Creating Afghanistan's next generation of entrepreneurs -- women

woman sells food products in Afghanistan
A woman entrepreneur from Herat displays her food products at the Rural Women Exhibition in Bagh-e-Babur, Kabul. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan

Habiba Karimi is a jewelry producer in the western province of Herat, Afghanistan. She began making jewelry ten years ago, hoping to improve her economic situation and invest in her family’s future. Business started slow, however, due to lack of interest.

Karimi and other women from across Herat province have become entrepreneurs, making handicrafts and jewelry, growing saffron, processing dry fruit such as pistachios and almonds, and running and expanding their small-scale businesses.


  • Habiba Karimi and Nasrin Anwari secured sales of 95,000 and 100,000 Afghanis (US$1625 and $1700) respectively at the exhibition.
  • Karimi has trained 150 women and employs 50 in her facility, while Anwari has created jobs for 23 women.
  • In 2014, the project developed capacities of 100 members from 20 women-managed cooperatives.
  • Since 2013, 1254 women have received trainings and exposure visits through the Business Development Services program.

But the major concern they grappled with was how to gain ground in provincial and Kabul-area markets, where demand is high for their products. They also had to learn marketing skills to help them connect with their potential buyers.

Since 2011, UNDP’s Gender Equality Project (GEP) has trained nearly 200 women in Herat in small and artisanal livelihoods, marketing their products, and expanding their businesses. As most women who participate have had no formal education, the programme also offers a month-long class that teaches the necessary business skills, including reading and calculating.

Business Development Services (BDS) packages also provide an integrated set of services ranging from need assessment, activity identification, and credit management to marketing and communication skills, business planning, and product presentation.

Rural Women Exhibition offers opportunities

Recently, UNDP facilitated the participation of ten Herati businesswomen at the Rural Women Exhibition in Kabul, where they showcased saffron, soap, dry fruit, and a variety of handicrafts consisting of jewelries, silk garments and hand embroidered dresses. The two day exhibition attracted more than 5,000 visitors including suppliers, handicraft dealers, and other Kabul-area business owners interested in products of these women.

Each of the participating businesses sold an average of 100,000 Afghanis (US$ 1,700) worth of their products and established useful links with handicrafts stores and dry fruit dealers from Kabul markets. Karimi and Nasrin Anwari, owner of a dry fruit processing business, were among the participants who showcased their products, and each secured sales of 95,000 and 100,000 Afghanis (US$1,625 and $1,700) respectively.

“We learned how to set up our booths, what products to showcase, and how to attract attention of our potential buyers in an exhibition like this,” said Karimi. “Despite the disappointing market situation, the exhibit helped us sell our products and enjoy profitable deals.”

Karimi forged several business links with a good number of dealers in Kabul. After her return to Herat, she has been able to supply 110 sets of jewelry and 60 sets of bathroom accessories to three separate vendors in Kabul. She’s optimistic that the demand for her products will grow, expanding her business network and bringing her profitable deals.

Anwari’s exposure at the Kabul exhibit helped her sign a contract with a Kabul dry fruit dealer. “In the first shipment, I supplied 100Kg of pistachios and 50Kg of almonds to the dealer,” said Anwari. “I expect to fill even more orders for the same products, as well as dry flowers from the same vendor in Kabul.”

Supporting families and communities

The exhibit in Kabul also revealed an emerging phenomenon, as men are becoming more supportive of women earning their own income and comfortable for women to step out of the confines of their homes.

Encouraged and inspired by the support she received from the GEP, Karimi has trained 150 other women from Herat city. She currently employs 50 women in her small-scale handicrafts facility, with each earning an average of 5,000 Afghanis (US$82) a month. Anwari has created jobs for 23 women, each earning an average monthly income of 3,500 Afghanis (US$58).

Both Karimi and Anwari support their family with the income from their businesses and are happy they are doing well. Each having six children, their money is mostly spent on putting their children through school and buying them food and clothes.

GEP participants also benefit from exchange visits with women entrepreneurs in other provinces, as well as visits to projects in Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan.  Exposing them to local and international business models improved entrepreneurship skills and knowledge of women, increasing their chances to expand their business and generate more income. GEP also provided capacity-building training to women-managed cooperatives, improving their functionality and increasing access to resources.

The GEP entrepreneurship programme is funded by UNDP and the Governments of Korea and Denmark.

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