Fereshteh Forough on Clarity, Power & Follow-through
Marni Melrose 0:13
So I am here with one of our guests for the Entire Life Summit, and this lady I have interviewed before, back in the day when I used to do a whole bunch of Bitcoin videos. (Search youtube for @midasmarni) And I really liked what she was up to in the world, I thought that it was valuable and important. And as we know, on this EntireLife Summit, what we've been doing is we've been interviewing entrepreneurs who have created their lives, right? They have decided that the world was the way that it was, and they were going to do something to change it. And so today we're here with Fereshteh Forough. So Fereshteh, why don't you tell us kind of, like, where you started, and how you got to where you are today just so that we have a context and an understanding. You know, introduce yourself.
Fereshteh Forough 2:55
Thank you so much for having me. I think certainly the real motivation or the inspiration that made me create Code To Inspire as the first coding School for Girls in Afghanistan, was just my personal life story.
I think the first was being born as a refugee. The challenges that I faced, especially discriminations and being deprived of accessing education was always with me, and I always thought that education is a basic human right, and everyone should access it without any discrimination. And I carried that feeling in my entire life with myself and thinking about how I can help other people who were underprivileged like me and discriminated like me to access education easily. And the next being a woman in Afghanistan, being a woman in Afghanistan in technology pushing for gender equality and women's empowerment was something that I really wanted to be an advocate for. And for that reason, I face a lot of resentments and pushback from the community. Still, I wanted to help all of the women, and these two factors really made me be who I am today: be an advocate for gender equality, bridging the digital gap and divide, and helping women to access technology and acquire resources and be independent and create money and be financially independent in the future.
Marni Melrose 5:08
That's awesome. And I just I heard the siren go by. And you're coming to us from New York today, aren't you?
Fereshteh Forough 5:16
Yes, yes. I'm based in Brooklyn. Yes, It's just like so usual, like, for sure, you will have the sirens.
Marni Melrose 5:25
Absolutely, absolutely— Good, good. Okay. Well, thank you for that, you know, kind of lead-up into it. And so you say that you were a refugee. Why don't you tell a little bit about your story of kind of like, where you started? And then, where you— when you— started your business?
Fereshteh Forough 5:49
Sure. As a refugee, my parents left Afghanistan [in the] the early 80s because of the Soviet invasion.
So like everybody else who was looking for a safe haven for their children, they left Afghanistan. And Iran was close to the city where they lived in Herāt, a city in western Afghanistan. So they settled down then, and like every other refugee, they started their life with nothing. Being a refugee is difficult, because as I mentioned earlier, not only you face discrimination because people think that, "Oh, like you're here to steal opportunities from [us]" ... "You're a burden on the community" ... Rather than thinking maybe you're here to show the differences and, you know, open people's minds about what other parts of the world look like. So, kind of like, growing up with that mindset of being afraid to say who you are really and hide your identity was really difficult for me; and majority my friends (even close friends), they thought that I'm Iranian because I've never felt welcomed in a way to say who really I am... And then that was a struggle for me. But also financially, as a refugee, there weren't a lot of opportunities as a job given to them. So I remember that my mom learned to stitch and how to make dresses, and by selling them, she could bring money to the family. And she was actually my inspiration also to be an entrepreneur because she taught me that you can do the best out of the least—you shouldn't necessarily have everything ready in-hand to make something—you have just to look around and use the resources around yourself. And I think that my mom's entrepreneurial spirit taught me a lot, so I learned throughout my life that I shouldn't wait for opportunities— I have to create them no matter where I am and what resources I have. And that made me think about, "Well now that I'm in the US, and there's a lot of opportunities presented to me here around me, how can I use them to give back to my country?" And that was the reason that in early 2015, I created Code to Inspire, Inc. here as a 501c3 registered not-for-profit. And with the first money that we raised, and with 20 laptops in-kind donations we received from Overstock that time, I was able to open the first computer coding School for Girls in Afghanistan in November 2015.
Marni Melrose 8:10
That is just that is awesome. I remember that. Exactly. You know, when you started it and everything and that's one of the reasons I wanted to interview you. And so, for our viewers, all of our viewers here today are entrepreneurs. What could you say that really keeps you clear on your focus? What helps you personally, with your clarity? Like? I know there are days kind of like, you're like, oh god, what am I doing? You know, I know I have those days. What helps you to bring clarity back for you? What could you share with our listeners and our watchers today?
