Risk: Sliced, Diced and Sprinkled On Top

Fig 1. Risk: Sliced, Diced and Sprinkled On Top [source unknown]

As wedding season approaches, we have been getting an increasing number of exasperated customers asking when our most popular glasses will be back in stock again. Well, here's the honest answer – we have NO idea

Having placed our order back in January, we were initially told we would receive them in April. We heard very little for five months, and then in June our supplier excitedly sent us a photo of the glasses being unceremoniously unloaded from the top of a van. Progress! And then another period of silence…

The latest we gather is that they are stuck somewhere between the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. We check with the shipper every other day – but that’s all he can find out.

By choosing to work exclusively in war torn countries, it is fair to say we have developed, if not quite an appetite for risk, certainly an ability to digest it.

Afghanistan has been ranked by the World Bank in the world’s bottom ten countries for ease of doing business. In a large study conducted on behalf the Kauffman Foundation with over 700 Afghan businesses, lack of security was the top cited reason.

Interestingly though, for many of these business lack of security is less to do with the 'physical risk' of working in a war-torn country, and more to do with the risk of operating in an unstable business environment. Rather than worrying about their businesses being flattened by a bomb, or their employees being kidnapped, many Afghan entrepreneurs were found to be more concerned about the government's random changes to custom tariffs, unpredictable currency fluctuations, and the difficulties of complying with Afghanistan's new tax systems.

‘The problem for business is not the variables [security, corruption] themselves, but the variability of the variables’.
Jahid Mohseni.

Fig 3. Physical Insecurity is only only of the many risks Afghan businesses face, and by no means always the greatest [source unknown]

This glass order exposes how at any one time we are firefighting a number of these variables, whether they be random border closures, city 'lockdowns', or even extreme weather!

Each time we order our glasses we do not do so with the comfort of contracts which can be enforced by an effective justice system, we do so relying on trust alone. Yet another risk to add to the pile.

We are only able to convince ourselves to continue taking these risks, because ultimately ISHKAR is founded on optimism, and the understanding that the entrepreneurs we work with – in spite of their often difficult circumstances - are optimists too. How else would it be possible to set up a business in some of the poorest, most corrupt, and least secure countries on the planet?

The amount of risk ISHKAR takes, is by far eclipsed by the amount of risk entrepreneurs in war-torn countries live with on a daily basis. The future of Afghanistan – and the futures of other countries at war – are heavily dependent on these entrepreneurs. Without their optimism, very little progress can be made.

So for all those wedding gift buyers looking for some Lapis tumblers, please accept this as a rather long-winded apology. We can only hope they will be with us soon (just don't expect us to tell you when that might be...).

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