the military staff present or visiting Kandahar. Our competition on the field is cheap machine made products from either China, Pakistan or Iran. The quality of our products speak for itself and we have a great amount of repeat customers who always bring new customers. We are doing really well at the shop. Additionally, we continue to participate in exhibitions and fairs where our products are sold directly to customers or to wholesalers. We currently have a good problem in which there is more demand than the capacity in which we produce! The winter season always slows our women down because the days are short and there is no electricity during night to produce as we have less products coming than our busy summer days. 
Sherry: In light of the fundamental shift in global communication to social networking, the blogosphere and internet commerce, how will your business leverage these technologies to generate business, raise awareness and create social change in Afghan society?

Rangina: In the Afghan society, I have to honest and say that the majority of the population is still very distant from the technology world - primarily because there is no access to technology without power and we are still struggling to get power (electricity) in the city even.  So the majority of the Afghan population is still very much unaware of the benefits of internet, etc. However, in the Afghan way we are touching lives through our very real network with the women.  With over 450 women directly benefiting from our program and multiply that by at 10 other - we are easily reaching 4500 people on a daily basis. Because we are meeting the basic need of the poor in our society, we are lucky and proud to say that we have not received a threat to this day about our work. Sympathizers of the insurgent community has even sent their praises of our work because we work within the social realities set by the communities here. Kandahar Treasure's philosophy is to spring change from within. We believe that by meeting women's basic need of financial independence in Kandahar, we are certain that the changes that will result from this very attainable independence will not only be long lasting but will be revolutionary changes for the lives of not only our women but also the men in the society.  

So even if there is no light at night, we continue to work to improve the lives of our people so that a brighter and hopeful tomorrow can be built for our whole nation.  


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