‘We’ve never left’ proclaims the website of the charity Afghanaid, highlighting a running total of almost 9,700 days – well over 26 years – of continuous operation in the war-strewn country that has proved a tough challenge for so many. Leading Afghanaid’s work in sustainable rural development with half a million people is its managing director, Farhana Faruqi Stocker, who has two decades’ experience of the region and its problems of poverty, conflict and human rights.
She says there is an urgent need for sustained support by grant-giving foundations and other funders to deal with immediate crises, such as in food security, and long-term needs, from education for all, including girls, to developing Afghanistan’s nascent civil society.
Alliance magazine’s Nick Cater asked Farhana Faruqi Stocker about Afghanistan’s priorities and the key challenges Afghanaid faces, such as in fundraising.
Afghanistan is going through a transition phase in which sustained external funding for humanitarian and development assistance is crucial in addressing the immediate and medium to long-term needs. In particular, response measures are urgently needed to mitigate the food insecurity. According to the government of Afghanistan, 7.1 million Afghans out of the 26 million total population are food insecure.
Unfortunately, most large institutional donors are required by their governments to support geographical areas where their national troops are deployed, often leading to exclusion of large parts of the country and going against the basic principle of equity in provision of aid. In addition, some of the largest donors in country rely on either private sector or military contractors to fund their humanitarian and development work. There are suggestions that over 50 per cent of the aid money that is delivered through private or military contractors goes out of the country and does not reach needy Afghans.
Besides, private contractors and military groups don’t work with the same principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence as NGOs or have the fundamental understanding of poverty and inequality issues to ensure the most vulnerable people benefit from assistance. The funds available to the government of Afghanistan, particularly to sub-national line departments of government ministries, to international NGOs that have worked in the country for many years, like Afghanaid, and to Afghan civil society, are hugely insufficient to meet the basic needs of the Afghan population.
Where does Afghanistan stand in international rankings for poverty, development and similar indices?
At the September 2000 Millennium Summit of the General Assembly of the United Nations, world leaders committed themselves to a common vision of world peace, development, poverty eradication and human rights through a set of benchmarks and targets known as the Millennium Development Goals. This provided the overarching framework to the government of Afghanistan’s national development strategy, which made poverty alleviation its top priority. Almost eight years since starting the current reconstruction and development initiatives, Afghanistan continues to exhibit high poverty indicators, standing at 62.3 in the human poverty index and at 0.345 in the human development index, placing it in the 174th position out of 178 countries. Furthermore, on the governance scale, Afghanistan is classified as a fragile state, with the World Bank’s country policy and institutional assessment putting it among states that have ‘poor policy performance or low service delivery capacity with a lack of responsiveness to their citizens’.
Is the world financial crisis having any impact on your work?
We have seen an impact on funding from governments, individuals and companies. In particular, we are experiencing comparatively less charity money being given by the public and companies in the UK than before the global financial meltdown. And while governments have as yet not cut down their overseas assistance funds, the fall of the pound sterling on the currency markets has, in effect, reduced the real value of the funds available.
Have shifts in UK government funding had an impact on Afghanaid and other agencies?
Governments everywhere have the ultimate responsibility to care for the basic needs of their citizens and Afghanaid supports the idea of funding governments. Governments and NGOs bring complementarity to each other’s efforts. However, the government of Afghanistan is in the process of rebuilding its institutions and capacities as well as re-establishing the outreach mechanisms necessary for provision of basic services, which are a fundamental constitutional right of all Afghan women, men and children. Many parts of the country are affected by ongoing active armed conflict between the armed opposition groups hostile to the government of Afghanistan and the Afghan national army and its international partners, such as the UK and US armed forces. The armed conflict has affected the ability of government-provided services to meet the survival needs of large numbers of people living in these areas.
With long-standing relationships of mutual trust with local Afghan communities and outreach mechanisms to provide impartial assistance to the most vulnerable people in very remote areas, NGOs bring added value to government-led humanitarian and development efforts. Hence, it becomes critical for donor institutions such as the UK government and its Department for International Development to strike a balance between provision of funding directly to the government of Afghanistan and to NGOs and indeed to local civil society. Failing this, NGOs like Afghanaid are forced to leave hundreds of thousands of poor and vulnerable Afghans without assistance. Afghanaid is a development organization that works with communities over the long term to together find sustainable and durable solutions to poverty and vulnerability. The withdrawal of UK funds from British NGOs working outside Helmand province has forced Afghanaid to accept short-term funds, which affects the continuity and sustainability of its efforts.
