Helping to Build Afghan Civil Society

Hello everyone! I’ve safely returned from Afghanistan, and I’m now catching up by writing and sharing a few blog posts about my time there — how quickly the time flies!

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I traveled to Afghanistan in order to work with the Afghan Civic Education Program (ACEP), implemented by Counterpart International in partnership with Internews Network, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) and the Aga Khan Foundation USA. The overall purpose of this program is to strengthen the relationship between civil society organizations (CSOs) to facilitate advocacy and increase accountability of local and national level government. As part of this process, ACEP is working directly with fourteen key partner CSOs to build their organizational skills. Those key partners are — in turn — mentoring and building the skills of a broad network of CSOs throughout Afghanistan.

As I’ve discussed in my work in Guatemala and Papua New Guinea, I work very closely with Counterpart’s Organizational Development Specialist, so for the first week during this visit, the majority of my time was focused on co-facilitating a training with our OD Specialist for these key partners. The training focused on an important area: financial sustainability.

Many readers may be wondering how and why gender is relevant to financial sustainability and why I might get involved in such an activity. I’m so glad you asked! 😉

We conducted this financial sustainability training to help our key partners identify their current financial status — not the management of income, which is financial administration, but how they identify and obtain funding sources, which is essential for the ongoing sustainability of any organization. Civil society organizations — like any non-profit, community, or civic organization — need funding to do their work, and they must have a plan for how to obtain funding as well as anticipate whether the current funding climate or sources may change based on altering economic, political, social or other conditions.

It is important to factor gender considerations into this process for a variety of reasons. Gender must be considered in any leadership and strategic planning that takes place with regard to financial sustainability plans. These considerations may range from identifying whether the organization has identified the resources that will be needed in order to expand its ability to conduct gender assessments and identify gender-specific needs of its beneficiary or target group and incorporate these costs into its financial goals. It may include whether there are new funding opportunities related to gender-specific needs — for example, many of you may have noticed how certain topics or ideas become “trendy” or “hot” among donors. In some cases, paying attention to whether an organization’s core values or skills are particularly marketable also means paying attention to how gender is also important. Some recent international campaigns focusing on adolescent girls have capitalized on the core values of those organizations while also grabbing the attention of donors who are particularly interested in helping this vulnerable group.

Financial strategic planning may include whether the leadership of an organization is consulting with a balanced and representative group in making financial sustainability plans and strategies, which can provide a deeper understanding of the organization’s goals and needs as well as provide diversity and new opportunities for creativity in the planning process.

Beyond such strategic planning issues, gender must be considered when embarking on financial sustainability initiatives, whether they involve marketing research, business planning, or developing income generating activities. There are a variety of ways in which the different needs, priorities, access to resources, rights, roles, responsibilities, and experiences of men, women, boys, and girls — whose perspectives are also informed by many intersecting social, cultural, and economic identities — must be considered.

In order to help the ACEP key partners understand these elements, the training was designed to be highly participatory. It engaged the partners in groupwork, so that they not only worked through exercises of analyzing and planning based on their own organizational needs, but they also worked with other participants in the room to brainstorm and share ideas. Members of the local ACEP gender team participated in small group discussions in order to facilitate additional awareness of gender, helping to promote attention within each small group to the ways in which awareness of the different challenges and opportunities that these considerations bring can strengthen even financial sustainability planning!