Social entrepreneurship, a field which has gained solid traction as a component for socio-economic development in areas such as Africa and South America, will soon play a critical role in creating a positive future for Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, the move to embrace social entrepreneurship is being driven by the nation's youth -- including particularly motivated, business-minded individuals who not only want to enjoy success, but also want to see their country prosper.
For the third consecutive year, approximately 70 Fulbright students from Afghanistan came together with thought leaders and faculty at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, for the 2013 Fulbright Social Entrepreneurship Seminar for Afghan Students.
As part of an initiative through the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), program participants study at universities throughout the United States. The Farmer School segment of their learning focuses on designing real-world, business models that address economic and social problems in Afghanistan. After completing their studies in the United States through the Fulbright program, the students then return to Afghanistan where many can put their solutions into practice.
Although faculty, organizers and other experts in the field who are part of the seminar bring a great deal of knowledge to help create the proposed business plans, the participants bring equally important components to the equation: motivation to enact change and on-the-ground experience from seeing and dealing with the economic and social problems that Afghanistan struggles to overcome.
During this September's seminar, students focused on some of the most pressing problems in Afghanistan and conceptualized solutions such as a legal aid center for women, children and marginalized groups; a mobile education program for street children; a community-based financial intermediary between farmers and agricultural service providers; a motorbike-based waste management business for Kabul; and a prison-based rug business as a means of training and socially reintegrating prisoners into Afghan society.
Presenting before a panel of entrepreneurs, the winning social enterprise plan addressed the issues of infant health and maternal deaths through a mobile health clinic. According to data provided by the World Health Organization, maternal mortality rates in Afghanistan are consistently among the worst in the world. With extremely limited access to quality health facilities and equipment in rural Afghanistan, the mobile health clinics would bring that safe environment to women that are about to give birth. The venture would also employ local midwives, combining medical best practices with cultural context and trust. The mobile clinics would also serve as an opportunity to build basic health awareness in rural Afghanistan.
Last year, students also identified several unique issues for which market-driven solutions are clearly a better method to effect change for both economic and social good. One topic that was explored in-depth involved recycling. Students raised concerns that the majority of recycling was extremely disorganized, and what little processing there was took place in Pakistan with lots of pollution left over in Afghanistan. Given this reality, the students developed a plan to build and operate a facility in Afghanistan that would process the materials and improve the environment and also create jobs for citizens and become a source of tax revenue for the Afghani government instead of its neighboring country.
Previous Fulbright groups have created social entrepreneurship plans based on issues that plagued specific regions of the country, including the mountainous areas that frequently serve as a home to poppy growers. A group of students looked at alleviating this problem through subsidized trade programs built around other profitable crops, such as saffron, that can be grown in the region's terrain.
However, the greatest success of the program is not a specific plan or solution. It is the fact that these students are now educated and empowered. They understand that individuals can affect real and meaningful change. They are able to use social entrepreneurship approaches -- combined with their experience, business acumen and motivation -- to identify and solve problems that otherwise might go unsolved. While other forms of support will undoubtedly play a role in recovery, social entrepreneurship can and will have a significant impact in the degree and pace of success.