a few minutes with…lee sanderson,

senior advisor for the united states department of defense, task force for business and stability operations (tfbso) in iraq and afghanistan
April 13, 2011  |   column: WHAT'S NEW

explain to us what you do in your position on the tfbso:

the tfbso facilitates business in Afghanistan, either through direct investment or by finding markets for afghan products, goods and services. my job is to help achieve these goals.

tell us about the work you’ve done to help develop the women for women international (wfwi) hand in hand program in afghanistan:

i was working on the tfbso’s indigenous industries team with tina hager when the kate spade new york (ksny) team first came to source raw materials for the hand in hand program. we hadn’t had much experience in the handicrafts sector up until that time and we scrambled to find things to show them. after looking at several of the possibilities we presented, they decided they wanted to use afghan cashmere for the hand in hand products.

what are some of the unique challenges foreign companies face trying to build businesses in afghanistan?

one of the toughest challenges for foreign companies is trying to meet international standards of quality. for the ksny products, this has meant trying to piece together all of the production steps that will ultimately give us clean cashmere for the women in the hand in hand program to knit—and to do this without having to take any of the yarn manufacturing outside of the country.

at what stage is the afghanistan hand in hand program right now?

a group of women are just beginning their knitting training while we’re continuing to try to secure the clean cashmere we need for the actual product.

when potential investors come to afghanistan, what’s the most compelling thing you can show them?

the main hurdle is just getting them there. once we accomplish that, we know we can change their perspective and open their minds to the possibilities that exist in this emerging market. kabul and herat are such dynamic, bustling cities. to most people they’re synonymous with war, but the afghan people are remarkable traders and merchants. the young graduates of herat’s technical college, which include a number of women, have amazing technical and business skills. most people only know the negative aspects of the country, so it’s our job to show the other side of the story. it takes a lot of courage for a foreign company to start a business in a country where there’s still active conflict. ksny should be applauded for the work they’re doing in afghanistan with wfwi.

what’s the best part of your job?

on the ksny project, i love how totally collaborative the process has been—how people from such different backgrounds and different industries have come together to make this happen. i love matchmaking and connecting people to help them make their goals come true—that’s what makes me tick.

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