Afghan ARIES Project

Drew Tulchin recently traveled to Afghanistan for a USAID ARIES project for AED. He facilitated a workshop on financing small and medium businesses and growing the sector.

I was recently in Afghanistan, doing some economic development work.  In particular, I was a consultant to AED on a USAID project to build the SME sector on their project, called ARIES.  How's that for alphabet soup?  So what does that mean - I was giving input on how the small and medium sized business sector can do better.  Something needed in the US these days, not just Afghanistan. 

Am I crazy to go to a place like Afghanistan?  Was it dangerous?  Is it possible to build an economy in a ‘war zone'?  Isn't everyone over there a raving violent militant?

Ah, no, not for me, the country is not a war zone - but yes it is, and no.

My point is to encourage those of us who live in luxury, who have skills/gifts, who are fortunate - to think about what we can do for others and what more we can do to make the world a better place.  Should we all jump on a plane and go to Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan?  No, we shouldn't. But, can each of us do 1 more thing in our lives on a regular basis - even if small. 

I was in-country little more than a week, so can't speak as an expert, but there are lots of positive and impressive business and social sector efforts happening in Afghanistan.  We should support them.  Elections are coming up soon, let's support an open and fair and free process.  Military forces there could source locally, which would contribute to the local economy.

Buy something Afghan made, a carpet, clothing, what have you.  Buying goods from developing countries helps.  Yes, it fuels our consumer culture.  But, if you are going to wear clothes, wear something made by a person in a developing economy through a fair trade option.  Even if it costs more (which it doesn't always), for the $5 more you spend, drink water instead of a latte one time.  One organization I saw (and there were many) is Peace Dividend Trust.  They have a website to ‘buy local',  Or, Rubia Handwork.

I facilitated a workshop on the topic of how to better develop the business environment.  I was very impressed with the attendees there who are working in Afghanistan.  The expat staff was energetic, informed, and committed.  The donor representatives were even handed and open to others' ideas.  Most importantly and impressively were the Afghans who attended this event.  The local business owners presented very well and spoke eloquently on how to address what seemed to be intractable problems.  And, there were numerous young professional Afghans in government and in development who had clearly chosen to return to the country to contribute to the solution.  I thought they were the most positive indication of good future prospects. 

So, will buying an Afghan rug change the world?  No, not right away. But, how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  The challenges in Afghanistan are extensive and severe.  But, there are many positive developments, as well.  We need to do our part and we need to help those doing their part. 

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