Fereshteh Forough, A Real Superhero for Real People
Building Afghanistan 2.0, with Afghan Girls Who Code.
My favourite superheroes are not Wonder Woman, Superwoman, or Jeff Bezos for that matter! One of my preferred superheroes is Fereshteh Forough. A young Afghan woman, who despite all the challenges, has chosen the well being of her fellow country women over seeking self-oriented opportunities.
Fereshteh Forough is the founder and CEO of Code to Inspire, the first computer coding school for girls in Afghanistan. Fereshteh was born in a refugee camp on the border of Afghanistan and Iran. She finished her high school education in Iran, and one year after the Taliban regime collapsed, she and her family moved back to Afghanistan. After returning to Herat, she earned her Bachelor in Computer Science and later her Master’s from Technical University of Berlin in Germany. She taught as a professor at the Computer Science faculty of Herat University for almost three years. In January 2015, she founded Code to Inspire. Fereshteh is also an international speaker. She participated to a TED in 2013 on digital literacy and communication without borders and to Clinton Global Initiative in 2015.
Bahar Partov: Can you tell us about Code to Inspire?
Fereshteh Forough: We started the school with the following principles in mind:
1. Providing a safe and secure educational environment for the girls.
2. Providing a free school with zero financial burden for the students or their families.
3. And most importantly, equipping students with appropriate skills so that we facilitate their financial independence in the future.
We started in 2015, with 50 students and classes in mobile applications, web design and game development in two years after the school program. As of now, we have a cohort of 100 students with additional classes in graphic design and block chain/crypto-currency. So far, we have done about 20 outsourcing projects, worth nearly 20,000 dollars, where all the money went to girls pockets. We have one physical location in Herat, and five mentors on ground, who teach our students in person, classes are in Farsi, and the teaching material is in English.
Bahar Partov: What are the main challenges you are facing as of now and which ones can be advanced by community giving and sharing?
Fereshteh Forough: As a non-for-profit organization, one of the big challenges that we have is raising funds. Compared to the past, the international community is less focused in Afghanistan, these days we have access to limited resources. We try to diversify our fundraising strategy. We have our individual donors which donate through our website, we use online crowdfunding platforms such as IndieGoGo. In the past we have received grants and matching funds from multinational organizations such as Google, Malala fund, GitHub, etc.
Besides fundraising, we are always looking for volunteers who can help us with the areas that they are expert at, so that they can give us an extra hand. We had some volunteers who helped us with creating database of grants, reaching out to social media and creating campaigns. We had an advisory board who helped me shape the program and make the structure more clear in the earlier stages.
We also look for partnerships with organizations. For example ConsenSys (a block chain solution company) and Unity Technologies (a video game company) have provided us with lots of educational material, and supported our students for travel to conferences and with scholarships. In return for example, I am a member of the advisory board at Unity Global Education.
Bahar Partov: You returned to Afghanistan, after finishing your masters degree in TU-Berlin. What was the main drive behind it?
Fereshteh Forough: One of the most important things for me is to give back to my community. Together with my other friends at TU-Berlin, we were determined to transform our knowledge and to provide an insight into a different educational system. We tried to re-evaluate the programs that we already had and encouraged the students to do more outside the class activities. I also wanted to set an example, because we have very few female professors in technical fields.
Bahar Partov: How do you think technology can impact the future of women and Afghan society in general?
Fereshteh Forough: There are a lot of different aspects.
If you have a computer and an internet connection, you can connect to the rest of the world without worrying about geographical boundaries. This gives girls financial independence, and enables them to tackle t social inequalities. The other aspect is diversity. Technology is still a male-dominated field even in the developed world. In Afghanistan it is the same. If you don’t have a diverse voice in the design of products or solutions you are creating, you are ignoring half of the society. In a broader picture, the more educated women we have, the more likely they are to invest in the education of their children. For a country like Afghanistan which has been through several decades of conflicts and war, to provide a peaceful future is to invest in girls’ education. In economic sense, women also contribute to the country’s GDP and into bringing various sources of income to the country.
Bahar Partov: Perhaps the picture that we have from Afghanistan, is not the most realistic one. What do you do to show the more realistic picture of Afghanistan to the world?
Fereshteh Forough: Towards the work I do, I certainly try to change people’s perspective. I have come across a lot of people whose view is still stock in the Taliban era and unfortunately the social and public media often enforce this view. I try to show the other side of Afghanistan which I call it Afghanistan 2.0, meaning the changes we have made; how girls life has changed, and the social impact gains of the solutions that they have developed.
It is true that war and conflicts are still present in some regions of Afghanistan, but it doesn’t mean that the country is not functioning; some areas have stable peace, and there has been a lot of progress. We have moved from 900,000 students going to school (with the majority of them being boys) to 7 million students going to school, 2.5 million of which are girls.
Bahar Partov: What are your hopes for the future of Code to Inspire?
Fereshteh Forough: As I always say, I want to build Afghanistan 2.0 and to open as many coding schools as possible, in other cities. We plan to open one or two more schools in other cities in Afghanistan by the end of 2025. We want to create a more sustainable business model to generate revenue, and to create a sustainable pipeline of employment for our students.
The very broader aspect is that our model is scalable. I would love to expand it to other countries in the world, where women face the same problems as in Afghanistan.
We want to give a shout out to Fereshteh for her latest fundraising campaign and wish her the best for all her future activities.
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