Youth leaders are emerging from all over Afghanistan – from the streets of Kandahar and Zaranj to the alleyways of Kabul and Fayzabad. Trained in civic activism, public speaking, and advocacy, these young men and women mobilize their communities and work to shape positively the future of their nation.
As part of the Afghan Civic Engagement Program (ACEP), the Emerging Civil Society Leaders (ECSL) initiative, now in its fourth year, identifies, introduces, and supports emerging youth leaders from across the country and empowers young men and women to be catalysts for change. The recent ECSL graduation ceremony for 2015 participants included 34 youth leaders, along with graduates from previous years and the new leaders who are enrolled now in the 2016 program. At the ceremony, the group heard from policy makers, prominent civil society organizations, activists, and government officials.
“It is important to have civic engagement through strong civil society activities to convey the voice of the people to relevant government authorities to solve problems,” said Mohammad Hakim Bahir, ECSL 2015 alumni, from the Maidan Wardak province.
An emerging leader in the 2016 program, Wali-u-Rahman, from the Paktia province sees the program as helping to provide “an opportunity for our people to participate in the democratic process and to provide and bring positive changes into our community and nation.”
Freba Akbaryar from the Kunduz province participated in the program in 2015. She is now leading an equal rights and development organization in Balkh. Commenting on the value of the program Freba said:
“I want to be the voice of youth and women in my society, and especially help women who live in remote areas and who have physical disabilities. Participating in the program helped increase my self-confidence. I found that women can be part of the leadership and can also bring positive changes.”
Selected from the diverse cultural, ethnic, and linguistic communities of Afghanistan, ECSL participants engage in advocating for the nation’s most critical issues. As a national network of engaged youth leaders, these young men and women learn to consult with policy makers and other ECSL participants to refine their visions of positive change and political reform in Afghanistan.
After completing training that builds their professional skills and strengthens their leadership capacities, ECSL participants travel abroad on an international study tour. Exposed to different cultures and perspectives, participants see leadership and civic innovation in action. Learning from their international counterparts empowers these young Afghan leaders with the skills needed to contribute positively to the progress of their country.
In the years following the program, alumni like Mohammad and Freba have led several successful development campaigns and non-violent advocacy movements; from raising support for the victims of the earthquake in Badakhshan, to lobbying the government to negotiate for the release of 12 civilian hostages kidnapped by the Taliban, or to addressing women’s rights.
With these tremendous accomplishments in mind, ACEP has announced a new grant competition for ECSL graduates. Grants, of up to 10,000 USD, aim to encourage entrepreneurship in ECSL alumni. Graduates are encouraged to submit proposals outlining innovative activities that mobilize the youth, promote civic activism, volunteerism, and responsible citizenship.
All four classes of emerging leaders participated in a 2-day Alumni Network development session that helped prepare an action plan and process for future collaboration and initiatives through the ECSL Alumni Network. The Network unites current Emerging Leaders with participants from the previous years. Meant to provide additional networking opportunities that strengthen the national youth leadership network, it will advance their capacity to influence policies, monitor government accountability and advocate for political reforms at both the national and local levels.
The pioneering youth of Afghanistan are rebuilding their communities from within. Gone are the days of the disengaged young. Looking beyond the ongoing conflict, these youth leaders now focus on creating a cultural shift from violence to peace. Inspired, hopeful, and working toward their inclusive national vision, the young leaders of today may very well become the ministers and policy makers of Afghanistan’s tomorrow.
This publication was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the terms of its Associate Cooperative Agreement Number 306-A-14-00001 (Afghan Civic Engagement Program) implemented by Counterpart International and its partners. The contents and opinions expressed herein are the responsibility of Counterpart International and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID.