August 6, 2018

Stretching the Limits: “Yoga-preneurship” in Kabul

By Jillian Slutzker

Fakhria Ibrahimi Momtaz has been at home on the mat since she was a little girl. Raised in a family of athletes in Kabul, she regularly practiced her gymnastics routines at home. As a teenager, she was displaced by conflict to Pakistan, but she did not leave her passion for movement behind.

After the fall of the Taliban in 2002, Momtaz returned to Afghanistan and found a new way to exercise her body and mind—yoga. She pored through articles and research on yoga’s benefits, and slowly built her personal practice, storing up knowledge she would eventually share with the women of Kabul.

In 2009, she and her husband opened a small technology and web business, called Momtaz Host. As co-owner, Momtaz honed her entrepreneurial acumen and spirit, assets that would soon lead to the next big venture of her dreams: a women-only yoga studio in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital city, the first of its kind.

“Stretching, breathing and meditation were the moves that, after learning, I found how beneficial they were for the body and mind,” she says. “I thought: How can I carry this value to women in Afghanistan and how could they become able to practice yoga?”

The Momtaz Yoga Center opened its doors in 2016, creating an oasis for mind and body and a community of support for women living in a conservative culture amid ongoing conflict.

To grow her yoga business, Momtaz enrolled in a women-only Business and Project Management course through USAID’s Afghanistan Workforce Development Program, implemented by Creative Associates International.

Through the program, some 38,000 Afghans nationwide, including more than 14,000 women, have taken similar trainings on in-demand workforce skills to grow their enterprises, improve their operations and secure salary increases or better employment.

“The one thing that I started thinking about [through the training] was that there should be no limitations,” says Momtaz, who by many measures has already broken boundaries in her career and for the women of her city.

“The training helped me analyze more about our company’s projects and programs. It taught me about my own business and about the structure we are following in our company, and it was really comprehensive,” she says.

Two of Momtaz’s employees also took the course and are bringing their new skills in marketing and management back to the technology company.

As both businesses grow, Momtaz is happy to be doing something she loves and to share the joy of yoga with others.

“The women who come to class feel relaxed and comfortable, and it is really enjoyable for me,” she says.

Jillian Slutzker is the Strategic Content Manager for Creative Associates International. This piece original appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of Think Creative.