March 2022 has been a busy month for the RAWNAQ project, a two-phased private sector development initiative jointly implemented in Afghanistan by Cordaid and the Norwegian Refugee Council since 2020.
In Herat, 21 enterprises graduated from the Business Model Canvas training, which was celebrated in a ceremony organized by Cordaid at the Arg hotel in Herat. As reported earlier this month, ten businesses participating in the project, some of them run and owned by women, were given the opportunity to showcase their products at Afghanistan's national spring agricultural fair in Kabul.
"The training helped to enter new markets, better understand customers, and offer new products adapted to demand. Our sales increased by 30%."
Towfiq Hussaini, owner of a candy factory in Herat
Despite the challenges Afghanistan has faced this past year, the RAWNAQ project continues to be a success, helping micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to grow and create jobs for individuals from displaced and vulnerable host communities.
A wide range of enterprises
The project is implemented in Herat (West), Kandahar (South), and has supported 138 enterprises since its start in 2020. These enterprises span a range of activities, including the production of candy, honey, saffron, soap, recycled plastic bags, pipes, clothes, and chicken feed.
Some enterprises provide services, like a physiotherapy clinic and an event planning company in Herat. Both these two, as well as other enterprises are owned and run by women. Many of them employ women, sometimes exclusively.
In March, Cordaid met some of the RAWNAQ participants. Many of them told us their commercial activity had increased after the training of RAWNAQ's phase one. "We became more efficient," said Parisa Frozeh, 24, director of the Ghya physiotherapy clinic in Herat. "We used to receive around 60 patients a day. Nowadays, it's around 100," she explained, adding that out of 16 people she employs, nine are women.
Several business owners said Cordaid's support allowed them to move to bigger offices. Or to move their activity from their home to a more professional location.
Learn and grow
During phase one of RAWNAQ, participants learn the Business Model Canvas (BMC), which allows enterprises to visualize different key elements in order to develop a better model and strategy for growth.
"The BMC allowed us to identify our problems, to address them, and find ways to diversify our sources of income", explains Dariush Rahgosha, owner of a plastic recycling factory in Herat.
"I can support my family with my salary now."
Zahra Noori, whose family of 16 was displaced from the then-volatile Ghazni province
Towfiq Hussaini, the owner of a candy factory, in Herat as well, said the training helped him to "enter new markets, better understand customers, and offer new products adapted to demand". As a result, his sales increased by 30% after the training.
Several participants said they learned crucial new concepts. Shabita Omidwar, who runs a saffron business in Herat, for instance, said it was useful because she now better understands how branding works. "We learned new concepts, gained experience, and all our questions were addressed", she summed up.
Full-fledged business plans
After phase one, graduating enterprises who show commitment to the programme and present the highest potential for business growth and job creation are then enrolled in phase two.
This part of the programme includes business consultancy services, and the development of full-fledged business plans. It also supports business owners in obtaining grants for new people employed and in participating in trade fairs and other events. In short, the programme creates valuable market and networking opportunities.
Challenges and rewards
Despite the challenges faced by Afghan female entrepreneurs since the change in government, RAWNAQ's participants in Herat all said they could continue their work without facing any major issues.
Enterprises have been able to continue employing both men and women, although they tend to work on different tasks, in different rooms or locations. "There are no restrictions from the government for now," said Behnaz Saljiqi, who runs an event planning business in Herat. "We were invited to a meeting with officials who said women are allowed to work. So, I felt encouraged and called my staff back to work," she added.
"I always dreamed of starting a business, with the goal of helping other women in need of work."
Behnaz Saljiqi, owner of an event planning business in Herat
Another participant said it had become more 'sensitive' to own and run a business as a woman in the view of some parts of society. In this context, and as the country faces an unprecedented economic crisis, RAWNAQ helps its participants consolidate and grow their businesses and maintain their confidence and motivation.
Participants also felt satisfaction from being able to give work to those who needed it most. Enterprises enrolled in phase 2, receive more intensive, individualized support in exchange for hiring a certain number of displaced persons and youths from host communities. "I can support my family with my salary now," says Zahra Noori, whose family of 16 was displaced from then-volatile Ghazni province, and now works at Saljiqi's office with her sister.
"I always dreamed of starting a business, with the goal of helping other women in need of work," Saljiqi said. "I feel proud when I give them their salaries."
Today, despite the challenges, participants continue showing high levels of motivation to grow their enterprises and succeed in the market. The average attendance rate during the training sessions has been 95% in Herat and 98% in Kandahar. Overall training satisfaction remains high at 4,8/5 in Kandahar, and 4.7/5 in Herat.
RAWNAQ will be implemented until 2023.