What You Need to Know About the Aga Khan Development Network

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is one of the most important philanthropic organizations currently working in Afghanistan. To date, with the support of various donors and partners, AKDN has channeled nearly $750 million into Afghanistan’s rebuilding process.

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Read on for a look at some of the diverse areas of activity that have been supported by these vital contributions.

Education

AKDN works to prioritize all levels of education in Afghanistan, from pre-school and early childhood development through post-secondary learning. Some of the many educational initiatives that AKDN has helped implement in the country include the establishment of more than 200 government and community based pre-school centers in remote and rural areas as well as the corresponding establishment of two Teacher Resource Centers to provide support and training to local early childhood educators.

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Additionally, AKDN established an intervention program for the government of Afghanistan to help increase and expand national capacity to deliver, support, and promote quality education. It also provides scholarships to assist students at the post-secondary level in gaining a quality university or college education.

Health

Providing even basic health care for all of Afghanistan’s citizens has been a challenge in recent decades. With health care facilities having been damaged or destroyed by conflict, to say nothing of a doctor-patient ratio of just two doctors for every 10,000 people, it is extremely difficult for many Afghans to get the care they need. AKDN began work to address this problem in 2002, when the organization launched a program dedicated to building a more effective health care delivery system.

This program has taken a four-tiered approach to care delivery: volunteer community health workers are trained to provide health education and minor treatments; Basic Health Centers, typically established in remote or rural locations, offer essential curative care as well as maternal and child care; Comprehensive Health Centers offer diagnostic, treatment, and referral services as well as emergency maternal care; and Referral Hospitals provide secondary care and other specialized services.

Rural Development

The majority of Afghanistan’s citizens still live in rural areas; however, residents of these areas are often left behind by development activities that concentrate on less isolated and more densely populated regions. AKDN works to support and connect these rural communities through a range of different programs and activities.

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These efforts include: participatory governance programs, which aim to empower local communities to identify their own needs and create and implement their own development projects; programs on agriculture and natural resources management, which move beyond simply distributing agricultural commodities and instead focus on providing farmers with the tools and education they need for a sustainable livelihood; and initiatives to improve access to finance, so that rural communities and families without basic financial services can save for the future and protect their existing assets.

Humanitarian Assistance

Unfortunately, war and conflict are not the only difficulties that affect Afghanistan; the country is highly prone to multiple natural disasters as well. Earthquakes are a frequent occurrence in Afghanistan’s mountainous northern regions. Additionally, landslides often follow earthquakes, and floods are common in the spring due to heavy rains and melting snow.

AKDN works with Focus Humanitarian Assistance, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 1996, to help provide disaster relief efforts and to assist at-risk communities with preventative measures. Specific initiatives in this area include avalanche preparedness, which trains local villages on avalanche safety and establishes weather monitoring posts to gather data needed to predict the likelihood of avalanches striking; the management of emergency stockpiles, which can currently provide food and relief for over 2,000 families in some of Afghanistan’s highest-risk areas; and the creation of community emergency response teams, which help get relief as quickly as possible to areas hit by disaster without having to wait for mobilization efforts from farther away.

Cultural Development

AKDN takes its role in helping conserve and restore Afghanistan’s cultural heritage very seriously. To date, through its Aga Khan Trust for Culture branch, AKDN has restored and rehabilitated dozens of historic public buildings, public open spaces, pedestrian walkways, houses, and monuments in three Afghan cities, including the famous Babur’s Gardens in Kabul.

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Another important cultural initiative recently launched by AKDN is the establishment of two schools of classical Afghan music, one in Kabul and one in Herat. These institutions help revitalize Afghanistan’s rich musical tradition, which is currently in danger of disappearing.

Microfinance

As of 2013, it was estimated that only 9 percent of adult Afghans held an account at a formal financial institution. To address this challenge, AKDN was working to establish microcredit programs in Afghanistan as early as 2002.

In 2004, the organization launched First Microfinance Bank. It was the first of its kind under Afghanistan’s then-newly-developed regulatory structure as well as a pioneering force in connecting underserved Afghans with innovative and flexible microfinance products. These, in turn, help drive vital economic development, particularly in rural areas.

