How Crypto Helps This Afghan School, Especially Under the Taliban
Fereshteh Forough was born a refugee in Iran during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Growing up, she was aware that sometimes people viewed her and her family as wanting to steal opportunities from them, and she saw how certain basic rights were not always afforded her family, such as around things like bank accounts and schools.
But seeing how her entrepreneurial mom was able to bring in money for the family, she learned “how you can start great things with empty hands,” as she put it in an interview on my podcast, Unchained.
Forough’s career has embodied that philosophy, to the point where the organization she founded has adopted some of the most cutting-edge financial technology, crypto assets, to endure some seemingly insurmountable obstacles, especially during tumultuous periods, such as the recent withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
When her family moved back to Afghanistan in 2002, Forough went to Herat University, where she studied computer science, and then obtained her master’s degree in Berlin. She return to Afghanistan to teach computer science at her alma mater and was inspired to establish Code to Inspire, the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan, in January 2015.
The non-profit has what she calls three pillars: first, to provide a single gender school to make families feel comfortable sending their daughters there; second, to make the school free, because many of the girls come from families with challenging financial backgrounds; and third and most importantly, “we offer certain technical skills that can be translated either into job opportunities within the community in Afghanistan, or we can outsource projects to [the students],” as she said on the show.
Although the school and its students can face threats from their family or the community, Code Inspire has been able to have a strong impact: providing girls who lacked laptops or even phones with basic infrastructure and equipment, and even beyond that, giving them the skills to bring home money to the family. One graduate became a web designer, and persuaded a company of all men to hire her to make a website for them. Others find their families are in disbelief when the girls start bringing home double or triple what the men in the family make, and then start encouraging friends to send their daughters to the school.
Code to Inspire is also on the cutting edge of financial technology. Forough first learned about Bitcoin in late 2013 or early 2014, partly because she was finding that sending payments to Afghanistan was not easy. Banks in other countries “give you more hard time when you deal with Afghanistan,” she said. And Western Union was very costly — $10-$15 in fees, which were amounts that could cover a family to have food on their table for a couple days. And at that time, PayPal did not operate in Afghanistan. On top of all that, the methods that did work were time-consuming and required a lot of paperwork.
But then, she discovered crypto and began sending that to Afghanistan. The school also spun up a curriculum in blockchain, smart contracts, Solidity and decentralized apps for their students. As of last week, five of Code to Inspire’s students are now part of ConsenSys Academy, which is an online blockchain developer bootcamp.
Check out the full interview to learn more about:
- how Code to Inspire uses crypto
- why it’s been useful after the US withdrew its troops from the country and companies like Western Union have limited services
- how the school turns crypto into afghanis, the local currency
- how the recent humanitarian crisis has gotten more organizations in Afghanistan interested in using crypto
- what Forough thinks crypto entrepreneurs could do better for banking the unbanked
Thanks for reading! If you like what you read, you can: