After the Taliban took over Afghanistan in the mid-90s, Mirza Amiri—then only a teenager—fled to Pakistan with family. One night in August 1998, as they made their way through the mountains en route to Peshawar, the Pakistani that was bringing them into the country held a gun to Amiri’s head.
“I closed my eyes and thought about all the dreams I would never achieve: going to college, studying abroad, starting a business and a family of my own,” says Amiri, MBA ‘09. “My mother’s cries brought me back to the moment. She handed the man $60 wrapped in a handkerchief: it was everything we had.”
His family relocated to Karachi and slowly began to rebuild with assistance from Focus, a humanitarian group that helps refugees in the developing world. To make money, Amiri took a string of jobs, from office work, to teaching, to weaving carpets—a trade he learned as a young boy. “It was difficult circumstances but we couldn’t do anything about it,” he says. “We didn’t have any other economic possibilities.”
When the Taliban was driven out of Kabul in 2002, he moved back to that city to help establish a branch of Focus there. He later attended the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) on scholarship and graduated with a degree in economics.
He applied to Brandeis International Business School (IBS) on the advice of the president of AUCA. “Everything I know about business I learned at Brandeis,” he says. “I learned marketing, operations, and strategy. I learned how to apply academic knowledge to real life situations to get results. I am very grateful to Brandeis IBS.”
After graduating, he spent two years in government as the National Policy Specialist in the Office of Chief Economic Advisor to the President and Ministry of Finance of Afghanistan. He then moved on to the private sector to become the CEO of the Export Promotion Agency of Afghanistan. In 2012 he was awarded a fellowship from the Asia Foundation to study U.S. trade policy.
Today he lives in Vancouver, Canada, where his wife is getting a master degree in International Studies. Amiri is considering new business opportunities, including the possibility of launching his own Afghan export company.
He is cautiously optimistic about his country’s future. “Afghanistan has scores of natural resources—from gold and minerals, to oil and uranium, to dried fruits and medicinal herbs. Its people are creative and entrepreneurial, even though many of us are illiterate.
“But decades of war have taken its toll and the media have exacerbated the situation. The world is not told of the productivity and beauty of Afghanistan; the world doesn’t hear about its resilient and spirited people. This is one of the country’s biggest challenges, but I am confident that we can overcome this obstacle.”