Roshan, the First Benefit Corporation in Afghanistan, Brings People and Hope Closer

Written by on January 13, 2014 in Entrepreneurship, Middle East, Tech - No comments

Man Boy on Cell PhoneIn 2003, Afghanis had no access to international telecommunications. To call family members or business contacts anywhere else in the world, they had no option but to cross the border into a neighboring country, a luxury in which most Afghanis could not afford. Now, Roshan has turned the “luxury” of a phone call in Afghanistan into an everyday convenience.  As the first, certified Benefit Corporation in the Middle East and the first telecommunications company in Afghanistan, Roshan is now Afghanistan’s leading telecommunications provider with nearly six million, active subscribers and a network that covers over 240 cities and towns in all of the country’s 34 provinces.

Roshan became a certified B Corp in 2012. During an interview with the Benefit Lab, the non-profit organization that awards B Corp certification, the Chief Executive Officer of Roshan, Karim Khoja, explained his desire to transform Afghanistan’s economy through social business.

“Our mandate is to not only operate a best-in-class telecommunications network, but to also use communications as a catalyst for development in a country ravaged by 30 years of war.  This vision leads Roshan to execute some business decisions that have long-term impact, rather than short-term financial results.  For example, in 2004 Roshan built towers in Bamiyan, despite the business case showing no return on investment.  However, access to telecommunications proved to be a stimulator for the economy—the Friday market returned and tourism began to flourish.”

“We have also used our industry expertise to launch four telemedicine links—connecting some of the most isolated and dangerous locations in Afghanistan with world-class international medical expertise.  As community members began to take advantage of access to specialists and medical professionals received training through the connections, hospital business expanded, making the links profitable.”

With over $600 million of investment  into Afghanistan, Roshan has made a dramatic impact in the local economy.  They employ more than 1,100 people, of which, 19% are women.  Roshan’s push to empower women is both an internal and external strategy. Research proved that it is culturally acceptable for Afghani women to have a mobile phone in order for her to provide a better connection between herself and her family and in some cases, her workplace. Through a Friends and Family option called Aali for Mother Campaign, Roshan respects the cultural expectations of women while simultaneously empowering women to stay connected through her mobile phone.

Recognizing that Afghani women are in need of additional, economic opportunities, Roshan has established the Women’s Public Call Offices (WPCO) project in collaboration with AfghanAid and USAID.  Through a microfinance model, women work as telephone operators. Roshan provides a subsidizedkit, which includes a handset, SIM card, antenna, charger, 12,500 units of talk time and an official Roshan PCO business signboard. As the operators purchase additional minutes, she receives a credit worth 60% her purchase from Roshan.

Roshan scored a 145 (with the median score of 80) on their 2012, B Impact Report. A score of 88 in the Community Section (the median score was 32) reflects their commitment to job creation, women empowerment and community practices. They have built wells, e-learning centers, schools and playgrounds in communities in which they operate. According to CEO, Karim Khoja,  ‘there is a symbiotic relationship between this community support and the business.’

For more information on the innovative work of Roshan and their work as a B Corp, read here.

Sources: B Lab, B Corporation

Julie Fahnestock

Julie lives in Cambridge, MA and is currently pursuing her MBA in Managing for Sustainability at Marlboro Graduate School in Vermont. She has a background in international development and grassroots organizing and is passionate about equitable wages, labor rights and the global income disparity. Julie is also a new blogger for Just Means and Socialearth. If you can't find Julie in Cambridge, she's probably on the beaches somewhere in South Florida.

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