Fereshteh Forough 9:24
Yeah, I mean, that's a great question. Because, for me, I mean, like I came here 2012. And because of the immigration situation, I haven't been able to go back to my country. So it's been about seven years. And you can imagine that you haven't seen your parents for seven years and your work that you're doing on the ground, you just see the pictures or the videos. So it's very tough, emotionally to kind of like overcome and kind of like, think about when would it be possible that I can go back, and sometimes I become the real upset or angry about, well, like, maybe I should just like go back to my country, you know and be there. But then on the other hand, you see all the people who helped me here, the chances that I have here and I can make even more work being here and give back to my country rather than being there with the resources. But also even as an entrepreneur, I think everyone knows that like you have the idea You're so passionate about it and this love your baby and you want to see growth. You really want to surround yourself with like-minded people who believed in you and who shared the same passion, but it's not always like that. At the end of the story. You are the one who's going to go to bed and wake up with Oh my god, what's going to happen? I think like it's a disaster. Like there were a lot of days that I was thinking well, I should maybe close it. It's too much I can handle it with all the stress of you know, raising money, being sure that does 200 girls in Africa Aniston their lives are you know, like depending on what I'm doing here and the resources I can give them. So it's a lot of responsibility to think about and it's not about you now, it's about all the people that you are trying to help with your idea. So for me, I always start to put things in perspective. Again, I think it's always about being a refugee and seeing that wow, like there's a lot of still a lot of people who want to be like me who want to meet in the situation that I am just having like a roof at the top of their head, have food and clean water and just very basic things that sometimes we take it for granted and forget it. And I think during this Coronavirus pandemic, it's certainly crucial for us to now understand how it is important to have like, you know, a clean house, clean water, access to healthcare. So, like, these are the things that I always tried to put them in perspective, and then it makes me grounded and grateful. And I also like read Rumi, he says 13th century, Persian quit and he is my inspiration. Like, if you see my tweets, I always have him in my tweets, I refer to him. And when I read his saying, it always gives me perspective and courage to continue what I'm doing now.
Marni Melrose 12:16
That's awesome. Yeah, I've read a lot of stuff from his. You know, I'm a lot of the quotes that I see from him and everything, and I love that. Absolutely. And so it's interesting. What I heard was, what keeps you clear, and grounds you for being grateful for the position you're in. Right? So, yeah, I appreciated that part. And then also, um, what I got there out of that was your care and concern for your girls. And that's cool and a lot of people don't realize that aren't entrepreneurs, how much we care about the people that we're serving and our employees, and I think that that's It's essential and a lot of what drives us is our care for our clients and our employees Believe it or not, and a lot of people don't talk about that. So I'm glad that you kind of presidents thought that was important. And then so now let's talk about willpower like, on those days when you said that you wanted to quit, you know, what, was there anyone thing or is there what is it that helps you with willpower, right? Like keeping your willpower, you know how you deal with that, you know, having the power to go through it so you've got the clarity, right. And what is it that really gives you the power to keep on going and the follow-through so let's kind of roll those into one really, because willpower and follow-through are kind of two things.
Fereshteh Forough 14:58
Yeah, well, I mean, Yes, I think on sometimes I really also like try to give all those emotions to be them and just like accept them and not try to push them away because I also think that ignoring the emotions and not caring about them. Maybe over time they become worse and maybe sometimes even by ignoring them we don't acknowledge them, and then it will be a problem in future so if I feel down or I feel stressed out or I feel like oh my God like that's the end of the world, and I cannot work anymore. I just like it depends on what for few hours I let it be the way it is. You know, like, embrace them and kind of like, get to know them instead of like shutting them down and walking away from them and trying to fast like change the momentum. Or the situation. And then once I really like, sit down and kind of like create this environment in myself, with myself and like embracing them, I try to have a conversation and see like, okay, like, I feel like that and What's the reason? What are the variables here? I'll then think about, like, Well, which one I can work in a way that is easier for me to overcome. And then I picked that and I'm like, Well, yeah, if I like maybe, I'm, again referring to, like, take some time to just like, close my mind and to close my eyes and like, you know, just like, again, think about the things I have in my life that a lot of people don't have and put it in a perspective and put it in a box and look at from outside. That's actually like helped me a lot. And, and at the end of the story, I also think that like, it's not about me, and it's about All these girls in Afghanistan so I literally cannot give up because they put their hope on me. They put their, you know like they believe in me. So like, for them for the sake of their hope and success, I have to be stronger and I have to continue no matter what. And that's kinda like and when I see them every day, tweeting about what they've learned in the School so happy it just makes me so happy, and I'm like, this is like amazing, and I shouldn't give up and because they just like you're doing so amazing work in Afghanistan, why I should be the one who is you know, like, crying over something that oh, well, I embrace it, but it should pass on a night. Keep the willpower.
