Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society – 4 Things You Need to Know

The government of Afghanistan is working hard to establish political and economic stability and to build a better, brighter future for its citizens. This challenging task is not something it can achieve alone.

Afghan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs),both local and national, have an important role to play in supporting the government’s efforts. These entities are helping to bridge the gap between the Afghan population and the state. This is particularly the case when it comes to matters like the delivery of priority programs,the creation of better governance structures, and advocacy for vulnerable and under served groups.

However, CSOs in Afghanistan also face a number of hurdles, notably financial and capacity gaps and a frequent lack of public trust. It was to help address these challenges that the Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society (AICS) was established in 2015.

The goal of AICS is to contribute to a stronger, more robust civil society in Afghanistan.It accomplishes this goal by raising the credibility of the civil society sector (including domestic NGOs and CSOs), engaging in dialogue and advocacy around civil society policy, and strengthening philanthropic efforts.

Read on to learn more about this important organization.

1. The launch of AICS is the result of nearly a decade of planning.

Although AICS was not officially established until 2015, the seeds of the organization were planted nearly a decade earlier.  In 2007, through the efforts of a number of entities—including the government of Afghanistan, the Aga Khan Development Network, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, and the Asia Development Bank—an Enabling Environment conference was held in Kabul.

The impetus behind the conference was to identify practical measures by which Afghanistan could create an environment that would facilitate progress and development. As a result, the country could move from a climate of fragility to one of confidence in a strong future.

One of the most important recommendations to emerge from the conference was the creation of an independent body to review and provide certification for CSOs.  Such an entity would improve their recognition by government agencies, the private sector, and donor organizations.

The conference recognized the importance of CSOs to the successful development of Afghanistan. However, it was acknowledged that many CSOs, due to the challenges mentioned above, fell short of achieving their full potential. Thus, after extensive consultations with relevant stakeholders, AICS was launched in February of 2015.

2. NGO certification is AICS’ flagship program.

Given its mandate to support a credible and competent civil society sector in Afghanistan, AICS focuses most of its efforts on its flagship certification program for CSOs. The certification program involves assessing and evaluating Afghan CSOs against a number of key standards.

Entities are evaluated on key areas like internal governance, strategic management, program delivery, and financial management. Additionally, these standards are locally defined and internationally recognized.

In total, there are 66 standards involved in certification. CSOs are certified by AICS after a comprehensive process which includes an eligibility test, a desk review, and a field assessment visit. As of August 2018, 34 Afghan CSOs have earned AICS certification.

3. There are many benefits to becoming an AICS-certified NGO.

By participating in the AICS certification process, entities demonstrate that their policies and activities are aligned with international best practices.  Certification also means local NGOs and CSOs enjoy many valuable benefits.  These include: better organizational capacity and performance; additional influence in policy dialogues due to improved credibility; opportunities to build long-term funding relationships with private sector partners and international donors; and greater trust among their constituencies as a result of improved accountability and transparency.

In addition, CSOs that are certified by AICS have the opportunity to join the certified CSOs Working Group. This group works to increase the effectiveness of individual CSOs and to improve the civil society sector as a whole by providing opportunities for members to connect with each other and share knowledge and experiences. Members of the Working Group meet once every quarter for mutual support and exchange.

4. AICS is one of the driving forces behind National Civil Society Week.

In addition to its CSO certification work, AICS organizes other activities and events that aim to strengthen Afghanistan’s civil society sector. One of the most important recent initiatives spearheaded by AICS was National Civil Society Week. This event was celebrated in Herat province in late June, 2018.

National Civil Society Week was an unprecedented gathering of more than 150 CSOs, individual activists, government and private sector representatives, media members, and academics from across Afghanistan. The aim of the event was, in many ways, to continue the conversation begun in 2007 at the Enabling Environment conference.

That is, it was intended to provide an open space for participants to reflect on, learn about, and collaborate on issues relating to the development of a robust civil society sector in Afghanistan. Specific events that took place as part of National Civil Society Week included panel discussions, presentations from international speakers, a celebration of CSO success stories, an educational theater production, and an award ceremony for newly-AICS-certified CSOs.

