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TEDx Tries To Bring Digital Age To Kabul

Flags of participating countries fly outside a TEDx summit in Rio de Janeiro in June.
Looking to bring the modern age of ideas to Afghanistan, TED has come to Kabul.

TED, short for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a nonprofit organization that has devoted itself to fostering "Ideas Worth Spreading." It does so through conventional conferences, and "conversations" live-streamed via the Internet.

On October 11, in the Afghan capital, TEDxKabul undertook the ambitious task of hosting one of the interactive, digitally supported events in Kabul.

The one-day event, meant to highlight unreported stories of successful Afghan entrepreneurs and innovators, was marred from the onset by technical failures and fears over security. As a result of a weak Internet connection, the live-stream of the event was abandoned. And the security concerns led to confusion as to who, exactly, would participate, with organizers naming the speakers only as the event began.

But in the end, the show went on. Some 15 speakers, many of them Afghans, gave talks, performances, launched products, and held exhibitions. The speakers included internationally famous and little-known human rights advocates, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, educators, frontline medical workers, teachers, athletes, and journalists.

Una Moore, one of the organizers, said the technical glitches were an unavoidable distraction to an otherwise successful event. She said the show succeeded in highlighting to both Afghan and international audiences the positive contributions that Afghan entrepreneurs and innovators were making in rebuilding the country.

"There hasn't been enough celebration of the Afghans who are putting their creativity and ingenuity into things that are really benefiting and changing their country," Moore said.

"This [event] is going to be a celebration of people whose works fall outside the realm of the war. These are people who against all odds are really trying to make civilian life something better, richer, and more diverse."

Software Entrepreneur

The TEDx speakers were divided into three categories: rights and civil society, creative entrepreneurship, and culture and conflict.

Among the most anticipated talks was from Roya Mahboob, a 25-year-old woman who is the founder and CEO of the software company Afghan Citidel Services (ACS). Mahboob, who is from the western city of Herat, is one of the only female CEOs in Afghanistan, a country where many girls still do not go to school and where some women are still barred from working outside their homes.

Mahboob created ACS in 2010 along with two Herat University classmates with an investment of $20,000, most of it coming from their own savings. Since then, Mahboob's company has expanded enormously and they now provide computer, Internet, and software assistance to schools, hospitals, and businesses in western Afghanistan.

The big name in attendance was Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and presidential candidate, who has held executive positions in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As Afghan finance minister Ghani, who specializes in state-building and social transformation, was instrumental in carrying out radical and effective economic reform and sparking the economic revival in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

During his presentation on entrepreneurship, Ghani said young Afghans should realize that there is no limit to their imaginations. "The world is your ocean," he said.

Speaking about the country's economic future, Ghani called for foreign investment, as opposed to foreign aid.

Among the lesser-known speakers was Sayeed Zabihullah Majidi, an Afghan architect specializing in sustainable environmental design. Majidi is the founder of Sustainability Energy Environment (SEE), an architecture firm in Afghanistan.

Majidi, who is director for Architecture and Design and heads a team of architects and engineers on design projects throughout Afghanistan, was responsible for the development and implementation of a plan to restore the old city of Kabul. His team was also responsible for restoring the French Cultural Center in Kabul in 2009.

Majidi, who has also worked on projects in Germany and China and speaks German and Mandarin, says his designs pay tribute to Afghanistan's "cultural heritage and traditional Afghan craftsmanship."
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.