30 hours in the Kabul airport
Never underestimate the power of community
On Friday, August 20, a man named Saiffuddin Sepehr (pictured above) reached out to a WhatsApp group I belong to. It’s a cheeky group for startups and founders connected to each other by a single theme: the global creative industry. Each member of the group is in some phase of starting up a business. It is unique in its reach because it is a geographically dispersed group of people. It’s a community of makers, dreamers, poets, dissidents and creators.
Every region of the world is represented within the chat. And because of that, there are no geographic boundaries or geopolitics, so ideas flow. That’s what makes it so captivating. The channel is used primarily for sharing updates and cool stories about creative and entrepreneurial ecosystems blossoming around the world.
My friend Sepehr is a tech founder and a member of the creative industries and the aforementioned WhatsApp group. We met in Copenhagen in 2019 at the Creative Business Cup. I did a story on him. His company, Maktab e-learning, is a blockchain/AI startup based in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Or, rather, it was based in Kabul.
On that day in August when my WhatsApp alerts went nuts in the middle of the night, his messages had nothing to do with startups or funding. He, his wife and young son were trapped in Kabul as American forces prepared to withdraw from the Longest War. Sepehr and his family were unable to get past Taliban checkpoints to make their way to the airport. His harrowing story unfurled in real time on WhatsApp over the course of many days. Things happened along the way. His son was injured during an airport skirmish. He was stuck outside the airport. He couldn’t get past the Taliban. His assets were frozen. His phone was lost. He spent 30 hours in the Kabul airport only to be denied over and over.
I watched my phone helplessly for many hours and then days, as the story went from bad to worse to silent. But in the background of Sepehr’s desperate journey, a team of strangers, connected only by the creative industries on WhatsApp, banded together to get Sepehr out of Kabul. Senators were called. Embassies were contacted. Journalists got involved. Eventually, and with the help of the French Embassy, a French journalist named Margaux Benn got Sepehr and his family out of Kabul. The family safely landed in Paris, and the last I heard they were heading for Bordeaux.
My mind was blown by this story. It still is. Keep in mind, I did not do the heavy lifting. I was a voyeur. I watched as the events unfolded and I vowed to share this because it matters. It matters because we all have it in ourselves to impact this world in a positive way as a community of voices and connections and focus.
It’s not about politics or borders, either. It’s about humanity. It’s about community. It is inspiring. It is chilling. It is a unifying tale in a divided world.
In business, we have that power. When we put our collective voices together to make a difference, no matter how big or small, the possibilities are endless.
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