Afghan version of Dragons' Den taps nation's spirit of enterprise
Published Date: 05 June 2008
By Rose Taylor
DECADES of conflict have made the average Afghan an
extremely self-reliant person. Used to making the most of little, the people of
the troubled country have developed an entrepreneurial spirit that can be
keenly sensed in any of its cities and towns.
It even extends to the young: it's not unknown for teenagers
to run their own businesses.
Now, in an attempt to harness this enterprising nature, comes Dragons' Den –
Fek wa Talash, which translates as "Dreams and Achievement", is a
televised search to find the best business ideas in Afghanistan. Auditions are under
way and, like their British counterparts, the Afghan dragons are fielding ideas
ranging from the brilliant to the deranged.
"You get all sorts of people," said dragon Seema Ghani, 40, a Kabu
businesswoman and government adviser, during a break in filming in Jalalabad.
"At times, it gets a bit boring. In Kabul,
we had the largest number of people (auditioning] and it was tailor after
tailor. It's not really a new business idea."
Ms Ghani, described as "frosty" and "stony" by one viewer,
has won the reputation of being the most difficult to impress. She admits this
"I am probably more frank than the other judges. I think (the contestants]
should hear how I feel about things. If we are saying (we want] creative and
innovate ideas, those should come in front of me – not a tailor."
Afghans are generally considered an entrepreneurial bunch, with children
getting involved in family businesses at an early age.
The failure of any government in the past 30 years to provide a stable business
environment, in which there is job security and a corporate ladder for people
to climb, has served to enhance this entrepreneurial spirit in many.
Already, Fek wa Talash is pulling in good ratings and the plan is to bring it
back year after year, says Habib Amari, who is producing the series for Tolo
The auditions in Kandahar
produced the highest number of established businessmen with solid ideas seeking
to expand their companies. A number of these were so busy they sent along their
business managers to audition in their place.
The strength of these businesses caused a certain dilemma for the dragons
because, unlike on the UK
programme, they are not there to invest their own money.
The contestants are competing for a top cash prize that can be injected into
the business. Over the course of the series, the dragons will direct the
strongest candidates towards marketing, legal and financial support – all
business services that are taken for granted in the West but are new to Afghanistan –
and monitor the improvement in their business acumen.
This advice will be dispensed by the show's sponsors, which include
telecommunications firm Roshan, the National Bank of Afghanistan and the American
development agency USAID.
So far, the most popular idea has been for a plastic recycling plant in Kandahar, which found
favour with all the judges.
Dragon Abdul Rahim Zalmai, 28, the chief executive of Afghan petroleum company
Napco, said that contestant was already employing about 60 people but wanted to
expand. "It fitted my criteria for what we are looking for: a business
that can grow, that is sustainable, that employs people and will contribute to Afghanistan. It
was a great idea," he said.
And the most ridiculous idea? According to Ms Ghani, it was the young man whose
"business idea" was to shut down the city's wedding halls. This,
according to his logic, would bring down the price of rice – soaring food
prices are currently a huge concern. He also wanted a half-hour slot on Tolo TV
each week to instruct women on how to behave.
"I started laughing," Ms Ghani said. "He came from Peshawar and he is
probably part of a madrassa – one of those religious schools. I had to start
telling him off. He was either a Taleb or completely crazy."
But a young student studying at Herat
University did impress
the panel. She wanted to build a clothes factory and had done a lot of research
and provided a lot of statistics. "It was a great idea. And all of the
judges really liked it," said Mr Amari, the producer.