3 lessons for entrepreneurs from my visit to Afghanistan


By Major Sunil Shetty, SM (Retd)

I landed in the Kabul city this week, after a gap of five years, for a week-long stay to explore emerging business opportunities in Afghanistan.

My schedule included meetings with local businesses and young entrepreneurs.

However, on my To-Do list was another important agenda point -meeting my former staff members, who worked in my earlier business in the region.

I knew it would be difficult to locate most of the 600 members as the majority of them came from different provinces, cities & towns of Afghanistan.

So, my best option was to find and meet those who lived Kabul.

In spite of my best effort, I could locate only a handful of them as many had moved on, in search of livelihood, to other provinces, cities and some even had left Afghanistan.

On the fifth day, I took out time in the evening to meet Kaka Tahir at his home on his invitation.

Kaka in Farsi language means Uncle – my younger staff members addressed him Kaka and so did I.

Kaka, who is in his late 50s, and his Son Haroon had worked for me for 11 straight years out of the 13 years I had lived in Afghanistan.

During the period – Kaka worked and travelled wherever I wanted him to, across Afghanistan, without asking a question.

As I entered into his flat in Mikrorayon, a “multi-storey prefabricated apartment buildings” that was built by the Soviets during the 1960s and said to be the five “Soviet infrastructure projects that survived the Afghan wars”, I was touched by his gesture of dedication that he displayed all through the eleven years.

I saw he had kept a big family picture of mine in his living room – my family had become part of his family gallery.

After two hours of catching up, on the past five years, as I was about to leave- Kaka said something that left me speechless -he said- “Sunil Sahib- On Dastarkhwan after thanking Allah- I make Duwa for you.”

His words – left me speechless.

Even before, I could return to my hotels, my phone was buzzing with calls from other staff members- enquiring about my well-being.

Waheed Afridi used to be my purchase manager, called me using the Facebook messenger from Turkey where he now lives and works.  I was overwhelmed by their warmth.

I shared this touching experience with my friends, associates and fellow entrepreneurs over the WhatsApp and their reaction said they too felt a connection with my experience.

The three lessons for entrepreneurs from my Afghanistan revisit are;

  1. Working together makes life memorable

It is the time we spent together with colleagues both inside and outside the workplace.

It is the small things we did together as a team- is what makes our association memorable.

During the two hours of interaction with Kaka – neither of us talked about materialist things like salary, bonus, targets etc, instead, we both recalled and laughed about the incidents and episodes that connected us together.

According to Manish Verma, Head-Family Office, Karvy Private Wealth, such associations are “the biggest earning in life that no money can win.”

  1. Entrepreneurs should measure success beyond numbers

The success of a business leader should not be limited to the targets and milestones achieved nor to the profits and revenues generated.

Meena Arora, a Life Coach says, “nothing in this world is more beautiful than making others life beautiful …” and this can happen if you connect with your team beyond numbers.

  1. Investment in building work-relationships lasts a lifetime 

The entrepreneurial journey is full of uncertainty and if you have invested in building a relationship with your team- then you survive the test of time.

Today, even after a gap of five years, if I have to put a team of capable, hardworking and trustworthy members together- it would be a matter of days and not weeks.

Knowing this fact is a great feeling for any entrepreneur and business leader.

So, invest in building relationships that you can bank on.

As I wind up my visit to Afghanistan, once again I have gathered memories and experiences that will stand by me in my future entrepreneurial journeys.

(The author is founder & CEO of Askmentor.com. Views expressed are personal.)