There is a trait that runs deep into the Australian startup ecosystem and that is generosity. We are a generous group of people who are more than happy to help where we can.
It is that generosity that attracted me to this space.
My foray into startups started in Bangkok when I was 19 years old. I am now 27 years old and have been leading the SPARK Deakin entrepreneurship program at Deakin University for five years. I have served as a director of a small publicly traded company and founded the Australian South Asia Center, a community of impact-driven entrepreneurs, creatives and leaders.
In 2013 I was a bright-eyed freshman law student who had dreams of working in the humanitarian sector. I went to Bangkok to be an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development and worked with hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers from around the world.
Most days I did ad hoc legal and interpreting work from Punjabi to English when we didn’t have interpreters, but it was there that I first learned about the power of entrepreneurial skills to help restore a sense of dignity and empowerment for women. Tamil women who were refugees and had been for years.
That placement opened my eyes to the possibilities when we consciously use entrepreneurship as a vehicle to empower people and the intersection of philanthropy and business.
When I saw what was unfolding in Afghanistan, I contacted the Afghans in Australia and my contacts in the United States and the United Kingdom through Linkedin.
One of the people I spoke to was Firash (her name has been changed to protect her family) who lives in Melbourne and has ambitions to start her own data analytics startup one day.
She loves how technology can be used to make things more efficient. Then she told me about her younger sister, a brilliant one who graduated with a degree in computer science, but right now she is trapped in Kabul and her life is in danger.
On a humanitarian visa for 10 years, Firash has not been able to get her sister to safety nor has she had the space to start a business (in fact, visa rules make it difficult).
I think people like Firash deserve better than this, in fact he is very grateful to be in Australia, but more than that he deserves to know that her family will be safe.
Here’s how you can help people like Firash:
Be an ally of the Afghan people. This means understanding what has happened and amplifying the voices of the Afghan people – some people I get my information from include theafghan, Mahboba Promise (an Australian Afghan woman who has worked tirelessly to help women and children with almost no government funding) and Pashtana Durrani
Don’t be silent, show our elected leaders that you care about this. Email your local MP in a personalized way about increasing our humanitarian intake and prioritizing high-risk Afghan women and children. If Firash’s citizenship hadn’t taken 10 years, he might have been able to bring her sister and start his entrepreneurial dreams. ActionforAfghanistan is a letter you can send, but remember to customize the introduction first as MPs are more likely to respond to you if you do. Here is an example of what I sent. At best they’ll hear, at worst the story will have in writing that we, Australian startup leaders, take action and help those in need.
Connect with Afghans in your network: instead of just asking “is it okay?” (no one really is at the moment), be proactive and offer targeted support as they are unlikely to ask for it. For example, you could offer to fill out immigration visa forms, write a letter to accompany the application on your company letterhead about the person’s character, email the minister on their behalf, or offer financial support directly to them.
Donate to charities run by Afghan women – This won’t do much in the very short term (banks are still closed in Afghanistan), but it’s essential for long-term initiatives. I have been advising a campaign called # Camp4Afghanistan in association with Mahboba’s Promise that is taking place this weekend. You can find their website here or follow them on Instagram. There are also many other campaigns, I would advise supporting multiple ones.
The Australian South Asia Center (ASAC) in partnership with the CORE Foundation (USA) is working with our startup partners the United States and the United Kingdom to help 150 Afghans still stuck in Kabul with their family in Australia.