Nov 8, 2017
CEO and Co-Founder of Rumi Spice, shares her inspiring story of
seizing a business opportunity in Afghanistan that also addressed
social issues. She realized her military training and her business
school knowledge could be used to help Afghan farmers find economic
success, and to provide opportunities for Afghan women to excel
economically while retaining their culture. Kimberly exemplifies
the dedication required, and rare feat, to create a market.
[2:29] Kimberly describes her
experience entering West Point. Her immigrant parents had wanted
her to go to an Ivy League school but Kimberly’s West Point
perspective changed their hearts.
[5:13] Kimberly was deployed as
a Platoon Leader in Afghanistan when she met Emily Miller. When
they ended their tours, they observed that the future of
Afghanistan would not be reached through force but through the
economic empowerment of business.
[6:21] Kimberly and Emily both
went to business schools. Another veteran told them about an Afghan
farmer with no market for his saffron. Kimberly decided to start a
business partnership with Afghan farmers to import saffron. She
invited a business advisor to Afghanistan and met with 12 Pashto
farmers. Instead of body armor and weapons, she wore a
[8:11] The farmers were growing
some of the best saffron in the world but they had no resources for
food safety, packaging, marketing, selling, or distributing the
crop. 80% of Afghans are farmers.
[10:10] Afghan women are vital
to the saffron industry. They traditionally prepared the flowers at
home. Kimberly explains how renting appropriate facilities with the
right equipment improved food safety and how providing a safe
workplace with direct wages improved women’s economic
[13:43] Most problems are
economic until one has met basic needs. Kimberly describes how The
Plant, in the Southside of Chicago, is becoming a self-sustaining,
beautiful community, bringing together the Southside and the
Northside over food. Rumi’s warehouse is in The
Trust is earned in Afghanistan by building a reputation over time.
The reputation of Kimberly’s Afghan partners allowed Rumi to become
the largest private employer of Afghan women, assuring them a safe
place to work and allowing them to carry on in their culture and
customs, and it also preserves the women’s reputations. Afghan
women want economic opportunities, sewing machines, and medical
supplies to care for their families.
[24:18] A partnership like Rumi can’t be run as
a side business. Either you’re all in, or you’re not in at all.
Entrepreneurism is not for people with other priorities. Strategy
is all about setting priorities. You can have it all, just not all
at once. Kimberly credits West Point and her Army leadership
experience with giving her the resilience and ability to make
choices that prepared her to run Rumi as an
[28:52] Kimberly and Emily faced
catastrophic failure when their loan got pulled back. They had no
way to pay the farmers. They worked through it. Kimberly is
learning how to listen to the people who work for Rumi, accept
their input, and check her ego.
We felt the way to a sustainable
future for Afghanistan was not through force but through economic
What will you do with your one
wild and precious life?
Drop by drop a river is made. —
You cannot say you’re dedicated
to the future of Afghanistan and these farmers if you’re going to
have another job.
“This is not Americans managing
things in Afghanistan. This is an American partnership with our
Kimberly Jung is CEO and co-founder of Rumi. Since leaving
the military, Kim and her co-founders feel there is unfinished
business to support Afghanistan and its people, so they founded
Rumi to work directly with Afghan farmers to import exceptionally
high-quality saffron in a for-profit enterprise in partnership with
the farmers. In Afghanistan, Rumi has hired 384 Afghan women,
organized three processing facilities, and has over 90 farmers in
their network. Rumi saffron now graces the tables and kitchens of
Michelin and Relais & Chateaux establishments across the
Prior to her civilian ventures,
Kim was an Engineer Officer who led a route clearance platoon in
the Wardak and Ghazni provinces of Afghanistan in 2010-2011. She
also served with provincial reconstruction teams as a female
engagement team member to help empower Afghan village
She holds a Professional
Engineering license in Mechanical Engineering from the State of
California, and she graduated with her MBA from Harvard in 2015.
She earned her Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from the U.S.
Military Academy in 2008.