As part of an American task force, 24-year-old Benjamin Freedman is helping Afghanistan encourage international investment in its fledgling natural gas industry to provide a boost to the war-torn economy.
An analyst with the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, Freedman works with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines, which has had difficulty taking advantage of potential business opportunities due to insufficient technical expertise and financial capabilities as well as a lack of experience in the global marketplace.
Freedman said he and his colleagues supply the ministry with the expertise they need and provide a bridge to foreign businesses.
“We are introducing the global economy to Afghanistan, while also introducing businesses to Afghanistan,” said Freedman. “Business people go over to Afghanistan, and it is an eye opening experience for them. They see the challenges, but also the opportunity. We are there to assist.”
Some of the main challenges are helping foreign companies better understand Afghanistan, how to navigate the government processes and bid for contracts in the natural gas arena.
In addition, Freedman and task force members work to overcome the fears and concerns of potential foreign businessmen. He said the overwhelmingly negative press, or what he calls the “CNN effect,” has caused “perceptions to be stubbornly persistent among corporate executives and potential investors.”
In his role, Freedman said he and his colleagues serve as matchmakers for the Afghanistan government and global businesses, and are constantly looking for creative ways to navigate the obstacles.
“A familiar approach might not get so far in Afghanistan, whereas a novel idea might be the perfect solution,” said Freedman. “We can’t bridge an ocean, but we can bridge a river and try to make that bridge a little smaller,” he added.
The Department of Defense task force has been working in Afghanistan since January 2010 with U.S. military, diplomatic and development organizations to help improve the country’s economic conditions. The group focuses on initiatives to strengthen the core industrial capability of Afghanistan’s economy through direct investment, minerals and energy sector growth, industrial revitalization, corporate development, private-sector development, procurement assistance and agriculture.
“Ben is the hub of information,” said Laura Foster, a task force energy team advisor.
She said Freedman deals with experts in the natural gas industry as well as businesses looking to make investments, links them to the Afghan government and seeks to manage the expectations.
According to Freedman, extensive mapping and surveying work by the U.S. Geological Survey has identified enormous deposits of minerals, oil and gas resources in Afghanistan that have a potential to transform the country’s economy, and provide revenue to “create roads, hospitals, construction and the social support that form a community.”
Freedman’s colleagues credit his commitment and passion as reasons why the work that he is doing in Afghanistan is making headway.
“Ben is leading major successes in the area of gas infrastructure in Afghanistan. At a quite young age, he is having a tremendous impact on the Afghan economy,” said Kristopher Haag, the task force’s deputy director.
Foster said Freedman “worries about the success of these projects,” adding that “it is inspiring for the rest of the team.”
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.