09 Jun 2015
Building change from the ground upTopics:
Karim Khoja (AMP 156, 1999) is CEO of Roshan, Afghanistan’s leading telecom provider, with nearly 6 million active subscribers. Before the company began operations in 2003, phone calls were a luxury that few citizens could afford; the infrastructure simply wasn’t available in a country that had endured years of poverty, conflict, and corruption. “I’m passionate about the difference technology can make in people’s lives,” he says.
In six months, Khoja and his workforce of willing yet largely untrained workers had cleared roads of land mines and erected cell phone towers in areas as sensitive as the Taliban-influenced south, operating under a firm policy of cultural sensitivity and ethical transparency in a country ranked as one of the most corrupt in the world. When Roshan launched, police were called in to control the crowds waiting outside its flagship store in Kabul.
“Our objective was to provide an air-conditioned environment; offer support for customers who couldn’t read or write; and get them in and out of the store in 15 minutes with working service,” Khoja said, noting, “If we treated the Afghans with respect, it would create a brand loyalty and empathy they’d never had a chance to experience before.”
Khoja—who has defied cultural norms by hiring women—remains optimistic about Afghanistan’s future despite the country’s continuing instability. “You can’t erase the fact that in the past decade, one-third of the country has learned to read and write and has experienced the freedom of using a phone, along with Twitter, Facebook, music, and everything that comes with it,” he says. “It’s a communications revolution that can’t be reversed.”
(Published June 2015)
Class of AMP 156