How Technology Can Unleash Rural Entrepreneurship in Afghanistan
Optimization of tech can bridge the policy gap, data gap and action gap in creating jobs through entrepreneurship in rural areas of the country
Afghanistan is facing a serious jobs crisis, deep in the rural areas. The previous government failed to produce sustainable jobs and the current government seems to be missing technology as the enabling driver to rural entrepreneurship and job creation. In the recently announced Jobs for Peace program, the government has almost nothing on taking advantage of technology for curbing the immediate crisis. This short term thinking might lead the Unity Government to repeat the same mistake as the previous government. While President Ghani talks bold on private sector led growth, his administration has not came forward with how technology could accelerate such a growth in rural areas.
The latest survey conducted by the Asia Foundation revealed that Afghans see unemployment as the second biggest challenge after security in Afghanistan. The Government understands the challenge but has not realized that technology can unleash rural entrepreneurship and generate employment for the rural masses. It’s important to note that after the government, tech companies are the biggest employers in Afghanistan.
The question is why the Government should focus on rural entrepreneurship. The unemployment crisis in rural areas is far deeper and serious but most importantly the mindset among the rural people is more of working for themselves than working for the government. Rural youth are serious risk takers when it comes to doing business. The Government and the private sector should capitalize on such an extraordinary opportunity with technology as the enabling driver for rural entrepreneurship. To do this, the Government must address the following.
Policy Gap: the government’s newly established Council on Human Capital and Employment must establish rural entrepreneurship schemes for the purpose of job creation. The Council must address strategic gaps in agriculture sector vis-a-vis neighboring countries. According to an ILO study on agriculture competitiveness, Afghanistan ranks low compared to neighboring countries, or is pairing in some products. This has strategic implications for the agricultural sector which carries the bulk of job creation in the country. The government needs to navigate key import and export data and use technology as a tool for enhancing competitiveness.
Data Gap: In order to introduce effective policies, the Government needs to fill the data gap. But how can the government do this, when data by the Central Statistics Organization is still being traditionally collected and analyzed by an extremely centralized system? Information gathered from rural areas and then analyzed by central bureaucrats is likely to mislead policy makers. The dynamics in rural areas are changing faster than that of the bureaucrats. The results of some surveys are published a year or two later. Sometimes the sample questionnaires are filled in provincial capitals similar to the election ballots and then sent to Kabul. Rural areas are undergoing serious jobs crisis, data collected through technology from rural areas can be more useful than by data collected by the traditional system.
Action Gap: I'm sure that every junior level policy maker knows this and understands that tech enabled solutions can be cheaper and more effective for private sector led growth. The problem is lack of action, not lack of good statements. For acting immediately on rural jobs, aside from the NSP type of short term jobs, the Government with the support of private sector can introduce global models such as the ILO Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB).
This model is mainly aimed for rural areas and even uneducated populations can benefit from it. At least this program can be the foundation of letting the rural masses to start thinking about their businesses and improving it. This will assure the government private sector led growth becomes a reality in rural areas where the masses need jobs and now. The other benefit of the program is that it can be culturally adapted and women can largely use this program. It's time to unleash the power of rural entrepreneurship. In a time of serious urgency such programs cannot be implemented without technology.