There is an indigenous movement brewing in Kabul. It’s not the neo-Taliban or foreign fighters, nevertheless it is revolutionary. Unlike Tunisia or Cairo, its agents of change are hidden from view and yet entrepreneurial, qualitative, and hybrid in nature. This movement leverages new development strategies and relies on home-grown initiative, ingenuity, and most importantly, Afghan human capital.
Kabuli men and women, under the threat of unpredictable violence and hindered by ineffectual governmental structures, are working to break free and radically alter their environment. They strive to create jobs where a living wage is the norm and a land where education is prized for both boys and girls, decent healthcare is available, moderate political views prevail, and where basic human rights are respected.
These are not cliché makeovers of ‘humanitarian’ speak. These emanate from Afghan voices.[i] These entrepreneurial revolutionaries only ask for the time and space to create jobs and to develop their Afghanistan through socially responsible and sustainable development.
Kabuli entrepreneurial ingenuity and style must be experienced to be believed. A new Kabul business class is gradually but deliberately fusing culture and tradition with innovation, new technologies and economic opportunity that simultaneously foster institutions wholly their own. During a recent experience observing Peace Dividend Trust’s business validation operations, the range and breadth of talent, innovative ideas and socially driven business models were impressive.
This revolution is not going to be socially engineered by western development agencies or the military, though they may have a role to play in it. It also is becoming painfully clear that the old model of large scale cash infusions and big development projects are often more destabilizing than helpful and paradoxically seem only to enable Afghan political impunity and dysfunction.[ii]
Status quo development and foreign aid implementation strategies are increasingly questioned by the economic development community itself.[iii] The quiet enabler that is operating alongside Kabul’s entrepreneurial class is a new kind of development NGO. This new style organization has cast aside the old rules and created their own based upon sustainability, transparency and transition.[iv]
In spite of the monumental corruption evident in Afghanistan’s central government and the ineffectiveness of many coalition economic development initiatives, sustainable development strategies do exist which have better chances to foster organic economic improvement. Can the development leviathan USAID leverage these strategies that are right in front of it?[v]
The critical questions now are: Can private sector development go “viral” in Kabul? Can it take hold in other parts of Afghanistan? Can this model be incubated long enough for it to survive and thrive on its own?
[i] A Trading & Special Services firm headed by a husband and wife team, wishing not to be named for security reasons, were nonetheless ecstatic not only about expanding their business opportunities but more so about their internal policies to include providing a basic living wage for entry level employees, health services for employee children with severe or chronic health issues, as well as education opportunities for employee children regardless of gender. This couple is an example of emerging Afghan business-philanthropists who emphasize education and respect for basic rights in employee development. See also Road Warriors: Protecting Workers and Other Challenges in Afghanistan’s Construction Industry, Knowledge @ Wharton, http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/10000women/article.cfm?articleid=6231, 6 Jan 2011.
[ii] The tenth Quarterly Report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to the United States Congress, http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/Jan2011/Lowres/Jan2011.pdf, 30 Jan 2011. Alissa J. Rubin and James Risen, Losses at Afghan Bank Could Be $900 Million, nytimes.com, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/31/world/asia/31kabul.html?pagewanted=1, 30 Jan 2011. See also Dexter Filkins,News Desk: Letter from Kabul: The Great Afghan Bank Heist, newyorker.com, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/01/filkins-afghanistan.html#ixzz1Cp8wqGKI, 31 Jan 2011.
[iii]Jessica Cohen and William Easterly, eds. et al, What Works in Development?: Thinking Big and Thinking Small, Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 26 Oct 2009. For a less academic but critical account of foreign aid and development, see Dambisa Moyo, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa,Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2 March 2010. For a counterargument to Moyo, see Owen Barder’s review at http://www.owen.org/wp-content/uploads/review-of-dead-aid1.pdf, 31 March 2009.
[iv] Of Skateboards and Schools: Bringing New Hope to Afghanistan’s Youth, Arabic Knowledge@Wharton, http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/arabic/article.cfm?articleId=2606, 25 Jan 2011. On transparency, see Lawrence MacDonald, Following the Money: Owen Barder On Why Aid Transparency Matters, an interview of Owen Barder, Global Prosperity Wonkcast, Center for Global Development, http://blogs.cgdev.org/global_prosperity_wonkcast/2010/03/22/following-the-money-owen-barder-on-why-aid-transparency-matters/, 22 Mar 2010. On debating the finer points of transparency with humor, see Peace Dividend Trust’s Scott Gilmore, Useful Transparency vs Meaningless Paper Chasing, http://buildingmarkets.org/blogs/blog/2010/08/19/useful-transparency-vs-meaningless-paper-chasing/, 19 Aug 2010. An example of sustainable assistance through the development of indigenous capability is Clear Path International – Afghanistan, which specializes in land mine accident victim assistance. The CPI-Afghanistan website states,
The emphasis of Clear Path’s work through its partnership with DynCorp is on building and strengthening the capacity of newly established or existing Afghan organizations to better serve persons with disabilities, including survivors of explosive remnants of war (ERW) accidents. The Victim Assistance Program provides financial support and technical expertise for quick impact projects designed to sustainably build host-nation capacity at individual, organizational and national levels. http://www.cpi.org/regions/afghanistan.php
[v]Carl Schramm, Economics works better than guns, gulfnews.com, http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/economics-works-better-than-guns-1.751021, 24 Jan 2011. See also Walter Pincus, New administrator wants to change the way USAID works, Washingtonpost.com, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/24/AR2011012406629.html, 24 Jan 2011.