What role could grantmaking foundations play in Afghanistan?
In Afghanistan, there is an equal need to work with its citizens, the nation’s rights holders, to help them claim their entitlements, and with the country’s informal and formal duty holders to improve governance. Informal duty holders are those who are part of informal governance systems at local level, eg shura or village institutions, whereas formal duty holders are part of the formal governance structures, eg provincial and district governors, and government departmental heads.
The key to bringing lasting change in Afghanistan is to provide sustained support in creation of a just and equal society in which both women and men enjoy their constitutional rights and entitlements equally. Funders and implementing agencies need to support integrated rural development with a focus on strengthening rural household food security, agricultural sector development, creation of enterprises for women and men, preparedness and mitigation measures to reduce the risks associated with natural disasters, particularly floods and drought on livelihoods and coping mechanisms. These are the top priorities of millions of Afghans. Assistance must also be provided to improve access to and the quality of education, particularly for girls, and the development of skills. Education and training are prerequisites to develop human capital that will steer Afghanistan to a developed state. At the same time, efforts need to be made to contribute to state building, helping government institutions nationally and locally to develop a transparent and accountable governance system.
Can a secular agency, such as Afghanaid, hope to access faith-based funds, and do remittances play any part in Afghanistan’s development?
Afghanaid mobilizes funds from all those credible sources which have transparent systems of accountability and are open to public scrutiny; and funds which are provided without any strings attached by the donor. At present we do not receive any funding from Islamic banks, Islamic charities or individuals offering zakat. Given the massive needs of the country, funds from all credible sources, including Afghans living abroad, are welcome in the country. A large number of Afghan families depend on the remittances sent by their relatives living and working abroad. However, Afghanaid is not aware of any system of tracking funds specifically coming into the country from the Afghan diaspora.
Is a domestic, indigenous third sector emerging in Afghanistan?
There is a nascent Afghan civil society, such as NGOs, research institutions, advocacy and lobbying groups, youth associations, a lawyers’ forum, women’s rights activists, writers’ bodies, child rights organizations and farmers’ associations, to name a few. If they are to survive and strengthen their role in the social, economic and political development processes of the country, they need external support and nurturing. Unfortunately, it is a low priority for most donors. Very few donors are funding growth and development of indigenous civil society in Afghanistan as the third sector. At present, there are no known and credible local sources of funds and support that can ensure nurturing and strengthening of this sector.
What problems do you experience as a female leader of a large Afghan NGO?
In my role as a leader and executive head of an international organization, I have not yet experienced anything negative that I could say was because of my being a woman. However, there are countless barriers and constraints that most Afghan women experience every day of their life in Afghanistan; some of them affect me equally, though as a foreigner the impact of these constraints on my role is far less than would be for most Afghan women. For instance, as a woman my mobility is limited but this is nothing compared to the situation of Afghan women, whose mobility is hugely circumscribed compared to Afghan men.
The UK-registered charity turns over £3 million a year and has about 300 staff, all but a handful of them Afghans based in Afghanistan, including 60 women. It also has an advocacy and fundraising office in London. The agency focuses on sustainable rural development by ‘passing on skills to help build livelihoods’. This ranges from training basic veterinary workers and building village electro-hydro power stations to teaching women vocational skills, working with farmers to improve yields and helping start community savings groups. As part of the Kabul government’s National Solidarity Programme, Afghanaid also helps communities set up democratic councils and teaches children about their human rights.
About Farhana Faruqi Stocker
Social anthropologist Farhana Faruqi Stocker has close to two decades of experience with poor and conflict-hit countries in the developing world, from Sri Lanka to Somalia and particularly Afghanistan. In her career, she has held strategic management positions, leading multicultural teams in complex humanitarian emergencies, long-term development programming, and policy and advocacy work, while operating in challenging sociopolitical and security environments. Her CV reads like a compendium of the international aid sector, from working in half a dozen parts of the United Nations to the bilateral agencies of Canada, Germany, Switzerland and the UK, the World Bank and a clutch of environment and development NGOs, including Oxfam GB and Save the Children UK. In her varied roles, she has played a key part in developing funding strategies, mobilizing and managing resources, and ensuring financial reporting and donor contract management for budgets of millions of dollars.