Marni Melrose 17:43
That's awesome. Yeah. So what I heard there was basically you don't repress it, but you feel you kind of feel into it. Right? Absolutely. Um, so what I kind of think about for myself when I get in that position, is I think of it kind of like as a wave, right? Because out here in California, we surf. Yes. So there's that time where you feel like you're being pulled back into the water. Right? And it's that surge rate before the wave comes. And if you're prepared, right, so you like, ease into it, and you don't fight it because if you fight it, it's just gonna hammer you. Right? So you like, like, ease into it. And then you prepare, and that was kind of like what you were talking about. You're you focus on one thing. So you focus on that one thing that is instead of thinking about, oh, me, me, me, me, me. You go outside of yourself and focus outside. And then that's kind of like when you start to paddle right. Yeah, and the wave comes in, then you've got the power. To go through, right? Absolutely. Yeah. And I'm saying go away. Oh, expressing it. Yes. The way I feel it's like I feel in my body. Um, yeah, it's kind of it's kind of strange. So what about follow through? Do you have any? Like, okay, so so think of it this way. When I say follow-through, it's like you have something to do. And maybe it's not that important. And you, how do you what structures do you put in place in your life? To help you with following through on things? Right. Can you speak to that?
Fereshteh Forough 19:47
Yeah. Oh, well, I mean, of course, there's a lot of time that I felt like I don't want to I don't know if I should call it lazy or like in a way that like, human.
Marni Melrose 19:56
Yeah, like you.
Fereshteh Forough 19:58
Oh, no failure. No, like, I want to follow up on days or like, oh, maybe later so like, definitely there were times that I was like trying to like create a to do list and then kind of like put like the most important one urgent and like put colors like for sure red is just like oh my god, I have to like do it as soon as possible. And I mean the one that like doesn't need a lot of time, but I think like for what I try to do is that when I start the day, I'm a nine-hour person I don't like early mornings. So I think I feel more creative at the end of the day. Yeah, and the quietness of the night. So like in the mornings, I try to really like do the work that has require more like mind power in a way of like writing for example, if I have to write like for proposal grants or things that like me to like Like really like clear things and like come up with numbers and strategy and things like
Marni Melrose 21:05
Fereshteh Forough 21:06
Marni Melrose 21:07
So when you're saying, like, you it's not funny,
Fereshteh Forough 21:11
Exactly. So I try to do that because I think that needs more focus in a way of like being good, your mind is fresh. And so you do that. And then when it comes more like to the end of the day, it's more time for creative things that I tried to do. And maybe some of those least important work but also like creativity in case Oh, well, okay, let's see, like, what I want to do next year Rico to inspire art or like any interesting ideas for creating apps games, or like what kind of hackathons we can have for the goal. So it's more kind of like that creativity comes at the end of the day and, and I try to cover all of them. And personally, I follow the three days like follow-ups if someone doesn't get back to you in three days. So I try to be respectful on that also, from my own side. So I tried to get back to people, at least by that timeframe. And because I value the time they put in writing that email and getting to me, so I just want to like be respectful for the time as well.
Marni Melrose 22:12
That's awesome. Thank you so much for I stay. And so do you have anything that you want to leave us with? Um, after all of that, you can think of that that would be relevant for all the people watching today?
Fereshteh Forough 22:30
Yeah, well, I think in general, I, first of all, appreciate the opportunity you gave me to present the work but also, I think, from my experience here, people in the US especially have this mindset of Afghanistan being still a warzone. It's kind of like a dark image. When I talk to people, I understand that they do so things that like it's a war zone, people are very oppressed, and women live the heart life, although I don't deny it. But I think there's a lot of improvements since the fall of Taleban that not many people got to know about it. So I think like some people are stuck in the time of like when the Taliban left. So there's a lot of good stories happening in Afghanistan like warning stories, a story of our School. So I encourage people to learn more about the country's improvements and learn more about what the woman has accomplished, accomplished throughout this time. And hopefully, by watching this interview, they at least has a better understanding of what's going on in Afghanistan. And I share a scene from Rumi that he says where there is room when there's hope for a treasure and it always resembles with me in real life because I think I'm after the four decades of war and conflict Like in Afghanistan with all the ruins that had left, and all the refugees, but if you invest on them, especially women and girls, these are the treasures and investing in their education is the key for a peaceful future of Afghanistan and the growth. And so I think and
Marni Melrose 24:21
tell us more about that key because I think that you, you shared with me last time that if women were educated, they wouldn't send their sons into these militant kinds of environments. Did you want to talk a little bit more about that? Because I think that's kind of important for people to understand.
