Aseel is a platform that helps artisans in Afghanistan sell their homemade products to international buyers.
Teaching himself how to code as a child, Nasrat Khalid grew up as a refugee in Pakistan, and in 2018 launched the Aseel platform to help connect Afghanistan to the rest of the world.
Aseel is an ecommerce site in the mold of Etsy, and brings together Afghan artisans from rural areas onto one platform, set their own prices for their jewellery, carpets, and pottery, and sell to customers from all over the world.
The vast majority of sellers who use the ecommerce platform are women whose products are weaved with generations of craft and tradition.
Yet over the last month, the platform has pivoted towards allowing people around the world to donate aid packages to struggling families in Kabul.
Having in place the infrastructure to enable international aid, Nasrat knew that Aseel was in a position to facilitate. “The babies need milk formula now,” Nasrat said to Al Jazeera. “If we wait for a large humanitarian support programme, it may take up to six months, and that is going to cost lives.”
The Aseel team updated the platform to enable aid packages being sent from abroad to Afghanistan. Then, the team recruited a group of volunteers to help out with distributing these packages.
So far 3,000 aid packages have been distributed through the Aseel platform. The packages include food, first aid kits, feminine hygiene products, clothes, diapers, and baby formula.
Yet the work does not go without risk. “We are waiting for further announcements from the Taliban,” one of Aseel’s female employees told the news channel. “Female employees are not allowed to go to work in person, so we are working remotely.”
“Our platform in its current stage should not be a target of the Taliban,” added Nasrat. “We are assisting with the continuity of systems, providing a mechanism for food distribution and shelter, and if we can expand and scale in a larger format, we may be protecting Afghanistan from falling into a civil war.”
Over the last 3 years, the platform has partnered with 40 Afghan artisans across the country, and has the ambition to create 10,000 jobs, with the ultimate goal of empowering impoverished communities.
Yet with drastic changes taking place in the country, the future of Aseel remains uncertain, like the rest of the startup culture that is emerging. In fact, entrepreneurs in tech connected through communities such as CodeWeekend, which has over 5,000 members.
The founder, Jamshid Hashimi, recently said that the community is continuing to expand its network with Afghan refugees based around the world. “Tech skills are easily portable,” said Jamshid. “They give opportunities to Afghans who want to relocate to other countries.
“If the Taliban are to govern, they cannot avoid technology to keep up with the rest of the world… Coding, software and technology are shortcuts, catalysts and enablers in moving society forward.”
Nasrat is in total agreement. “Tech needs to be the main tool going forward if we want to bring dramatic changes in Afghanistan within a short period of time.”