To every intelligent observer, it is deeply clear that the Taliban ascendancy is not just an Afghan issue but a global political and humanitarian problem. Especially for India, knowing the porous state of Pakistan and the continuing vulnerability of Kashmir, among other potential socio-political repercussions. Exactly a very good reason why brands must wage a war of words and actions against this demonic power, seeking the highest form of influence. Airbnb’s generous gesture to provide free lodging to Afghan refugees is certainly inspirational in this regard, as it sets the tone for an affirmative global response.
History has taught us well that the cohesive accumulation of refugees is the beginning of an organised political resistance, as proven by the overthrow of the Shah in Iran and colonial parallels. So what Airbnb is doing is more than just short-term survival assistance and instead it may just be the foundation of a resistance momentum, supporting the ground warriors in Afghanistan. This is way beyond the mandate of most brand interventions, as they are usually restricted just to communication or anecdotal activities. But truthfully, brands across categories have the power to be equally meaningful, especially in the domain of technology and the rising power of the metaverse.
I mention the metaverse for a specific reason and you will well know that it is the blending of the virtual and real worlds, where folks are spending their lives living on the internet. Facebook and Microsoft are betting big on this new space and this quite interestingly, is an unprecedented unifier as traditional physical barriers of geography, race and economics are decimated. Potentially, and actually, women of the world are uniting for common causes and the predicted fate of the Afghani lady will easily become an agenda for the entire disembodied universe. What it needs is a solid push from the believers of this zone, as mentioned, and their ability to build global communities monitoring and censoring the acts of the Taliban. What the metaverse will ensure most certainly is purposeful dynamism and actionable resistance against the atrocities leading to sanctions and actions.
But let me spend a few moments to suggest what certain brands can do a la Airbnb, to build meaningful momentum for the movement. Byju’s and all other online skill upgraders can launch special free programs for refugees, especially women and children, to ensure that education levels are constantly maintained. In fact, wherever possible, folks still stuck in Afghanistan can take advantage of this as well, with the power of the internet, and in tandem we will witness a more empowered demography. This can even extend to special employment opportunities for refugees in technology and BPO firms, as part of preparing for a new homeland. One day soon, airlines should strictly avoid flying over Afghan air space, even if permitted, as that will be a constant economic and convenience reminder for privileged citizens as an act of continuing consciousness. In fact, all brands exporting from Kabul must stop immediately as while this may lead to short term troubles, the intent for change will happen sooner.
Just as Bangladesh in 1971, online portals must build a pop music movement against the Taliban, holding virtual concerts globally and using the proceeds to pay for rehabilitation and resistance. Modern Muslim states such as the UAE, Turkey or nations of Central Asia will do well to create a suitable movement to have a virtual twin in Afghanistan, sharing wisdom and help and the merits of progress. In fact, a key role must be played by celebrities across spheres and geographies, who must relentlessly espouse the ‘Ban the Taliban’ cause, each from their specific domain lens, through support, funding or training refugees. Every fashion brand can do a ‘Women of Afghan’ collection that will not just be auctioned but also become a part of the daily fashion ritual, be it a signature handbag, scarf or even a sari. Consumer brands such as Nestle and Coke can come to the party by employing refugees, doing limited edition ranges and contributing in multiple ways to the cause. Most importantly building a relentless momentum of conversation that is not sporadic but instead is aligned to the eventual restoration of civil rights.
Brands can be way more powerful than they imagine themselves to be, influenced perhaps by considerations of delivering revenues to the owners. As agents of culture at large, both popular and sustainable, they can play a leading role to restore normalcy in Afghanistan, which is clearly not just a military challenge. What Airbnb has done today we all must do tomorrow, be it in the traditional universe or the compelling metaverse.
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