I was on my way back into Afghanistan after a break, and there he was—Anderson Cooper—at the Kabul International Airport, right in front of me: handsome, brave, and curious.
My heart was aflutter. I wanted to speak to him—he would surely be interested in a small business employing women—yet I stayed silent, avoided eye contact. I had to remain incognito. Having an international spotlight shine down on us could be deadly.
It was a constant quandary for me as a social entrepreneur: How does one run a business that employs women and remain incognito?
Most businesses need publicity for sales. But I had to walk a fine line. Too little publicity and we wouldn’t have enough sales to sustain us. Too much could jeopardize our security.
The Taliban had been ousted from power—at least officially—but they were far from gone. They and those of their ilk would not be happy about women gathering to work, earning income.
We needed to come up for air now and again to do sales, to let people know where they could buy our goods, yet we didn’t want the Taliban stopping by to shop, or for any other reason.
Women running social enterprises in other lawless countries have the same dilemma.
How do we let potential customers know about our products, that we exist, without without broadcasting to the bad guys where we’ll be having our next sales event, without endangering ourselves any more than we already are?
In other countries, the quandary about whether to raise your venture’s profile can be about side-stepping the jealousy of competitors, especially if you’re a woman-owned-business working in a male-dominated industry, or if you’re paying women good wages which makes those same women less inclined to accept the wages offered by employers who pay them poorly, pay them late, or mistreat them in other ways.
I knew of social entrepreneurs who were once welcomed by the elders (all men) in a village to set up a handicraft business to employ widows (who comprised forty percent of the village). One day, the entrepreneurs were simply kicked out and the welcome mat rolled up. I always wondered why. Was it jealousy? Was it that the widows were now a little less desperate? A little freer to turn down requests for sexual favors in exchange for cash or food?
As a social entrepreneur, what challenges have you faced when weighing the risks against the potential benefits of publicity?