What’s New at the UNESCO Office in Kabul?

Since it was re-opened in 2002, the UNESCO Office in Kabul has been working with the government of Afghanistan and a variety of local and international partners and stakeholders to build Afghanistan’s capacity in the areas of education,culture, communication and information, and natural and social sciences. In pursuit of this goal, the Office oversees a broad range of programs and events across these focus areas, all designed to enrich thelives of Afghan citizens and contribute to a stronger future for their country.

Some of the most recent offerings from the UNESCO Office in Kabul include the following:

Workshop on Intangible Cultural Heritage

Cultural heritage involves more than monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions and living expressions (e.g., oral traditions, rituals,social practices, festive events, and performing arts, as well as the knowledge and skills involved in the production of traditional crafts) that cultural groups have passed down to their descendants for generations. UNESCO refers to this body of traditions as “intangible cultural heritage” (ICH), and the question of how to safeguard these practices is of growing concern in the face of globalization.

Image by Unesco Headquarters Paris | Flickr

In October 2018, UNESCO and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture organized a community-based workshop on the topic of preserving and promoting ICH in Afghanistan. Held over four days in the city of Bamiyan, the main goal of the workshop was to train local communities to effectively document,protect, and promote their own ICH practices. The workshop’s attendees included local ICH practitioners and representatives from a variety of organizations,including the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the University of Bamiyan. Over the course of the four days, participants learned about and discussed some of the fundamental theoretical concepts of ICH, assembled an inventory of documented examples of ICH practices in Bamiyan, and conferred about practical measures to safeguard ICH.

Bamiyan Management Plan Workshop

The former site of two massive and ancient open-air Buddha statues, the Bamiyan Valley is one of Afghanistan’s most important World Heritage Sites. However,the property’s fragile archaeological and geological context has also earned it a ranking on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Over the last decade,emergency preservation efforts have been undertaken, but the site is strongly in need of a comprehensive overall management plan, especially now that a variety of development initiatives are currently underway.

To assist with the development of the ambitious plan, UNESCO organized a three-day workshop in Bamiyan to bring together the key stakeholders that manage different areas of development in the region. At the October 2018 workshop,representatives from a variety of government offices—including the ministries of Information and Communication; Development and Housing; Agriculture,Irrigation, and Livestock; and Rural Rehabilitation and Development—came together to discuss how the proposed Bamiyan Cultural Master Plan and the Strategic Master Plan could be harmonized with existing development plans.

Curriculum Reform Workshop Series

Improving the quality of and access to education is currently one of Afghanistan’s top priorities. One of the key policies the country is adopting in pursuit of this goal is an ambitious reform of the national general education curriculum. To date, the UNESCO Office in Kabul has been one of the strongest supporters of the Ministry of Education’s curriculum reform efforts.

In late September 2018, the Office organized a workshop, the first in an intended series of five, to strengthen and advance the reform work that has taken place so far. The workshop series is geared toward the members of the Ministry of Education’s Technical Working Group, and also involves a number of Ministry senior officials. Broad workshop objectives include finalizing the Curriculum Framework for General Education, the Afghan Life Competencies Framework, and the syllabi for a variety of subject areas, as well as developing guidelines and quality assurance frameworks for textbooks and learning resources.

In addition, each of the five workshops will explore an element that is central to the goal of curriculum reform, including student-centered teaching and learning, strategies for active learning, formative assessment, integrating life competencies with particular subject areas, and syllabus mapping and review.


In 2016 UNESCO designated September 28 as the International Day for Universal Access to Information. According to UNESCO, access to information is an essential human right that is necessary for the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. To commemorate this day in 2018, the UNESCO Office in Kabul held an IPDC talks event in early October.

Inspired by TED Talks and organized by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), IPDC talks is a global event series that aims to spark an international discussion of how to foster open societies and create better laws and policies in support of access to information. Speakers at the Kabul IPDC talks event included members of the media and civil society and representatives from Afghanistan’s government and the UN.

