This is a story that’s made for Christmas, except that it’s not. It’s been in process four years and there’s something curiously touching about the enormous efforts by a former US special operations soldier to bring enterprise to Afghanistan rather than more of the bang bang stuff.
As the BBC reported, Matthew Griffin is the founder and chief executive of footwear business Combat Flip-Flops and he believes this, rather than more combat missions, is a good way to help Afghanistan after 12 years of US military engagement.
He’s trying to manufacture flip-flops – though he’s had scant success getting it off the ground in the Afghan capital Kabul. Instead, he’s had to locate the manufacturing facility in Seattle, Washington state. For now. As soon as he can, the enterprise will move to Afghanistan.
Mr Griffin explains the venture as the result of a brainwave. Visiting a military boots manufacturer in Kabul he started to wonder “Why not start a business making flip-flops in Kabul which we can then sell in the US and around the world” The impulse – “to send more entrepreneurs not soldiers?’” – sounds like exactly the sort of thing foreign government aid agencies should be supporting in Afghanistan.
Instead, from the way Mr Griffin tells the story, he’s had little discernible outside help (except for his brother-in-law) and even now, as he arranges to drive a standard cargo container with a flip-flop assembly line into Afghanistan, he’s still sans the requisite funding. But he’s still upbeat about the potential for mobile flip-flop factories in Afghanistan and other former combat zones.
The flip-flop arc of commerce in failed states? A combat-ready idea if there ever was one.