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Tech Opportunities For Afghan Talent
Inspirand is opening the Canadian market to IT experts in Afghanistan.
It was frustrating, scrolling through job listings he couldn’t apply for. Not because he lacked the skills - after seven years as a software engineer and web designer, Samiullah Nazari was an ideal candidate for the digital design and development projects posted on international forums. But none of these companies would consider taking on a freelancer in Afghanistan. “It was a real struggle, I saw there were projects I could do, but there was no connection to the international markets, we simply don’t have access,” he says.
The problem is with payments. Paypal and other online transfer mechanisms are not available in Afghanistan, making it difficult to get money to Afghans from abroad. The virtual collapse of the banking system since the Taliban takeover and the economic crisis that followed has left people like Nazari in greater need of freelance work from abroad, but unable to apply for the roles. “I had a few friends in the industry who got work through relatives abroad, but not everyone is going to do that for you because it’s a real hassle,” he says.
This approach is convoluted and requires relatives to set up an account to receive the payment on your behalf. They then send the money to the recipient in Afghanistan through the hawala system, an informal method of transferring money through a network of money brokers across the country. Hawala transfers, which operate without the physical movement of money, are widely used in Afghanistan, but not many people have an overseas relative able or willing to do this. “So people with excellent skillsets are unable to take on work because they can’t get paid,” Nazari says.
Then he had an idea. “In January this year, I came to Canada and started thinking about all the opportunities for Afghans here.” His plan was simple - set up a company to take on web design, development and branding projects in Canada, then outsource the work to freelancers in Afghanistan. They would be paid in Canadian dollars, substantially boosting their income thanks to the exchange rate, while the lower rates they charge would help secure work in the competitive Canadian market.
“There are so many projects Afghans can do here. I want to bring Canadian opportunities to them,” he says, pointing to the relative value of a foreign wage in Afghanistan, where the money goes substantially further than in Toronto, where he is now based. “A thousand Canadian dollars might cover a few weeks’ rent on a one-bedroom apartment here, but in Afghanistan, it would support a family of five or more in a large house for at least a month.”
Nazari launched Inspirand in November 2022 with funding from an Ideas Beyond Borders Innovation Hub grant. “It was early in the morning when I received the email confirming the grant. I won’t forget that moment,” he says. For IBB, Inspirand offers enormous potential to help talented young people in Afghanistan build sustainable careers in an incredibly challenging environment.
“There’s no lack of talent in Afghanistan, but there is a lack of avenues for the global market to access it. Inspirand is one of many innovative solutions which is leveling the playing field, allowing everyone to access the same opportunities,” says Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, founder and president of Ideas Beyond Borders.
Nazari hopes that gaining work experience with international companies will help the freelancers he employs secure more roles in the future and plans to take people on full-time when he has a steady flow of work coming in. “The situation in Afghanistan is terrible at the moment, but by building a bridge between these two markets, we can create the access and eligibility people need to get hired and eventually find a way out.”