The main objective of Hand in Hand Afghanistan Organization was large-scale job creation through mass-mobilisation of Afghans into entrepreneurship. Hand in Hand India not only supported the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Programme (AREDP) and other similar government programmes, but also engaged in training and support activities of players who directly or indirectly supported the main objective of the organisation. The AREDP is a Presidential initiative for a $600 Million project in Afghanistan covering 70% of Afghan villages that aimed to create 2.15 Million jobs in impoverished rural areas over seven areas. The programme is based on ‘help to self-help’ with a bottom-up approach where separate groups of women and groups of men start micro-enterprises first based on their own savings and later on micro-credits.
At the helm of our Afghanistan initiative was Usha Valli Somasundaram who in her role as Country Director of Hand in Hand Afghanistan Organisation left no stone unturned in her battle to approach the Islamic religious leaders and community to explain the concept of creating groups and promoting saving and internal lending and assisting in establishing micro enterprises to help increase their income levels. Usha worked for two years on a pilot project to study the suitability of the micro finance model for Afghanistan. Once she succeeded in convincing the community, there was no looking back – soon enterprises ranging from food and snack stalls, to bakeries to driving rented out share autos to poultry farming were started and run lucratively. In 2010, the pilot study report was submitted to the Afghan government which in turn decided to implement the model throughout the country as a national initiative.The World Bank also allocated $800 Million to Afghanistan over a period of ten years.
Dr. Mondira Dutta, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, evaluated Hand in Hand Afghanistan Organization’s establishment and capacity building of savings and credit groups (SCGs) and common interest groups (CIGs). In her report entitled “Livelihood, Capacity Building and Social Innovations – The Afghan Experience”, she commends the efforts of Hand in Hand India in establishing a high degree of transparency and accountability of group activities in Afghanistan. She also termed the strategy adopted by Hand in Hand India as being relevant, gender-balanced, inclusive, culture-friendly and one that significantly contributed towards capacity building measures.