Since we are writing stories, we are essentially writing about narratives. My name is Azadeh Tajdar. ‘Azadeh’ means ‘the one who is free’ in Persian. I am Iranian of origin, and my family left right after the outbreak of the Iran/Iraq war and immigrated to the Netherlands where my father had studied in the 60’s. But let me first ask the kind reader a couple of questions – please ponder on the following for about 30 seconds.
What first word or image comes to your mind when you hear ‘Iran’, ‘the Netherlands’, ‘Afghanistan’ or ‘USA’?
Of course there is a level of truth to all those words and images that come to your mind – but it is not the whole truth and a simplification of an ever increasingly complex reality; and just because it is difficult or complex doesn’t justify reducing that complexity to stereotypes or labels. With all stories that we tell about ‘people’, ‘countries’, ‘challenges’, we increasingly have to make a deliberate effort – and be strategic about – what to tell, what not to tell, and how to tell it – so that we don’t foreclose opportunities to shape new and positive narratives for social change.
And I wholeheartedly believe that a desire to inquire, discover and understand is really what can transform people. These are the fundamental tenets that I grew up with in Amsterdam and particularly thanks to my mother. And those four countries that I mentioned in the beginning are very dear to me: I was born in Iran, raised in the Netherlands, work in Afghanistan, and currently live in the US.
I get these questions often ‘so where is home?’ or ‘where are you from?’. I honestly respond with ‘many places’. I was raised in Amsterdam, and in 2002, I started working as a lobbyist at the EU Parliament in Brussels, and then transitioned to entrepreneurship and social innovation in 2005 with the European Commission in Afghanistan. Since 2005, I have lived and worked in over 15 countries, and always working with social entrepreneurs and social innovators. If you ask me ‘where I am local?’ I can share with you my stories of living in Kabul, in Tehran, in NY, or Amsterdam; or Dubai, Nairobi, or Dakar. So what do I do?
Startup in Afghanistan
Over the last 2,5 years I have built a startup in Afghanistan that supports social innovation and entrepreneurship in a country and region that historically has been among the most innovative, tolerant, and most inclusive societies in human history. We offer youth entrepreneurs incubation, mentoring and coworking services. With our amazing local, regional and international partners we are creating a more inclusive and thriving ecosystem for startups. The biggest challenge for us is to address the dominant narrative that comes out of Afghanistan, which focuses predominantly on security and war. A country though with an estimated 10000-15000 startups operating in an ecosystem which is nascent; an ecosystem that needs to better connect with regional and international markets, requires better regulation, end to corruption, improved business support systems, infrastructure and access to capital. An improved ecosystem that can lead to creating jobs, which can address the security problems as well as the massive migratory flows to Europe.
So what? This is where you zoom out. I think for the leader or entrepreneur who wants to live and lead a meaningful life, venture or career, it’s vital to zoom out in our ever increasingly complex and changing world. Our ‘traditional’ social frameworks simply don’t match the change around us anymore. Gaining strategic focus and direction, learning from the experience of like-minded individuals, and gaining new knowledge, understanding and perspectives – is vital to evolve as a leader, entrepreneur, and most important to shape new stories.