Can NEI Solve the Problem of Malnutrition in Afghanistan?

mantoo foodAccording to research from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), malnutrition is a major problem in Afghanistan. Approximately one-third of the country’s population isn’t getting enough calories on a daily basis, and about 20% of Afghans aren’t getting enough protein. The figures for malnutrition in children are even more troubling: more than 40% of Afghan children under five years old are stunted (or smaller than the average for their age), which is one of the world’s highest rates of childhood stunting. In addition, 10% of Afghan children are acutely malnourished, and thousands of children die every year because they don’t have access to adequate food and nutrition.

Childhood malnutrition naturally has serious consequences for physical development, but it can also lead to problems with cognitive development and educational achievement. Without the nutrients needed for healthy brain development and functioning, many malnourished children struggle with learning issues throughout their lives, even into adulthood. This is a particular challenge for a country like Afghanistan, which is working hard to increase literacy rates and education levels as part of its post-conflict rebuilding process.

With child health experts calling for greater nutritional investment in Afghanistan, a number of NGOs are stepping in to help tackle malnutrition and the underlying causes of Afghanistan’s food insecurity. Nutrition & Education International (NEI) is one such example: a non-profit organization that is working to promote soybean cultivation and nourishment in Afghanistan in association with local government agencies, universities, and the WFP. Read on to learn more about NEI’s work and its history in Afghanistan.

What is NEI?

NEI logoNEI is a non-profit organization on a mission to eradicate malnutrition in Afghanistan with a surprising weapon: soybeans.

Containing nine essential amino acids, soybeans are a rich source of protein and other nutrients, making them excellent fighters against malnutrition, which is essentially synonymous with protein deficiency. In addition, soybeans are a cost-effective crop to grow, and so are relatively easy to incorporate into Afghanistan’s agricultural practices.

NEI’s primary objective is to help Afghanistan establish a self-sustaining soybean industry by developing a full soybean value chain. The idea is that by introducing seed multiplication, soybean cultivation and processing, and soy market development, NEI can help poor families improve both their nutrition and their economic circumstances. According to NEI’s president, Steven Kwon, a functioning soy economy is one of the most practical remedies to address Afghanistan’s ongoing struggle with chronic malnutrition.

A history of NEI in Afghanistan

2003—Steven Kwon makes his first visit to Afghanistan. Soon after, he develops the soy nutrition initiative and establishes Nutrition & Education International as a non-profit NGO.

2004—Six varieties of non-GMO soybeans are successfully cultivated and tested in Afghanistan’s Balkh province.

2005—Following the successful testing of NEI’s soy program in 12 different Afghan provinces, the government of Afghanistan adopts the program as a national project.

2006—For the first time in Afghanistan’s history, 1,000 tons of soybeans are produced through the efforts of more than 2,000 Afghan farmers across nine provinces. In addition, two soy milk processing facilities are established, and NEI begins its humanitarian soy milk distribution program, which delivers nutrition-rich soy milk to 3,000 high-risk families.

2007—Soybean production expands; more than 3,000 farmers across 15 provinces are now cultivating soybeans.

2008—Three more soy milk processing facilities are established, as is a containerized soy flour factory.

2009—Soybean production expands beyond agricultural operations to include home and community gardens, thus helping individual families and small communities supplement their protein intake independently. NEI’s soy milk distribution program is now reaching 5,000 families, and a newly initiated winter soy nutrition campaign provides 100 tons of soybeans and soy flour to 2,500 high-risk families in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces.

2010—NEI purchases and distributes 100 metric tons of soybean seeds to farmers in 21 provinces; by this time, Afghan farmers are producing enough soybeans to sustain their own families. Afghanistan’s first-ever soy flour factory is built in Kabul with a capacity of 300 metric tons. NEI also increases its efforts to create a soy market in the country by launching its business arm, Soybean Nutrition Services Afghanistan (SNSA), and concentrates on providing seed resources, training farmers, and further developing the market for soy. A grant from the government of Japan enables NEI to pursue these aims.

2011—Three more soy flour factories are built, and NEI receives a second grant for its soybean production project from the Japanese government.

2012—NEI enters into a partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme to promote soybean cultivation in 100 districts across 20 provinces. More than 6,000 new farmers are trained in soybean cultivation, and 2,000 metric tons of soybeans are produced.

2013—NEI celebrates a decade of work in Afghanistan, and commits to a further 10 years of developing Afghanistan’s soybean industry in order to eradicate malnutrition.

2014—Two more soy processing facilities are established. NEI receives a grant for its work from the Republic of Korea.

2015—NEI’s founder meets formally with the President of Afghanistan to discuss the future of Afghanistan’s soybean industry.

