By: Sajid Shah and Matiullah Rahmaty
I am from Afghanistan, a country that experienced war for more than 40 years. In 2001 a new government came to power. The presence of the international community has played an important role in stabilizing the government. The situation, however, has remained highly volatile.
During the past 32 years our neighboring countries hosted many Afghan refugees, who fled war and instability. While Iran and Pakistan remained relatively safe havens for those who fled, the presence of Afghan refugees led to friction and distrust in their host countries.
This has had a negative effect on attitudes between Afghans and Pakistanis, particularly. Both have a lot to learn from each other, and it is through exchange of ideas and collaboration that we can overcome these distrustful attitudes and build a more positive and productive relationship.
In August 2017 impACT was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. It has now become a global movement spreading the notion of civil society engagement and economic development through social entrepreneurship, connecting ecosystems and offering a new perspective for the top-down approach of donor agencies towards a bottom-up alternative.
In November 2018, out of the joint effort of the AGHAEZ, Social Innovation Lab, Philia and Bright Point, the impACT Islamabad International Event that brought together Afghan and Pakistani social entrepreneurs came into being. We identified 11 Afghan delegates who journeyed to Islamabad to take the first step in contributing to a long-lasting relationship between our two countries.
Our Afghan delegation, myself included, were expecting it to be difficult because of the prejudices that we had against Pakistan and its people. Already upon our arrival, our minds and ways of thinking started to change. When the impACT programme started, we experienced a completely different environment. It was not at all what we were expecting it to be.
Our three day journey showed us — through sessions and workshops — how to successfully collaborate and find opportunities to work together. We were learning how similar we are in our visions, our hopes, even our pains. We shared moments when we noticed that we are in fact feeling that we are same and magic started happening.
In no time we all became united, sharing the struggles and pleasures of being entrepreneurs with social causes and we started searching for possibilities that could be explored within our new network. The common factor I saw over our three days together was that every participant was not only figuring out ways to improve their startup but also helping the other entrepreneurs, no matter which country they represented.
It was surprising and beautiful to see two countries that are among the least developed in the world finding solutions to make the whole world a better place. This is the very foundation of the entrepreneurial spirit.
During those three days, we developed projects to implement between the two countries. Our delegates have started building a long-lasting relationship, and at impACT, we are looking to expand in Pakistan.
Entrepreneurs share a lot in common that unites them beyond borders.They always see the potential in improving society and work toward it. That is the essence of impACT, and the essense of the unique exchange between Afghan and Pakistani entrepreneurs.
This text was written jointly by Sajid Shah, a Pakistani entrepreneur, and Matiullah Rahmaty, an Afghan entrepreneur. They were both part of the impACT Islamabad International Conference.