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.

Hand in Hand International – An Important New Way to Fight Poverty

For over a decade, the non-governmental organization Hand in Hand International has been inviting the world to look at poverty differently. The group believes that job creation, not just aid, is the most important weapon in the fight against poverty. Powered by this philosophy, Hand in Hand focuses on helping the world’s poor improve their lives by providing them with the training and support they need to turn their skills and potential into opportunities for grassroots entrepreneurship. Read on to learn more about how Hand in Hand is helping people in Afghanistan and around the world.

Hand in Hand’s history

hand in hand international logo2003—Percy Barnevik, one of the original Hand in Hand co-founders, joins forces with Dr. Kalpana Sankar, a local development specialist, to help expand a small charity in India. This is the first test of what will later become the Hand in Hand job creation model.

2007—At the request of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Hand in Hand Afghanistan is launched. Reflecting Hand in Hand’s commitment to South-to-South knowledge transfer, the Afghanistan operations are established by Hand in Hand staff from India.

2008-2013—Hand in Hand continues to expand around the globe, with operations established in South Africa (and eventually in neighboring Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland), Kenya, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Myanmar. During this period of expansion, Hand in Hand forms partnerships with some of the world’s most influential NGOs and development specialists, including CARE International (in support of the Rwanda effort), and Kenyan microfinance expert Pauline Ngari, who signs on as CEO of Hand in Hand Eastern Africa.

2014—The new fundraising office Friends of Hand in Hand International launches in Boston, giving US citizens their first opportunity to make tax-deductible donations to the organization. Board members of the new office include Hand in Hand International Chair Bruce Grant, former Harvard Business School Dean John McArthur, and former World Bank Managing Director Sven Sandstrom.

Hand in Hand’s work in Afghanistan

Given the severe conflict that has beset the country in recent years, it’s not surprising that Hand in Hand ranks Afghanistan as the organization’s most challenging operational location. Decades of war have sent Afghanistan into a spiral of high unemployment and financial and physical insecurity that has resulted in mass emigration; according to Hand in Hand, Syria is currently the only country sending more refugees into Europe than Afghanistan.

afghanistan localsBut it’s precisely because of these challenges that Hand in Hand’s work in Afghanistan has such transformative potential, particularly for those between the ages of 15 and 24 (nearly 40% of the population). By tackling unemployment—an issue that 4 out of 10 Afghans face—as one of the leading root causes of political instability, Hand in Hand aims to raise the standard of living and help inspire and enable Afghans to improve their own lives, their communities and, consequently, their country.

So far, the numbers hold promise. To date, Hand in Hand Afghanistan has trained more than 37,000 members through its self-help groups, which are collections of new entrepreneurs who learn together, save together, and support each others’ efforts. These entrepreneurs have started more than 27,000 businesses, from carpet weaving to food preparation, and have created more than 32,000 jobs, thus helping to break the cycle of dependency. Hand in Hand further estimates that these efforts have helped improve the lives of more than 200,000 people across the country (based on the calculation that every new business created in Afghanistan benefits an average of seven family members).

The work of Hand in Hand Afghanistan is led by Country Director Abdul Rahim Nasry, who has firsthand experience with the struggles and challenges faced by the Hand in Hand members he works with. In 1982, the Soviet war in Afghanistan forced 16-year old Nasry and his family to flee their native Parwan province with little hope of ever returning. 22 years later, however, Nasry returned to Afghanistan with his wife and children with the goal of helping rebuild the country. Prior to joining Hand in Hand Afghanistan, he led the Afghan government’s National Skills Development Program and served as a strategic advisor to the Deputy Minister of Labour Affairs.

Hand in Hand success stories from Afghanistan

Business training and access to credit are fundamental tools that can completely transform the lives of unemployed or underemployed Afghans like Chanar Gul, a commercial farmer and married father of two from northern Afghanistan. Chanar had an idea for a calf-rearing business, but a lack of business training and skills kept him confined to a working situation that only brought in a subsistence wage of 2,000 AFN (or $36 US) per month, not nearly enough for a growing family. But after joining a Hand in Hand self-help group in which he received training in business operations and peer-to-peer lending, Chanar went into business with eight of his fellow group members. Thanks to their mutual trust and support, as well as a small loan and vocational mentorship supplied by Hand in Hand, the partners took only two months to establish a self-sufficient business. Today, they are well on the road to paying back their loan, and Chanar’s monthly income has tripled.

