Q&A with Mr. Maqsood Arify, Head, HR, Roshan Telecom Afghanistan on their achievements, specific challenges & initiatives taken

Q.  Please give us a quick overview of Roshan Telecom?

A. Roshan Telecom, or Telecom Development Company Afghanistan, is the largest telecom provider in Afghanistan, present in all 34 provinces and serving over 6.5 million active subscribers. It was set up in 2003 and is owned by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, Monaco Telecom International and Telia. We were the first Afghan company to be certified as an ethical, responsible business that has a sustainable impact in the country. Our technology, sales and customer service divisions were the first in Afghanistan to receive ISO-9001:2008 quality certifications. We were also recognized amongst the “Top 50 Companies Changing the World” by Fortune Magazine and amongst the “Top Ten Most Innovative Companies in Social Good” by Fast Company.

Q. Please give us an overview of the Afghan telecom sector and recent market trends?

A. The industry is currently in the midst of difficult times. The market size has been declining in revenue terms year on year for the last few years, as Afghanistan has faced increasing economic challenges and political uncertainties. However, Afghanistan is a young country with more than 60% of the people under the age of 25.  They are hungry for the latest technologies like social media, and this segment will grow very fast in the coming years.

Q. What are the crucial challenges HR manages are facing in Afghanistan – is it talent supply, recruitment, attrition, training, motivation, etc.?

A. Having worked in the HR space in Afghanistan for nearly fifteen years, I believe HR is the backbone of any organization. Roshan employs almost 900 people country-wide, and the more talented and enabled your workforce, the better your business results. Our biggest challenge is holding on to the local talent we develop, given the country’s current situation. When our most talented employees, who have worked and grown with us for many years, decide to leave the country not only for new opportunities but to guarantee their family’s safety, it is difficult for us to compete with.

Q. What are the HR initiatives that Roshan Telecom has taken to emerge as an employer of choice in Afghanistan?

A. Since inception, Roshan has instilled a corporate culture that balances a recognition of Afghanistan’s cultural sensitivities with the ethical principles necessary for maintaining a successful business and a skilled and motivated workforce. We know our employees are our real assets and so we have established our workplace to be not just a place of principles, but progression and pride. We provide a range of growth opportunities for our people to develop skills and foster an entrepreneurial spirit, by investing in them in areas from healthcare to training and spending. We are particularly proud of the measures we have taken to empower women in the workplace – we are the first and only operator in Afghanistan to maintain a dedicated call center for women, ensuring equal opportunity and security for our female employees. We also implemented the country’s first sexual harassment policy and have been nationally recognized as providing the safest work environment for women in Afghanistan.

Q.  How much dependent does Afghanistan remain on expat talent? Has this changed from the scenario a decade ago?

A. This is an area that has seen tremendous progress. A decade ago, the expatriates represented almost 10% of our overall staff. Since then, the numbers of expats in management positions in Afghan organizations has decreased significantly as the skills and employability of Afghans improved. Taking Roshan as an example, our Afghan employees now comprise 97% of the company and 73% in senior management, with the ultimate goal being the Afghanization of the company that would see both these figures reach 100%.

Q. How can Afghan graduates be made more job-ready and skilled in contemporary areas?

A. Roshan has dedicated partnerships with some of the best universities in Afghanistan. We offer internship programs for fresh graduates and undergraduates from all over the country, which plays a critical role in transforming them to become more job-ready by preparing students for the world of work, giving them practical experience of a company environment and instilling in them a business mindset. I think more companies and universities should partner for these types of programs.

Q. What is your view on the critical thinking and cognitive skills of Afghan youth?

A. I think the skills of our youth are improving every year. The only thing holding us back is the current situation in our country. If Afghanistan can resolve its issues, then the next generation of Afghan youth will be able to hold their own with any country in the world.

Q. How do you see professional talent supply in Afghanistan 10 years from now?

A. I am hopeful for the future of Afghan talent, particularly when I look back at where Afghanistan was a decade or so ago. As our society progressed and became more developed, Afghans have expanded their skillset, particularly in roles that require technological proficiency. Where I see improvement still required over the next ten years is in the field of management and the development of the Afghan leaders of tomorrow.

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