In a deep valley surrounded by the Hindu Kush mountains lies Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul. Life in the city is still marked by the nearly forty years of war and conflict that had become synonymous with the country. However, in recent years peacebuilding and development have slowly begun taking place. At the forefront of this new movement are young men and women from all thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan. Together, they represent the future leaders of Afghan civil society. Earlier this month, when they converged on Kabul, they had a lot to say.

“Nowadays, people are tired of war and insecurity, so the role of a civil society leader is very important. We need them…to make a bright future for children, to lead communities and to bring positive change to Afghanistan,” explained a member of the 2017 graduating class of Counterpart International’s Emerging Civil Society Leaders Program (ECSL).

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Emerging Civil Society Leaders Class of 2017 at their graduation in Kabul, February 2017

The program, in its 5th year, is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Each year 34 youth representatives are chosen, one from each province in Afghanistan. The program mobilizes a network of youth activists and strengthens their skills in key aspects of leadership training, from public speaking and civic activism to education and advocacy.

“This is the only platform to gather talented youth from all of Afghanistan and enhance their competencies. It broadens our networks and teaches us how to more effectively communicate and network with government representatives and other youth civil society activists,” explained an emerging civil society leader from Kunduz.

When the Emerging Leaders gathered in Kabul for their graduation ceremony in February, we heard these young men and women discuss their inspiring solutions for the future of their country.

Emerging Solutions and Solution Creators

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The Emerging Civil Society Leaders of 2017 discussing solutions prior to their graduation in Kabul, February 2017

“My plans for my future begin on the community level – particularly with women, youth and people with disabilities. I’d like to create platforms for each of these communities, and in the long term work with administrations working on the provincial and national level,” explained a young female leader from Nangarhar.

She, like many of her colleagues, discussed the importance of affecting change in her local community. With the foundation and skills acquired through the Emerging Leaders program, participants reported they will feel prepared and empowered to achieve their larger aims and help push Afghanistan forward into the next era. Like this woman from Kapisa province:

“Girl’s education empowerment is essential to reducing cultural barriers. This is my immediate action plan. It begins in my community and in the future, my province. I have a plan to establish a university that mostly works for the development of civil society through family empowerment. I want to be a girl’s education ambassador for my country and for the world.”

Or this gentleman from Paktika:

“First I want to hear from my neighbors and assess our community needs.  I will then coordinate with them. I will make a plan to provide the basic needs to my community. By speaking to them, I can learn of their challenges and also educate them more about their rights and obligations as an Afghan.”

The Future Leaders of Afghanistan

For more than fifteen years, Counterpart International has been working to build bridges between Afghan civil society and the government. By connecting these two sectors and empowering the next generation of emerging leaders, our aim is to make government more effective and responsive to the needs of all Afghanistan’s citizens. Given that nearly 80% of the Afghan population today is under forty years old, the Emerging Civil Society Leaders will be vitally important for the future of the country.

The ECSL initiative, as part of the Afghan Civic Engagement Program (ACEP), identifies, connects, and supports emerging youth leaders from across the country. It empowers these young men and women to be catalysts for change who mobilize their communities and work to positively shape the future of their nation. As a recent ECSL graduate from the Paktika Province tells us,

“We must channel the power harvested from youth collaborative service projects to eradicate poverty, increase access to education and resources, improve health care, community development and peace.” After all, there is a path to the top of the highest mountain…