Dr. Naseer Ahmed Found and CEO, AICB, 6/19/2020, Kabul
The role of CSOs in developing countries is very important where the government cannot deliver basic services and unable to achieve sustainable development goals. CSOs in Afghanistan have played a significant role since the cold war through delivering relief and humanitarian assistance to migrants, displaced, and poor communities. The CSOs besides providing relief assistance has also played a vital role in addressing basic human needs such as access to basic education, health, shelter, hygiene, human rights, and awareness-raising. The CSOs are now working with Afghan Gov’t and international donors to extend their basic services to remote and insecure areas where Gov’t access is limited. Recently the CSOs are also delivering development efforts especially implementing national socio-economic development programs, agriculture extension and modernization, institution building, trade promotion, and women empowerment, to name a few.
Besides the glorious past, a wealth of local experience, linkages, etc, the future of CSOs are uncertain in
Afghanistan. There are many CSOs who have vanished and most of them are currently struggling to survive, let alone contributing to the development efforts. It is due to a significant decrease in international assistance or donations to Afghanistan since 2014 and still decreasing on a yearly basis. On the other hand, the Gov’t is also not able to contribute in CSO development or provide donations while CSOs have adopted self-sustainable strategies. The economic growth of the country has also slowed down significantly which could promote donations from the private sector.
The CSOs in Afghanistan were promoted and supported heavily by the international donors’ efforts with a belief that CSOs will ensure delivery of all the humanitarian and development needs of the country and contribute significantly towards shifting the country’s future from all the miseries, insecurities, inequality, corruptions towards prosperity and development. Now looking to the very foggy future of the CSOs and acknowledging the important need of the CSOs for development, efforts need to be taken to make the CSOs not only resilient but also sustainable without solely depending on international donors’ assistance.
Some of the CSOs have successfully shifted from humanitarian assistance provider to a player as development actor but most have failed, while many are struggling. Now the key questions arise:
- What paradigm shift is currently required by CSOs?
- How can CSOs become resilient and sustainable?
- What went wrong along the way and what is wrong now?
- What capacity and strategies are required to make this shift successful?
I won’t go unnecessarily into details on the importance of the CSOs and believe that the reader understands it thoroughly. I would rather focus on discussing the above questions which relate to a sustainable future for CSOs.
The of Shift:
As discussed, the CSOs need a major paradigm shift which is initially realizing the fact that donor dependency is not an option. The CSOs need to move from only delivery humanitarian assistance to a development actor through innovations addressing the current pressing needs of the country and its communities. They need to adapt to the rapidly changing social, political, and economic environment of the country. They also need to be responsive to the demands and needs of the communities which are quickly changing from basic needs to economic needs, for example focusing on economic growth and employable skills based on labor market demands rather than traditional vocational skills. Another example is addressing the healthcare needs through providing innovative and modern health services which are not available. According to some estimates, more than 250million US$ yearly is spent by Afghans on seeking healthcare treatment abroad[i]. The CSOs need to assist the state efforts to change the Afghanistan economy from a consumer-based market to an increasing the export-oriented economy. There are many other examples that will make this blog very lengthy.
Changing the status quo is not an easy job and requires efforts, capacity building, and mentorship. Therefore, efforts are required to assist CSOs in adopting this change which is key to their survival. Besides the strategic changes required in CSOs some of the other important aspects to be considered for making the change successful can be listed as below:
- Capacity development
- Leadership plays an important role
- Creating a feasible environment
- Learning from other internationally
- Adopting their strategic thinking and planning
- Institutional development
- Enhancing the transparency
- Adopting the bottom-up approach
- Becoming inclusive
Each of the topics listed above has detailed and in-depth knowledge and discussion which unfortunately can’t be covered here.
Secretes to Sustainability:
The CSOs to become sustainable require to take consider the followings in short:
Cleaning the up the mess:
The CSOs besides having a vital role in addressing the needs of the communities through relief assistance, contribution to the development, and other humanitarian services has a dark side to its history in Afghanistan. I would briefly shed light on this dark side of the CSOs history in Afghanistan and some of the key points to be considered are:
- The CSOs has not always been very transparent and there are many doubts on their finances
- The CSOs were always associated with corruptions
- The CSOs dependency on international assistance has been controversial in many instances
- The CSOs has mostly faced a shortage of leadership
- The works carried out by CSOs has not been of good quality and outcomes were not sustainable
- The CSOs are mostly focusing on short term goals rather than focusing on long-term sustainable outcomes
- Despite addressing the causes of the problems the CSOs focus has been on temporary solutions
- The CSOs do not use bottom-up approach rather depending on the strategic directions of donors, which has also hindered their innovation capacity
- The CSOs strategic vision has been always been vague
Now, these shortcomings of the CSOs in the past need to be cleaned up through adopting the institutional development of CSOs. The dark side of the CSOs history undermines their credibility in the society and credibility is the key to their suitability. Without exploring the dark side further I would rather stress exploring ways to cleaning up this mess before moving forward.
The need of creating an environment for facilitating the shift is very important. The donors and Afghan Gov’t need to work on creating such an environment. The CSOs needs to be given the privilege to think freely in order to address the needs through innovations and bottom-up approach rather than depending on the donor strategic priorities. The CSOs need to work on more sustainable solutions rather than focusing on a quick-fix approach which will require long-term planning. The donors’ deadline and short term strategies are not allowing the CSOs to address the communities’ needs properly.
Afghan Gov’t is still unable to create a favorable environment for this vital shift, there is a lack of laws, policies and procedures, etc as well as Gov’t is unable to dedicate strategic thinking and resources for facilitating such shift.
It is important for the sustainability of the CSOs to become independent through the following ways:
- Enhance technical and leadership capacities
- Change their strategic thinking and planning
- Adopt the bottom-up planning approach
- Exploring income sources through establishing social enterprises
- Expand its donors’ portfolio
- Institutional improvement and Increasing transparency
- Explore local donors through adopting to the donation culture of Afghans
- Promote and utilize volunteerism
- Bring innovative solutions to most pressing issues
- Work inclusively
- Participate in the state efforts towards economic growth
- Improve the quality of work and services
- Focus on sustainability
About Dr. Naseer: Dr. Naseer has been working with various international organizations, donors, NGOs, and Gov’t for 19+ years. He has waste experience in relief, humanitarian, and development efforts. Dr. Naseer is Ph.D. from AIU with MBA and Bachelors’ in social sciences. Dr. Naseer is founder and CEO of pioneer Afghan Development Consultancy AICB www.aicb.org.af