Spotlight on the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) has been in existence for more than 35 years. Its goal is to bring support and stability to Afghans who are struggling with the impact of war and violence on their country and their communities.

The organization is committed to maintaining operations in the country as long as necessary. The SCA currently serves as the second-largest channel for the development aid that is provided to Afghanistan by the Swedish government. Read on to learn more about the SCA and its activities in Afghanistan.


What is the SCA all about?

SCAlogoThe SCA was originally founded in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In the early 1980s, the SCA was largely focused on raising funds for humanitarian support. It engaged in relief activities like providing essential health care and education to refugees and residents of occupied Afghanistan.

Over time, the SCA gradually expanded its work beyond the delivery of basic humanitarian services. It became a development organization with a much broader focus.

Today, the SCA’s vision is of an Afghanistan that is free from poverty, violence, and discrimination, where all citizens can live in dignity and enjoy equal opportunity and social justice. Supporting this vision are the SCA’s 12,000 members and individual donors in Sweden as well as the more than 6,000 Afghan employees who implement the SCA’s programs in 14 Afghan provinces.


What kinds of activities and programs does the SCA operate?

The organization aims to support some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable groups, including children, people with disabilities, and rural and remote communities. The SCA operates programs and activities across four major focus areas:


  1. Healthcare

Access to healthcare and health outcomes in Afghanistan have improved in recent years. Despite this, the country’s health situation still remains a major challenge.

At present, the SCA is responsible for providing healthcare services and building healthcare capacity in Laghman province and Wardak province. In Afghanistan, it is typical for basic healthcare to be provided primarily by non-governmental organizations on a province-by-province basis.

Particular initiatives include conducting community-based health and hygiene education campaigns; training more health care providers, particularly midwives; and increasing health care access for people with disabilities.

Highlights from 2017 include: performing 2.6 million patient consultations; giving immunizations against diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis b, and polio to 50,000 children under the age of 5; providing maternal care to more than 44,000 women; and establishing 31 more health clinics in the two provinces.


  1. Community Governance

In the Afghan countryside, many local communities have severely restricted opportunities for residents to effect change, make their voices heard, and assert their rights. This is the result of conflicts, corruption, and mismanagement at the municipal level.

To help empower these communities and their residents, the SCA works all around Afghanistan. It builds the capacity of local decision-making bodies and provides education and training to local authorities.

Highlights from 2017 include: providing support to nearly 370 community development councils, which in turn implemented 65 local projects; offering training in service delivery and community rights to members of local government; and conducting social audits of community projects in three provinces.


  1. Rural Livelihood

Rapid urbanization has taken place in Afghanistan over the last decade. Despite this, an estimated 75 percent of the country’s population still lives and works in rural areas. Unfortunately, many of these rural citizens, especially those in remote or isolated communities, are among Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people.

As a result of conflict, difficult environmental conditions, and natural disasters, poverty is endemic in most rural areas. As a result, the potential for long-term self-sufficiency is very limited.

To help rural citizens build secure livelihoods for themselves and their families and access new sources of income, the SCA facilitates the formation of self-help groups. These groups can save money together, develop business partnerships, and exchange knowledge and skills.

The SCA also provides practical, hands-on training in potentially income-generating activities such as poultry farming, vegetable farming, soap making, tailoring, and carpet weaving.

Highlights from 2017 include: forming over 200 new self-help groups; establishing 32 village-based saving and loan associations; granting micro-loans to more than 2,500 rural households; conducting an impact study revealing that previous loan recipients increased their household income by almost 29 percent.


  1. Education

Education is one of Afghanistan’s most important priorities. The SCA is just one of many organizations working to improve access to and quality of education for children all across the country. As a result of concerted efforts by these organizations and the government of Afghanistan, more Afghan children are attending school than ever. At present, nearly 70,000 children go to SCA-run schools.

Highlights from 2017 include: a 5 percent increase in the number of children enrolled in SCA primary schools; construction of seven new school buildings, 20 washrooms, and one resource center; the provision of special education to more than 1,600 children and adults with disabilities; and mainstream school inclusion for 600 children with physical disabilities and 2,000 children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.