First time in Afghanistan- Garage48 Empowering Women Kabul 

Within the past 6 years, Garage48 has organized Empowering Women Hackathons all over the Eastern Europe and this December, we took this hackathon format to Kabul, Afghanistan.

Garage48 female entrepreneurship-focused hackathons started back in 2014 when our first Women in Tech hackathon kicked off in Pärnu, Estonia. The idea behind these female-empowerment hacks was to create a gender-inclusive environment, that would encourage female participation in the very male-dominated IT-industry. We also wanted to see more strong girls in the leading positions- as the inventors, founders, CEO’s and managers. We don’t want to discriminate by gender- but want to give the girls that simple reminder that they don’t deserve any less than the boys. Within the past 6 years, Garage48 has organized Empowering Women Hackathons both in Estonia and Eastern Europe and this December, we took this hackathon format to Kabul, Afghanistan.

Afghan women are among the most resilient ones in the world since they work against multiple odds and challenges constantly in their everyday lives. 1150 women entrepreneurs have invested in different businesses in the country over the past 18 years. The figures show that investments by women reach more than $77 million and this investment has provided jobs for more than 77,000 individuals across the country. According to the statistics, 300 women entrepreneurs have started their businesses last year alone (Source: Afghanistan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industries). Many of the female-owned companies have grown out of the country’s borders and are now exporting their products to various parts of the world.

The project Empowering Women Kabul got initiated more than a year ago when we started doing more thorough research about the local business-ecosystem and found the partner- ASARA- that would provide post-hackathon support to the teams that would like to continue working after the 48-hour prototyping-marathon. ASARA has been providing incubation programs, co-working facilities and other entrepreneurship support services for many young Afghan individuals, startups, and organizations since 2017.  Together with ASARA, we allocated a venue, that would be secure enough in the midst of chaos, took care of all the logistical details and found extra partners that would provide us with the best local mentors.

We received over 400 applications, most of them submitted with an idea to pitch and a motivational letter, which made it extremely difficult to make a selection. After lots of back and forth communication, hundreds of emotions-filled e-mails and text messages we finally chose the 150 lucky ones that made it to the hackathon.

The hackathon schedule in Afghanistan runs by completely different rules. The working days begin as soon as the sun rises and end around 3:30 pm because everyone wants to get home before it gets dark. There was already a long line of participants waiting behind the door when we arrived at 7:30 am on Tuesday morning because the security control into entering the building is even more thorough than at most airports. We managed to let everyone through the security and registration table in around two hours and by 10 am, we were finally ready to kick off with the event.

Setting up the registration table with Garage48 team

The pitching went on for hours and in total, we heard 40 ideas from young and passionate Afghani boys and girls. Although this is something we don’t want to flex about- the number of female participants was impressive- more than 70% of the 165 people that showed up were women! During the team formation, we managed to merge the teams whose ideas were somewhat similar and we ended up selecting 16 teams, that entered the 3-day long prototyping-competition.

Everyone's excited to start working finally!

The ideas that got selected were the following: 

Fun Learn App- an interactive educational app for pre-school children. The team managed to develop some pretty cool games for the kids to learn about numbers, letters, and colors.

Training program for students- a platform where students can prepare for certain jobs that require specific soft skills, that are not taught at schools

Gender Harassment- a movement that fights for equal rights of women through social media and through creative drawings

Plastic Pollution- a team that fought against plastic pollution, which is a big problem in  Kabul

C-Light- a webstore to shop for the salt lamp. Salt lamps fight against the dangerous radiation caused by smart-phones and laptops

TeezPa- the first Afghan founded delivery service. During the weekend they tried to build a web-based application to communicate with customers and to track packages. 

Hani Flowers- an online flower shop, that would customize the bouquets according to customer’s needs and deliver them initially in Kabul and later all over Afghanistan. Since selling flowers on the streets is mainly the work of the women, it would provide jobs in a more structured way to many of them.

BNW - focusing on boosting small enterprises and individuals through social media (Youtube) and through helping the businesses to sell goods on their own platform.

