Ross Paterson has found the perfect spot for would-be entrepreneurs: The place has minimal market penetration, abounds in hardworking, business-savvy people and has minimal government red tape. Unfortunately, you may need a flak jacket. Last spring, the former Army officer took his Fort Worth, Texas-based Growth Coach business-consulting franchise to Afghanistan for a week of seminars to teach 30 nascent entrepreneurs at Kabul's Leadership Development Institute about good ol' American-style bootstrapping.
How does a Texas business coach set up shop in Afghanistan?
I went over there for the first time in 2002 as part of a nonprofit I run called Global Fusion, and now I go back a few times a year. The idea is to create a vision and then get the resources to bring about a new Afghanistan--like working with universities to create an agricultural model that moves away from opium and educating women on how to keep their families healthy. The more we got involved, the more we realized we needed to make everything into a business model so it could be sustainable there. I realized the material I used in the Growth Coach franchise I started in 2006 could give them the systematic model they need.
Isn't business in Afghanistan a little more intense than here?
They are very business-oriented people, they just work in a different system than us; it's very tribal, and very honor- and shame-oriented. Big debacles only happen if you don't learn what's culturally relevant. But Afghan entrepreneurs need the exact same things small-business owners in America need: focus, alignment, leadership, and good systems and processes. I had cell phone entrepreneurs, doctors, newspaper owners and eight women in my class. Out in the rural edges, it gets more extreme, but the people at my seminar have the same hopes and dreams you have for peace and prosperity.
Was your franchisor on board with your trip?
Oh yeah. The whole Growth Coach company has a passion to make a difference. When I told them what I was doing, they made financial commitments and provided training materials.
Will you keep coaching in Kabul?
We were really only able to scratch the surface; they told me they want help with project management, dealing with conflict resolution, leadership in crisis situations and other topics. They've invited me back in the fall, and now I'm looking for entrepreneurial experts adventurous enough to go with me.