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Summer 2003 CalBusiness  
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Berkeley MBA Team to Create Jobs in Afghanistan

In war-ravaged Afghanistan, one Berkeley MBA student is accomplishing what economic development advisors dream about—bringing socially responsible economic development opportunities to war-torn Afghanistan.

Combining traditional crafts with Western business savvy, Berkeley MBA student Sarah Takesh, MBA 03, is creating a socially conscious, upscale apparel and accessories company that aims to distribute its wares to the finest boutiques in New York, Paris, London, and Rome.

Tarsian & Blinkley, the new venture, harnesses Afghans’ ethnic crafts of sewing, embroidery, and leather and metal work in return for equitable compensation: wages well above the local norm, training, childcare, and health benefits. The venture works with Afghan people in the capital Kabul, with future plans for Herat, West Afghanistan, the rural northern regions of the country, and possibly Peshawar, Pakistan.

Her passion for adventure travel lured Takesh to the far reaches of Central Asia along the Silk Road three years ago. The beauty of this region and the charm and nobility of its tribal societies, Afghans in particular, inspired Takesh to her venture.

A native of Iran, she not only speaks Dari, the Afghan language, but also has a penchant for fashion. She earned her chops working in production and design for several apparel startups in New York before going to b-school. Now, as CEO of Tarsian & Blinkley, she designs the clothes, buys the fabrics, and manages the relationships with her Afghan partners.

“What affected me so much was noticing how a little economic development assistance makes the tribespeople so much more friendly to us as outsiders,” she said.

Tarsian & Blinkley also recruited key management talent, including a buyer of European designer sportswear for Bloomingdale’s and a former vice president at Banana Republic, as well as classmate Matthew Upton, MBA 03, who has finance and budgeting experience with firms like Nike, The Gap, Victoria’s Secret, and Johnson & Johnson.

One of venture’s goals is to improve the plight of Afghan women, who have suffered much under the oppression of the Taliban regime. “Everyone is still scared,” she says. “No native woman dares to take her burka off.” She sees her venture as “a subtle and subversive statement to celebrate feminine beauty right in the heart of the place where it was almost totally obliterated.”

The company’s potential for profitability combined with its significant social impact has earned this venture the top prize of the National Social Venture Competition, a partnership between the Haas School of Business, Columbia Business School, and The Goldman Sachs Foundation. The $25,000 prize for Best Blended Value was presented at the final awards ceremony at Columbia Business School in New York on April 12, 2003.

On April 19, it also won a second prize at the Carrot Capital Business Plan Challenge in New York.

For more information on Tarsian & Blinkley, please visit the company’s web site at http://www.tarsianandblinkley.com.

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Sarah Takesh
Sarah Takesh (left front), MBA 03, reviewed her designs for clothing representing Afghan ethnic styles and manufactured by Afghan men and women for Takesh’s new venture, Tarsian & Blinkley.
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