Fereshteh Forough 24:43
Yeah, absolutely. I think when people think about like, you when you invest in the girls' education, it's great because she's gonna, of course, like, be educated and there's a better future. But if you really look at it at more grassroots level, there's a lot of things The two ties to it. It's more about starting a family when the girls get educated and hopefully down the road through that education. She can get a job and bring money to the family, then now she has a voice in the family. She can be a decision-maker. And she can take part in the decision-making process of the family. And that's kind of like very important in a traditional community like Afghanistan, but also more important because they will be the one who as mothers will be responsible for, mainly with educating of the next generation. And you see that educated mothers are more willing to send their, their children to school and invest in their education, and especially again, like with men, in a culture in a traditional country like Afghanistan, who people think they wouldn't be breadwinners but if you invest on the girls, they equally participate in the Economy of the country. So they wouldn't also be faced with violence because now the family sees a value in them, instead of mistreating them, they invest in them, because they know that like now she can economically help the family. So there's a lot of variables that is connected to if you want to invest in the girls education, and how it is important for a country like Afghanistan to really invest but also technical aspects of it, and bridge that digital gap with them, which we see in the lives of a lot of girls in the School how our School has changed her life. Like some of our girls make $300 per month in a country that average income monthly salaries 150 or $200. So they technically make double than the men. So that's how we want to show them that it's important to invest in the girls' education.
Marni Melrose 26:52
Right and, and so so we're also making kind of more entrepreneurs co Yay.
Fereshteh Forough 27:00
Yes, a couple of our graduates that they became entrepreneur, they raise some funds, and now they have their own startups, which we're very proud of them. Yeah.
Marni Melrose 27:09
That's just wonderful. But what was so what I love this, that last, like, a couple of seconds there, that was what inspired me to interview you the first time because that's really important. That's like, the crux of it is that by educating women, we impact the future families. And that's, that's what's always been so important to me what why I find what you're doing so very, very valuable. And I totally appreciate you coming on here today. And, you know, sharing what you're doing with everybody.
Fereshteh Forough 27:50
You're welcome. Thank you so much for having me. And I'm happy that I could share this story with your amazing platform and hopefully, people get some inspirations and change their perspective about Afghanistan.
Marni Melrose 28:01
Absolutely. And so actually, let's let's take two seconds about that, because you had mentioned it, but you didn't actually say it. So when you said, you know, some of the changes that had happened quickly, just give me like a couple of minutes helped me understand so and help our readers understand some of the changes that you're talking about.
Fereshteh Forough 28:25
Yeah, absolutely. Fearing the Taliban regime, there were only less than a million students going to school with mainly the men and zero girls going to school and also leader women going into the workforce. So that's Afghanistan that came out after the Taliban. But after the fall of Taliban within this, almost like 18 years of helping the international communities and everyone coming to support Afghanistan, we've done a lot of accomplishments. So right now, for example, there's about 9 million students going through to school, which actually 2.5 million of them are girls. So there's a huge improvement in case of saying the community is actually sending their daughters to school. There's actually it's very interesting in some rural areas in Afghanistan, the elders who are the decision-maker of that part, said to families that if you don't send your daughter to school, you have to pay a fine. So like, we see that there's a lot of improvements and encouragement in case something missing on girl's education. And in also in other sectors, like in technology. Afghanistan population is about like 35 million and almost 90% of areas of residential areas are accessing to telecommunications. And majority of people do have phone so mobile industry is a big industry in Afghanistan, and 19% was increased since 2015, saying that the women are joining the workforce. So there's a lot of good numbers as I said, and also like for example, It a big number, like 200 million per year, and the income and the gross income coming from the technology sector in Afghanistan. So like, you see a lot of great improvement. But unfortunately, I think that's, as I said, the numbers that like no one really talks about it. And people don't know about it, which I try to each time if I talk to people, remind them and tell them that like, these are the good numbers.
Marni Melrose 30:28
That's awesome. See, that's what I wanted to hear. That's what I wanted to hear. And give us your website again, so that our listeners and watchers today can go to your website and find out more information about what you're doing.
Fereshteh Forough 30:42
Sure. So the website is code to inspire.org. And we do have all the videos and have free updates you can see and as an offer profit, if you accept donations, we also accept donations in crypto and Bitcoin and aetherium. So if anyone's interested and it If you want to learn more about our work, feel free to email us, I'm more than happy to talk to you more about what we do and see how your help and support can impact the lives of our girls in Afghanistan.
Marni Melrose 31:12
That's wonderful. So see. Now, even though all of the other speakers on this entire summit have been entrepreneurs, you can still kind of be an entrepreneur within a nonprofit. And that's why I wanted you on here too, is because you still, you're still running the business, even though it's a nonprofit, right? And you still go through the same things that entrepreneurs go through, but you have a different focus, but you're also impacting all of these girls who could then go on to be entrepreneurs. So it's all so relevant, and I totally appreciate your time today. Thank you so much. And, you know, I hope you have a wonderful day today. And so much appreciate that. Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you.
Fereshteh Forough 32:05