Afghanistan suffered a dramatic loss of jobs in 2014 when foreign troops withdrew from the region. Unemployment can leave people—particularly young people—feeling trapped in a cycle of violence, devoid of any income-generating options other than joining a rebel group and perpetuating war.
Over 40% of the Afghan population is between the ages of 15 and 24. This large youth population can pose challenges to the country, because there are not enough jobs to accommodate the number of young Afghans entering the labor force. But these young people become a great advantage when they receive the proper support and guidance, which the nonprofit Hand in Hand International provides to individuals in Afghanistan through its four-step job creation model.
Step One: Build Communities
The first step of Hand in Hand’s job creation model is establishing communities of support for the unemployed, allowing them to learn from each other and grow together. This creates a circle of people that can engender mutual trust and potentially enter into business together or create mutually beneficial financial arrangements. These self-help groups nurture their members’ entrepreneurial spirit. The groups, usually made up of around 10 to 20 individuals, also build savings accounts, with each member contributing a small fee at the weekly meetings.
The Hand in Hand self-help groups in Afghanistan are either exclusively men or exclusively women. Trainers meet regularly with each group to provide coaching and ongoing support. Since the organization launched the initiative, more than 2,200 groups have been formed.
Step Two: Offer Training
After establishing these communities of support, the second step of Hand in Hand’s job creation model is to provide training. This training only happens when a support group is stable and has a healthy savings fund. Hand in Hand offers lessons in a variety of economic topics, such as business development, marketing, and bookkeeping. The organization adapts these lessons for those who cannot read or recognize written numbers by teaching them using pictures, stories, and songs.
Hand in Hand Afghanistan has also implemented literacy and numeracy trainings into this phase of the job creation model, as the high illiteracy rate in the country has limited the effectiveness of training. These additional, life skills trainings are offered for four to nine months after the formation of self-help groups.
Beyond the marketing and business lessons, Hand in Hand Afghanistan provides vocational training to its members, such as beekeeping, horticulture, tailoring, and weaving.
Step Three: Give Access to Credit
Credit is a major piece of the economic puzzle of eliminating poverty. The group savings established in the first phase of Hand in Hand’s job creation model provide financing for most new businesses, but there are times when the group participants need more than their group fund can provide. In these cases, Hand in Hand offers extra training in credit management. After this, the group members can access a microloan, usually worth $100. These funds come from Hand in Hand or one of its partners. The Hand in Hand network has a high repayment rate of over 99 percent.
Hand in Hand Afghanistan offers two different methods for members to access credit beyond the group savings fund. The first of these is an Enterprise Incubation Fund (EIF), dedicated solely to the credit expansion of Hand in Hand Afghanistan’s members. While some microfinance institutions (MFIs) will be reluctant to provide credit until an entrepreneur has a credit history, the EIF is available to new borrowers. Once a member has obtained a record with the EIF, they can move on to more established MFIs so that the EIF can remain strong, stable, and small.
Step Four: Provide Connections to Markets
It is the fourth step of this job creation model that sets Hand in Hand apart from other organizations. Once a group of individuals have learned how to run a business and obtained the credit they need to get a fresh start, Hand in Hand gives them a gateway to larger markets. This increases the success of Hand in Hand entrepreneurs as well as fosters healthy market competition. By providing their entrepreneurs with access to better branding, more customers and cheaper supplies, Hand in Hand enables its members to achieve job independence.
In Afghanistan, this connection is vitally important because so many Hand in Hand members live in rural, isolated villages. The organization provides connections with the larger urban markets in the country.
Since its arrival in Afghanistan in 2007, Hand in Hand has trained over 35,000 members, started almost 11,000 enterprises, and created nearly 15,000 jobs in the country.
Jobs play a major role not only in alleviating poverty, but also in maintaining stability and security. With every new job and every newly successful business, a thriving future is more possible for Afghanistan.