Up&Ap: How Fereshteh Forough started an after-school program for young Afghan girls to learn tech skills

Fereshteh Forough faced many challenges while she was studying computer programming, so she started an after-school program for girls aged between 15 – 25 years who wanted to go into the same field to provide a resource in order that other people wouldn’t have to face the same obstacles from her past. Read the interview with the lovely Fereshteh below…

What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?

While studying computer programming, I faced so many challenges both as a teacher and a student. I realized someone needed to create a resource for other Afghan women so that they didn’t face the same challenges. That’s why I started Code to Inspire, in January of 2015, as a social enterprise to insert women into Afghanistan’s growing tech industry. An entre into the tech industry also enables their economic and social advancement in society.

I knew so many women who graduated from Computer Science programs, and couldn’t find work in the tech industry. While there are many factors as to why they couldn’t find the right employment, I believe that familial and societal limitations play a role. Many families prefer that their daughters become teachers because it’s a well respected job in the community – you get paid well, and you only deal with women. It fits within their concept of how women should live their lives.

A woman with a computer science degree can’t exactly up and leave her hometown for a great job offer in another city. Many families won’t let their daughters leave; safety and security are a major concern, of course, but it goes deeper than that. Most of the time, women can’t even walk down the street alone without enduring public shaming for being without a guardian. It’s simply not part of Afghan culture for a woman to live alone in a city away from her family.

Tell us about your business.

Code to Inspire (CTI) is an after-school program founded by Fereshteh Forough in January of 2015. It is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We opened the first coding school for girls in Herat, Afghanistan in November of 2015. We provide a safe educational environment for 50 female students aged 15-25. We aim to educate Afghan women with in-demand programming skills, empower them to add unique value to their communities, and inspire them to strive for financial and social independence.

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What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?

  • Incorporating and registration in NYC.
  • Finding enthusiastic people to join our board of directors and advisory board.
  • Setting up online crowdfunding to raise the initial fund for the coding school.
  • Using social media to spread the word and raise awareness.

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?

Social media, email marketing, media relations, networking, and speaking engagements.

What have been your biggest challenges so far?

There are many challenges that I have faced, starting from day one. I knew I would face challenges for opening the first coding school that female students in Afghanistan can join without worrying about security and cultural issues. It was important to prepare the right papers and documents here in New York to operate as a legitimate 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, and to raise the funds we needed for our coding school.

How did you overcome these challenges?

The best part of my work is that everyday, I learn something new and meet inspiring people who share their knowledge. It feels great to know that there are 50 female students who are learning how to code every day to change their lives and Afghanistan’s future.

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How do you keep motivated through difficult times?

Living life as a refugee taught me so much. I learned to use the most out of the least and don’t wait for opportunities, but create them. It has long been my passion to give back to my community by doing something meaningful. I was able to realize that passion by empowering women with education and technology. Unfortunately, mainstream media is unfair to Afghanistan. You only hear about bombing, violence, and extremists, whereas we also have so many good and inspirational stories of people who are bringing positive changes to the community even in a small way.

How did you distinguish yourself from your competitors?

We’re the first girls-only school in Afghanistan to offer courses in coding, internet access, and career services. That means we don’t exactly have competitors to distinguish ourselves from, although we’d be thrilled to see more schools like ours pop up.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

I think it’s very important that you believe in yourself and have faith in the work you’re doing. It doesn’t matter where you are, what you have or what you don’t have – you should never be afraid to start anything you believe in. Embrace criticism; it makes you stronger. You have to create your own opportunities. Don’t wait for them to come to you.

What social media outlets do you use? List them below.

Instagram @codetoinspire
Twitter @CodeToInspire
Facebook @CodeToInspire
Website www.codetoinspire.org

What is a good article or book you have read recently?

5 female coders you have probably never heard of who changed the world. You can access the article here.

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