Focus on OPIC’s diaspora partners: American Wool and Cashmere CEO Nesar Nusraty
(First in a series of posts looking at OPIC’s work with diaspora communities)
In its work supporting development in emerging markets around the world, OPIC frequently partners with diaspora investors and businesses that are based in the U.S. but have strong ties to their home countries. Along with having a deep understanding of a particular country, these diaspora investors typically bring a strong motivation to support economic growth in the country where they were born or have strong roots.
Nesar Nusraty, founder of American Wool and Cashmere of Beltsville, Maryland, is one such diaspora investor. Nusraty was born in Afghanistan but immigrated to the United States as a teenager in 1969. He’d been in the U.S. for two decades when he met an Afghan businessman visiting Washington who was producing cashmere in Afghanistan but struggling to find a market.
Nusraty researched the market and eventually purchased some of the cashmere wool for resale. In 1989, he founded American Wool and Cashmere which today is a major exporter of raw cashmere from Afghanistan as well as an employer of approximately 1,500 Afghan men and women. As the business grew, Nusraty turned to OPIC to provide financing and add liquidity into the local cashmere market in Afghanistan, where the full sales cycle from shearing animals to receiving payment can take more than a year. American Wool and Cashmere developed a consistent supply chain to a processing plant in Europe which helps local Afghan suppliers get paid in a more timely manner so they can operate year-round.
Here he talks about being a diaspora investor.
How were you able to start this business while being based so far away in the U.S.?
Being an Afghan American helped quite a bit. My mother’s family was from Herat and my father was a businessman who was well respected. People knew my family and my name, so there was trust from the start.
It helped a great deal. Previously it could take six months to a year from the time the cashmere wool was sheared until the local suppliers got paid. OPIC’s financing enabled American Wool and Cashmere to advance money to the suppliers in Afghanistan, allowing them to employ more people year round.
Have you been back to Afghanistan and what are some of the benefits of this project that you’ve observed?
I went back for the first time five years ago, on a trip with OPIC, to visit some of the cashmere wool washing facilities and we saw the results firsthand. The cashmere wool suppliers were earning more money which had enabled them to create more jobs, including work for the elderly who are unable to do other physically demanding jobs. Coming from Afghanistan, I know how many people need this kind of work and it feels good to help them.
Do you think you could have done this if you were not Afghan-American?
No. The local cashmere wool suppliers trust me with their cashmere wool – their life savings – because they knew my family’s name and they knew I was accountable. Without my reputation for honesty, they would not put themselves at risk by providing their cashmere wool for me to sell.