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.