When Afghanistan appears in the media, it is usually in the context of it being a war zone — the site, in fact, of the United States’ longest war. And that’s certainly true. But I have been lucky to see another side of the country — beyond the news headlines — where the Afghan government and international donors are making huge strides in economic development, health, education, and women’s empowerment. For instance, there are now 9.2 million children in school, compared to just 1 million in 2002. And while in 2002 nearly all were boys, today 39 percent are girls. The economy too is growing quickly, with Afghanistan joining the World Trade Organization in 2016 and the country’s export markets expanding.
Realistically, though, there are unique challenges to working effectively in Afghanistan. The security context changes daily, and the complex political dynamics influenced by foreign policy shifts from multiple countries is ever-evolving. It is because of this however, that there are many lessons to be gleaned from the country on what has worked well in terms of development and where we can improve, along with how we, as a community, can sustain our progress toward a resilient Afghanistan.
Adapt, Adapt, Adapt
In some ways, what has worked isn’t unique to Afghanistan. Adapting to change, being inclusive, and measuring results are nothing new. However, the context in Afghanistan adds unique challenges and one size does not fit all.
While adapting to change is critical to success in any country or community, the security reality in Afghanistan is one of the most complex in the world and requires us to continually adapt our technical activities in response to the shifting landscape. Approaches that we employ must maximize flexibility and be poised to respond to shifts in funding, changes in scope, and adjust to where we can work — and, most importantly, continue driving progress.