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Chicago to Kabul: Marketing Well-Being in Afghanistan

Traffic in Afghanistan is generally outbound these days, as the US continues to extract itself from an unwinnable war in a troubled country. The exodus is not surprising. After almost 20 years of military engagement, more than 200,000 deaths, nearly 3 million people displaced and more than $2 trillion of financial costs, armed conflict continues in Afghanistan. The limits of Afghan resilience are tested, as people cling to hope. Yet, despite these casualties and increasingly worrisome trends, or perhaps because of them, some of us – specifically, a three-person team from the Quinlan School of Business – have begun to engage non militarily. That team is comprised of two graduate students and their professor.

The most recent engagement was a Zoom-conference via unstable Wi-Fi with associates at Kabul University, last week. Participants included students and faculty, and representatives from the private sector and Afghan ministries. The overarching theme of that symposium? Marketing Considerations to Enhance Sustainable Well-being. The event, held from 11:30 PM to 3:30 AM Chicago time, concluded with a discussion regarding next steps.

We are exploring what those next steps can and should be. Afghanistan clearly still needs help with institution building and the development of an inclusive and fair marketing system that delivers goods and services. That system must ensure the health, safety, wellness and sustainable peace and prosperity for everyone in Afghanistan, regardless of tribe, language, religion, ethnicity or political affiliation. Needless to say, we have several options for constructive engagement.

Fortunately, the two aforementioned Quinlan grad students – an American who emigrated from Afghanistan and a US Marine – have been resolute drivers of this initiative. Both of them revealed their intelligence and passion for service-to-others while enrolled in MARK 460, last fall. So impressive was/is their passion and interest in distressed markets and economies we co-created a project for independent study, focusing on potential marketing contributions to quality-of-life in Afghanistan. That academic study now has morphed into something much larger and potentially more impactful.

The indefatigable spirit of the Afghan students, faculty, businesspeople and ministers we met virtually is cause for hope, inside and outside the country, and they have further energized our Quinlan Team. We shall see where this inbound journey to Afghanistan takes us and our new friends in Kabul.