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Afghanistan to China: How a passion for technology led Maruf Bashiri to end up in the heart of China’s tech ecosystem

Written by Yinglin Huang Published on   6 mins read

Coming from a background with a lack of resources, his passion for technology spurred him to broaden his horizons and learn about the unique business ecosystem in China.

Maruf Bashiri is from Herat, Afghanistan. He is a product innovation specialist at DayDayUp and has a BBA degree from Wuhan University in China. Maruf is recognized for multiple awards and accomplishments, such as giving a TED talk in CCNU, and being the secretary general of Model UN association.

“Seven years ago, I lived in a place where there was no stable access to electricity, let alone technology. Now I am helping tech startups in China and Singapore to grow and to find development channels, while simultaneously learning about the latest innovations in the world,” Maruf reminisced. Born and raised in Herat, the third biggest city in Afghanistan, Maruf Bashiri has lived in China for seven years. When he looks back, he always feels shocked by how drastically his life has changed since he’s moved to China.

Technology opens up a whole new world

Afghanistan had been under the governance of the Taliban until 2001. At that time, any use of electronic devices and entertainment were strictly prohibited. Stationary supplements like pencils and papers were in shortage. Maruf’s education journey started from a limited number of books, word of mouth teaching and practicing writing on the dust on the ground.

In 2008, he received his first computer, which opened up the world of technology to him. In just a year, he became a computer expert in his community. “After connecting to the internet for the first time, I felt as if another dimension had been created in my mind. His love for computers made him start his own blog, writing pretty much about anything he found interesting on the internet with his audience, which resulted in him winning the second prize in a blogging contest held by the British Council in Herat city. This was his first-ever achievement. To his surprise, his English rapidly improved within a short time when playing computer games, by translating and figuring out the rules of those games. He got the first prize out of 3000 competitors in a national English competition. Despite being only 17, his teacher encouraged him to start teaching English.

The small screen of the computer opened up a whole new world for him, about education, life and his career. At that point, he had no motivation to go back to the traditional education system and continue his university in Afghanistan. He wanted to study abroad and to explore the world.

Maruf speaking on stage at TEDxCCNU.

Going to China was not in the original plans 

Maruf’s decision to not take the National College Exam in Afghanistan after high school was opposed by his family. After a period of arguments, it was decided that he should move to China to learn the language while staying with his brothers who had already established a company in China. Their company was focusing on cocktail and bridal fabrics. Previously they were trading from South Korea, but with the shift of most textile products to China, they moved to Shaoxing City of China in 2004. Shaoxing is the textile city of China.

When he first knew that his next journey would be in China, he was crestfallen. Apart from the Silk Road and Kung Fu movies, he knew nothing about this country, neither the language nor the culture.

“It is normal that people fear the things that they are not familiar with. At that time, I was nervous and anxious about my future life in China,” he explained. Maruf’s first impression on China was the starting point of the Silk Road, which connected the international trades between the east and the west. However, he never thought that he would create his own life in China one day.

Doing Traditional & Modern Business in China

Studying and working in China for 7 years, Maruf notices that there was a diverse business environment, and he experienced both the traditional and modern way of doing business in China.

When he first arrived in China in 2013, he decided to learn the Chinese language and then attend university. A corporate visit in Zhejiang with his brother changed his plan. After visiting Zhejiang R.G.B Textile Printing & Dyeing, one of the biggest textile companies in China, the general manager appreciated his business sense and offered him a job as the digital printing sales manager to support the global market of the company.

This offer was attractive to him. What was a better way to understand Chinese business than working in one? After thinking for days he finally decided to postpone his study plans and work at this company. He is the first ever family member to work for another company other than his own family. During his two years of working in Zhejiang, he learned a lot about the unique business ecosystem there. “When engaging with the small and medium-sized enterprises in Zhejiang, doing business relies on trust and the relationship. Doing business in this traditional way is direct and simple. There is no professional system and bureaucracy. It was important to identify reliable business partners, and to maintain the relationship,” he explained.

Maruf and his colleagues pose for a team photo at DayDayUp.

After spending years of doing business in Zhejiang, Maruf thought this is the way of doing business in China. However, working at DayDayUp, a Beijing based startup accelerator supporting technology startups worldwide provided him with a completely different perspective of working in China.

In 2019, he graduated from Wuhan University, a prestigious university in China with a Bachelors’ degree in Business Administration and plans to continue his MBA at the same university, starting in September 2020. During that gap year, he got the chance to join DayDayUp as an innovation program specialist.

He is responsible for digital marketing planning, strategy and execution, interviewing startups, writing and editing copies, sales promotions, graphic designing and market research and analysis. He explains his experience at DayDayUp as “working in a ship in the sea.” At one moment they are bombarded with workload as in ships struggling with a thunderstorm. The next moment, it’s a sunny day with a beautiful sky. He says working at DayDayUp has taught him something new, almost every single day of his work. “My team at DayDayUp is probably the most prominent team of people I have ever met.”

He was a panelist speaker at APEC SMEs Business forum 2017, where ambassadors of different countries, CEOs of prominent companies and the government of China had participated. He met the CEO of DayDayUp who was also a panelist speaker. He was surprised by the concept of co-working space and startup accelerator. The way they worked left a deep impression on him. In April this year, he contacted the CEO of DayDayUp, and received the offer as innovation program specialist.

Maruf as a panelist speaker at APEC SMEs Business Forum 2017.

“Here, we rely on data and analysis. Even the smallest progress will be recorded so that everyone will be on the same page. Decisions are analysed and made systematically and professionally. Every single piece of data matters,” he stated.

Technology is the future

At DayDayUp, he worked with tech startups covering a broad range of industries, from fintech, edtech, to the food industry, and water filtration. Part of his work is to interview the CEOs of these tech startups, to understand what they need, and to evaluate the potential of these companies. Partnering with the Singapore government, he is also working on programs that help startups from Singapore to connect with partners in China.

His passion for this job comes from his interest and positive view on the technology industry, in particular in China, where innovations are emerging and society is changing rapidly. “I think 10 years from now, especially with the implementation of 5G, the world will be completely different from how we see it today. Working in a tech firm means that you are working with and for the future,” he smiled.

In terms of his interest, Maruf is passionate about innovations and technologies that are aligned with education. He grew up in one of the most underdeveloped and vulnerable societies. He truly appreciates his opportunities to continue education both in Afghanistan and in China. He hopes that in the coming future, technology can support innovation in education, and enable the people from the least privileged backgrounds to get better education opportunities.

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Disclaimer: This article was written by a community contributor. All content is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the interviewee herself. If you’d like to contribute, you can apply here

Yinglin Huang is a freelance writer, covering stories of entrepreneurs to social issues such as gender inequity. Her articles were published in multiple media in China including The Campus and the China Youth Daily. During her undergraduate at Wuhan University, she conducted fieldwork in Kenya and Tanzania, on China’s investment in African countries. She has worked at UNESCO in Germany for a year, after graduating from University College London in 2018. You can email her at [email protected]


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