Roya Mahboob is the petite, soft-spoken, 25-year-old woman CEO of Afghan Citadel Software Company. She is a pleasant contradiction of every stereotype that we associate with women in Afghanistan. Traditionally and especially under the Taliban rule, education of women in Afghanistan was banned, and women got pushed to the periphery of society. They had no basic rights. Thus, they lost importance as well as relevance in Afghanistan society.
Today, a decade after the Taliban ouster, women in Afghanistan are painstakingly clawing back to getting their rights, reading and educating themselves and actively participating in business and working. Roya Mahboob has been facilitating this movement in her own quiet, unassuming manner. Last May, Baghnazargah High School in Herat got computers and internet for the first time ever as a part of the initiative by Film Annex, run by Francesco Rulli and Roya’s company. They are relentlessly working at digitally connecting the girls and boys of this and other schools in Afghanistan.
Baghnazargah is in a poorer and more conservative section of Herat. Girls here have restricted freedom. Even though some of them go to school, they long for email addresses and net connections to get information from the internet and understand its wide beautiful world. With this initiative, they get their first foray into digital world. The palpable excitement on their faces is extremely gratifying.
On the day of inauguration of the internet classroom in Baghnazargah High School, the girls crowd around Roya completely captivated by her. To them, Roya is the ultimate hero. She is heading a software company that actively employs and trains women. She is doing things that no one could imagine a woman in Afghanistan can do or accomplish. She is a great role model to the girls who see themselves someday making a difference in society, facilitating other girls and women in Afghanistan to better their status and having a position of power along with financial freedom.
The number of Internet users in the country has grown from 300,000 in 2006 to 1 million two years ago, according to the International Monetary Fund. Only 20% of the country has power, but almost 60% own mobile phones. It is clear that the people of Afghanistan crave for more schools, for connectivity, for education and for betterment.
Roya founded ACS with $20,000 of her own savings with her classmates a couple of years ago. She is actively working for inducting women in her workforce and providing them training and experience. Film Annex, an initiative of Francesco Rulli, which is a content-based online community that allows users to create Web-TV Channels, has been actively helping in building internet classrooms in schools in Herat. Roya’s ACS collaborates with Film Annex to build many such classrooms for the young girls of Afghanistan and to contribute to their education.
Film Annex and ACS are diversifying their partnership to install computer labs in other Central Asian countries and to develop e-learning and testing platforms for use in those schools. Despite threats, discrimination and other problems, Roya Mahboob moves forward relentlessly for the cause of education in Afghanistan, aided in her effort by Francesco Rulli and Film Annex. A truly inspiring initiative!
For all my posts on Afghanistan, see my web channel on Film Annex.