Dastyaar- a platform for the freelancers- developers and designers to apply for different kind of freelancing work- both as full-time and part-time professionals

Labour Market- job finding and recruitment website

Property Portal- a first online property marketplace in Afghanistan for buyers and sellers that would make the search for a new home in Kabul easier and faster.

Gynecology App- female-only team.  The team consisted of developers, designers, gynecologists, and midwives.  Their aim was to create an app that would educate women about the menstruation cycle, different stages of pregnancy and other important issues. The awareness about these topics among Afghan women is relatively low and there’s a strong taboo about reaching out for help or booking an appointment with the doctor when something seems off.

No Escape- a web-based application, that makes the life of the security guard working on large events easier. A facial recognition app, that scans the faces of the guests and determines, whether they belong to the event or not.

Bridge- a platform that helps the artist to promote and sell their artwork. The future plan is to showcase the art also in physical spaces- exhibition halls, lobbies of the popular hotels, universities, airports.

Sere Fashion- a team that fights against cheap and low-quality fashion products imported from Turkey and India. Sere Fashion had a couple of female clothes designers in their team and their goal during the hackathon was to create a web-page that would sell well-made fashionable (mix of old and new) Aghanistan clothes

Afghan Peace Warrior- Kabul-based gym, that would also be focused on training women. Currently, the women in Afghanistan don’t have a chance to work out in safe conditions. Physical activity fights against the depression and other mental issues, plus boosts self-confidence. Yoga, parkour, cross-fit, and many other training routines, that would eventually lead up to a TV-show, where participants get to compete with each other.

Rangin- a  printing company that would print local female graphic designers work on lots of different items (t-shirts, tote bags, socks and so on)

Choosing the winners was a tough job because we saw all the hard work and passion that the teams poured into their ideas.  Even though the wifi wasn't working properly and every once in a while there was no electricity- all the teams developed their idea into a clickable prototype.  Although we couldn’t give the prizes to everyone, we strongly encourage the participants to keep on working on their prototypes.  Only your effort and passion will determine, whether an idea is a success or not.

But, regardless-  here it is,  the winners!

Future Entrepreneurs Award- Fun and Learn. 

Mentoring and access to Startupistan’s 6 month-long follow-up program

Technical Excellence Award- No Escape. They received a spot in the incubation program by ASARA and Google&Amazon credits from Founderly. 

Promoting Local Culture Award- Bridge

Third place- Plastic Pollution- incubation program by ASARA and 500$ of Facebook Credit from Startupistan

Second place- Gynecology App-mentoring and access to Startupistan’s 6 month-long follow-up program

Team Gynecology App- the only team at the hackathon,  that consisted of only female professionals

Overall Winner- Dastyaar- incubation by ASARA and a trip to Estonia together with the Latitude59 tickets. 

Team Dastyaar on stage, receiving their winner diploma 

No hackathon could take place without the mentors and we had both excellent local and international mentors helping and guiding the participants throughout the event.

Mentors and organizers together in Kabul Serena after a long day of work 

Joao Rei- thanks for creating a warm and happy environment for everyone to work in,

Jaanus Sakkis- for all the design help, pictures and video footage of the event

Sayed Ahmad Fahim Masoumi, Shakiba Ibrahimkhail, Mozamel Aman, Mehreen Najm, Palwasha- for helping us on spot with participants and their ideas and giving us hints and tips about the local culture and how things work in Afghanistan. 

A beautiful salt lamp made by the team C-Light

A big thanks for all the local partners- ASARA, Startupistan, Cyberaan and Jahan Tech for helping us with the community reach out- we couldn’t have done it without you.

And last but not least- a huge shoutout to the Estonian Development Cooperation Fund for continuously supporting bold ventures in the places,  that need it the most.

Until next time,


Garage48 Team

About the author

mari hanikat

Mari is the CEO at Garage48. She is a very strong and mission-driven leader not afraid to go places no one has been before and help people. 🚀

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