What We’ve Learned From Afghanistan — and What’s Next?

Catherine Kannam
May 31, 2018 | 2 Minute Read
While often only seen in the context of war, Afghanistan is in fact a country making huge strides in areas of economic development, health, education, and women’s empowerment. What is next for the future of Afghanistan?

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.

We have to remember to bring women — and men — into the planning and design of these programs, so the solutions are appropriate to the context.

Programmatic shifts can be countrywide, but more often they are localized to specific regions. In the southern part of the country, for instance, instability has consistently risen over the course of the last several years, as U.S. and international security forces have withdrawn. As a result, our staff travel to target sites has been severely curtailed. To mitigate the impact of this change, we have been able to pivot by engaging with community leaders, creating mobile training teams, using centralized demonstration sites for training opportunities, and employing only individuals from a given area — all of which reduced the profile of project activities and allowed them to move forward.  Read the full article on Devex.

About Catherine Kannam

Catherine Kannam is currently the senior vice president for Chemonics’ Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan region. A local economic development and municipal governance specialist, Ms. Kannam joined Chemonics in 2010 as a manager. Her portfolio at Chemonics included managing the Tunisia Tax and Customs Pilot (TCP), an activity under the Asia and Middle East Economic…