Roya Mahboob, an Afghan entrepreneur and businesswoman, is bridging the gap between education and jobs through technology in developing countries like Afghanistan. In her story she shares how she started this journey and why this is her mission. Roya was named to TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People In The World for 2013 for her work in building internet classrooms in high schools in Afghanistan and for Women’s Annex, a multilingual blog and video site hosted by Film Annex.
During the war, my family migrated to Iran due to security problems. I went to school there. In 2003, my family returned to Afghanistan. There, I looked for every opportunity that was available for me to learn more. I was thirsty for knowledge and had my first contact with technology and the Internet. In 2004, I went to university. I graduated from Herat University with a bachelor’s degree in computer science.
After I graduated, I became an IT coordinator for the university. This work gave me insight into the management of larger IT projects that were implemented by donors, such as NATO, USAID, and foreign universities in the U.S and Germany. After a few years, I left the university and moved to Kabul, where I worked at the Ministry of Higher Education as a project coordinator for the IT department.
All these opportunities and experiences were offered and accessible to me because I got a solid education. This reinforced my belief that education is important and builds the foundation for women like me to gain strength and confidence in their own abilities. Education will encourage us to do anything we want and to have a productive, successful and peaceful life. It makes us more independent and therefore less vulnerable.
I saw the incredible power in the combination of education, social media and IT in my personal and business lives. Not only was I able to work from home, technology allowed me to connect to the world. I was able to grow my business by reaching out to a larger businesses. This encouraged me to think about how I could share this with all Afghan women to empower them and change their lives.
The majority of girls and women in developing countries such as Afghanistan are disconnected from the modern world since they still lack access to the Internet. For these girls and women who are in the prime of their formative and creative years, the Internet symbolizes a world of opportunity. More importantly, it’s an ideal platform to learn new skills that can empower them to become more independent and self-sufficient.
In 2010, I, along with several colleagues and university classmates, established a company called Afghan Citadel Software Company with the purpose of creating tech job opportunities for women in Afghanistan. The tech sector in Afghanistan is slowly growing, and I wanted women to be in the forefront of the movement.
This led me to start the Women Annex Platform in 2012. In collaboration with our team at Afghan Citadel Software Company and social entrepreneur Francesco Rulli from Film Annex, we aimed to show the world positive stories of Afghanistan. Girls in schools and women share their stories on this platform. They blog, write stories and document videos, which are then shared on the platform. We reinvest our revenue by extending IT infrasture to girls in school. We bring the Web directly to these young girls by building Internet Training Centers directly in public high school classrooms. We create centers that provide a safe learning environment; our centers are ones of the few havens considered to be safe for young girls and women. While there is a prevalent lack of facilities and equipment for female Afghan students, we are committed to creating digital literacy opportunities for young girls that will positively impact their school enrollment and retention. So far we have been able to build 13 technology/coding centers in Herat and Kabul and connect 55,000 female students with the World Wide Web.
It’s not just that I want more women in the tech industry. I want the next generation of youth in Afghanistan to have better opportunities, have control over their lives. I get so excited when I think about the possibilities of education for these young kids – the opportunities with social media and technology.
Right now, I am living in New York City and working on the Foundation Digital Citizen Fund, which will empower women and children in developing countries through digital resources that inspire and connect them to a world beyond their borders. We are trying to create digital citizens that are capable and confident in their voices and empowering them to establish sustainable economic livelihoods. My mission is to bridge the gap between education and jobs through technology in developing countries like Afghanistan.