5 Charities Helping Make Afghanistan a Better Place to Be a Kid

Modern Afghanistan is not an easy place for a child to grow up. As is all too often the case, war hits children especially hard; reports from recent years estimate that more than 1 million children across Afghanistan have been left orphaned or abandoned as a result of decades of civil conflict.

However, many charitable organizations, both within Afghanistan and internationally, are working hard to build a better, brighter, and safer future for Afghanistan’s children. Read on for a look at five organizations that are putting Afghan kids first.

  1. The Aschiana Foundation

aschiana logoAn example of how productive partnerships can be between the international community and grassroots organizations on the ground in Afghanistan, the Aschiana Foundation is a US-based organization dedicated to supporting Afghanistan’s most vulnerable children. The Aschiana Foundation was established in 2004 by a group of people—including expatriates, diplomats, and military spouses—who had seen for themselves the incredible challenges facing the country’s young children, many of whom were working on the streets of Kabul in an attempt to eke out a living.

Inspired by the work of the local organization Aschiana, which was created in 1995 by Yousef Mohamed, an Afghan engineer, the founders of the Aschiana Foundation were determined to find an effective way to support his efforts to provide education, training, and opportunities to Afghan children excluded from the school system due to financial or other barriers. Today, the support that the Foundation provides to Aschiana in Afghanistan helps tens of thousands of Afghan children find refuge and escape from life on the street.

  1. Save the Children

save the children logoAs its name implies, Save the Children has been a major force in protecting and providing for Afghanistan’s children. At present, the organization’s activities are governed by its three major priorities. The first is to stand up for children’s rights: Save the Children works with local communities, religious leaders, government ministries, and other NGOs to build national child protection networks and provide social workers to support children whose rights are in danger of being violated. The second priority is the improvement of vital health services: Save the Children operates many mobile health clinics with the support of doctors, trained midwives, and community health workers, focusing particularly on reducing child deaths by identifying malnourished children and providing feeding centers where these children can receive life-saving treatment. The final priority, one shared by many other organizations, is education: Save the Children works with the Afghan government to create and implement community-based classes that facilitate access to education for those children who have been shut out of formal schooling.

  1. Afghan Connection

afghan connection logoThis UK-based charity was founded in 2002 by Dr. Sarah Fane, who had spent several years working in Afghanistan as a wartime doctor. Initially established as a medical charity focused on vaccination programs, Afghan Connection has evolved to become an important supporter of education projects in Afghanistan’s northeastern region; the charity’s goal is to concentrate on making the strongest possible impact on a single area.

To date, Afghan Connection has built 42 new schools in the region, serving many remote and rural communities where access to education has been extremely difficult. It has also funded more than 500 teacher training courses to help improve the quality of education that Afghan children receive. Sports programs, and cricket in particular, are another important activity for Afghan Connection; the organization works to build pitches, establish cricket camps, and train coaches so that as many children as possible can reap the benefits of participating in team sports.

  1. Child Soldiers International

child soldiers international logoIn countries impacted by war and violence, the use of child soldiers on all sides of the conflict is becoming an increasingly common practice, and Afghanistan is no exception. Child Soldiers International works to build awareness of child recruitment in Afghanistan by performing critical research and field work that keeps this pressing issue at the forefront of the international agenda. The organization also lobbies for practical changes in law and policy that can support the Afghan government and its partners in meeting the challenges of combating child recruitment.

  1. Afghan Mobile Mini-Circus for Children

Afghan MMCC logoAfghanistan’s children need access to critical services, such as education, but they also require fun and playtime. Afghan Mobile Mini-Circus for Children (MMCC) brings these two worlds together with its unique use of circus arts as a teaching tool. Dedicated to empowering young people and working with the philosophy that children are the ones who know the best way to communicate with other children, MMCC brings child-led educational performances and workshops to young people all across Afghanistan. Since 2002, the organization has reached nearly 3 million audience members in 25 Afghan provinces and has leveraged the joyous atmosphere of the circus to engage children and youth on key topics like health and hygiene, landmine awareness, and peace.