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Every week, the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute elects a Startup of the Week. We invite the founders of these startups to share a blog post with our community. These posts can be inspirational, educational, or entertaining.
This blog post was written by Zarina Akbary (GSAS '21), Founder of Fardah Roshan Academy.
Fardah Roshan Academy is a 501(c)3 educational nonprofit dedicated to increasing the literacy rate in Afghanistan. According to UNESCO, 43% of Afghanistan’s population is aged 14 years and younger. The literacy rate among the population aged 15 years and older is also 43%. Our ultimate goal is to build a future where Afghanistan’s population aged 15 years and older is >90% literate. To do this, we have set up a network of ‘micro-schools’. We recruit women in the community to invite neighborhood children to their homes, to teach them how to read and write. In other words, we want to establish a school on every street.
When we attended the Summer Startup Bootcamp at the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute last month, one point that the moderators kept honing in on was "focus on the problem, not the product". I used to think, "but there are so many problems and they keep changing—and our product is part of the solution!" But I realize now the difference between the real-world problem and the idealized problem: the former are keeping you from accomplishing your mission, the latter are keeping you from accomplishing the mission in the way you think it should be accomplished.
Since launching in November 2020, we’ve served 700 students, 75% of whom were not enrolled in school. We’ve established a library, and we’ve given women who weren’t allowed to leave their homes a chance to earn an income. For every single step we took, there were people around to say, "There is no hope for Afghanistan. You are wasting your time. It is not possible." And then, we’d do the "impossible", and they’d shrug their shoulders, or widen their eyes, or even deny having criticized the mission in the first place. To some degree, I think this is a common experience with all nonprofits, but as a nonprofit driven to provide hope for Afghanistan, it’s especially acute.
And, believe it or not, even today with all that has transpired these past two months, we still have hope. Of course, this is the moment where we will have to make a pivot, and we don’t have all of the details yet. But our mission to increase literacy in the Afghan population will remain at the core of what we do and how we will move forward.