Counterpart facilitated a learning exchange for 20 Afghan youth leaders to Uzbekistan. The exchange provided insight on Uzbekistan’s political development and built interpersonal relationships for expanded social and commercial connectivity.

Since 2014, Counterpart has graduated 136 young people (40% women) from its Emerging Civil Society Leadership (ECSL) initiative as a part of the USAID-funded Afghan Civic Engagement Program (ACEP). The ECSL activity involved an estimated 80 hours of classroom learning and skill-building, topical training, domestic and international exchanges, and shared learning activities through the ECSL alumni network. Counterpart also arranged for internships and volunteer opportunities for ECSL participants with our civil society organization (CSO) partners and competitively awarded grants for youth local development efforts. Approximately 40 ECSLs hailed from the urban areas of Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Balkh, and Nangarhar, while the others were from predominately rural areas.

In October 2019, Counterpart facilitated a study tour for 20 Afghan youth leaders to Uzbekistan. The exchange included learning stops at Uzbek institutions of higher learning, government offices, civil society organizations, youth-run businesses, cultural sites, and one technology innovation incubator. At each location, the Afghan participants heard about Uzbekistan’s recent political and economic reforms and how they impacted the respective organizations’ strategy and day-to-day work. Throughout the exchange, the Afghan participants had ample time to network, ask questions, and share contact information with their Uzbek hosts.

A participant survey following the learning exchange to Uzbekistan found that:

  • 100% reported that they found the study tour useful, interesting, and well-planned
  • 90% reported that they learned something on the study tour that they would apply to their work
  • 85% reported that the study tour changed how they viewed their career path

Importantly, 80% of ECSL participants reported that they had made a connection with an Uzbek young leader with whom they intended to stay in touch with to discuss future work together upon their return to Afghanistan. As Afghanistan moves toward a peace agreement and Uzbekistan continues its democratic and economic reforms – there is an important opportunity for wider Central Asia connectivity and strategic partnerships on security, trade, and development.

According to one ECSL representative from Baghlan: My home province Baghlan is very close to the Uzbek border but I have never had the chance to visit this country. Thanks to ACEP and the ECSL exchange, I had the opportunity to finally visit Uzbekistan and learn about how youth are involved in the country’s rapid transition. This tour helped me establish relationships and a network with Uzbek youth groups and to learn from their experiences and best practices.

The ECSL study tour in Uzbekistan concluded with a visit to the US Embassy in Tashkent. Here, the Afghan youth leaders met with political, cultural, and development officers from the US Government. One Uzbek national representative from the US Embassy said: It was inspiring meeting such engaging and interesting young people from Afghanistan with a spark in their eyes. I was surprised how active and inquisitive they were. I think that the youth in Uzbekistan can learn something from them about optimism, resilience, and civic activism.

Having begun work in Uzbekistan in 1996 and in Afghanistan in 2004 – Counterpart is optimistic about the opportunity for shared security and prosperity in the wider Central Asia region. 

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