2016—Construction on a sterilized soy milk factory is completed. 17,000 new soybean farmers are trained in 31 provinces, and soybean production reaches a record high of 6,000 metric tons.

Spotlight on the Asia Society: Introducing the World to Afghanistan

The Asia Society is the world’s leading educational organization dedicated to fostering mutual understanding, respect, and partnership between Western and Asian countries, including Afghanistan and other countries of the Greater Middle East. Read on to learn more about the Asia Society, and how it’s helping the world get to know Afghanistan.

What is the Asia Society?

Asia Society logoThe Asia Society is a non-profit, non-partisan institution with a broad mission to prepare Asians and Americans for a shared future in a global context. Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III, the Asia Society has grown over the years to become an international, cross-disciplinary organization, working across the fields of arts, culture, education, business, and policy to generate ideas and insight, address present challenges, and prepare for a collaborative future. Today, the Asia Society’s focus covers more than 50 countries and territories—the Society has major centers and offices in cities ranging from Houston and Los Angeles to Manila and Mumbai—making it one of the most important contributors to the ongoing conversation about Asian-American relations.

What does the Asia Society do?

The Asia Society’s scope of activity is extremely broad. A sampling of the Society’s work and initiatives includes: the Center for Global Education, which brings world leaders and institutions together to tackle the urgent question of how to educate today’s students for employability in a global era; the Asia Society Policy Institute, a think tank that addresses major policy challenges for the Asia-Pacific region by working with top experts and policymakers; the Asia Arts Awards, a signature event that honors transformative figures in Asia’s contemporary art world; and the Pacific Cities Sustainability Initiative, an ongoing collaborative dialogue aiming to foster the development and sharing of urban sustainability strategies among Asia-Pacific communities.

How is the Asia Society helping the world get to know Afghanistan?

As one of the Asia Society’s focus countries, Afghanistan is an important presence in much of the Society’s work. Some specific ways that the Asia Society is bringing Afghanistan to the world’s attention and building awareness about how Afghanistan is developing include:

Creative Voices of Islam in AsiaCreative Voices of Muslim Asia—The Asia Society’s Creative Voices of Muslim Asia is an innovative multidisciplinary program that works to build understanding of the diversity of Islam through the arts. The initiative incorporates Muslim Voices: Arts & Ideas, a collaborative festival and the first festival of Muslim arts to be held in New York City. There’s also a youth media exchange program that helps connect young people with digital storytelling opportunities that allow them to participate in critical dialogue around important issues like globalization and immigration. Creative Voices of Muslim Asia also sponsors a regular series of online publications and features that showcase important artistic voices and perspectives from Afghanistan and other Muslim countries and regions.

The Arts & Museum Summit—First launched in 2015, this summit is a valuable opportunity for museum and arts leaders from across Asia and the Middle East, the US, and Europe to connect, explore challenges, and share knowledge. At the inaugural summit in 2015, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, the founder of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, was a key panel member in a discussion on threats and risks to the arts in contemporary Asia.

The Asia Game Changer Awards—Launched by the Asia Society in 2014, the Asia Game Changer Awards aim to fill a critical gap by identifying and celebrating leaders in all fields who are making profound and positive contributions to the future of Asia. In 2016, Afghanistan’s Dr. Ahmad Sarmast was honored for his commitment to bringing music back to Afghanistan in the face of extreme violence and threats. Read more about Dr. Sarmast’s remarkable work and legacy here.

Does the Asia Society organize initiatives within Afghanistan?

While much of the Asia Society’s work involving Afghanistan is intended to help the rest of the world learn about the country, the Society does support some initiatives taking place in Afghanistan. Chief among these is the Afghanistan Young Leaders Initiative (AYLI), a program designed to build and nurture the next generation of Afghan leaders. Operating under the broader umbrella of the Asia 21 Young Leaders Initiative, AYLI annually selects a number of promising Afghan citizens under the age of 40 to become a “young Afghan leader” for a one-year term.

As part of their term, AYLI members participate in monthly meetings to discuss Afghanistan’s main challenges and how the next generation of leaders can help solve them; develop a next-generation curriculum for leadership development workshops that can be delivered to Afghan university students; and work with a media consultant to develop a media outreach strategy highlighting the work of young Afghan leaders. In addition, participants attend the Afghan Young Leaders in Action Youth Summit, an annual forum that helps AYLI members make key connections and assess their progress as a group.