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Our work

Program Area 1
Regular CSO engagement with government:

Afghanistan’s civil society sector is steadily maturing; however, serious challenges remain. The top CSOs that have the capacity and passion for political participation and reform are often overloaded with multiple donor projects, resulting in lack of follow-through and disconnect from their own constituencies. Media is beginning to play a significant watchdog role in its own right and provides the information and communication tools that CSOs and citizens need to mobilize constituencies for reform, increase the visibility of advocacy campaigns, and support sustained oversight of government performance. Our ACEP strategy recognizes that while grass-roots community groups are essential elements of a vibrant civil society, Afghan CSOs must also assume the role of interlocutor between citizens and their government, including advocating for constituent issues, holding the government accountable for its performance, exposing corrupt practices and protecting the rights of citizens. The interconnecting and reinforcing training, mentoring, facilitating and grant-making activities described below will broaden and deepen CSO engagement with government and anti-corruption efforts. ACE will strengthen relationships and synergies between CSOs and media outlets to leverage capacities, tools, new media and other resources to better monitor government implementation of national policies, progress toward international commitments and key indicators of good governance.

  • Increase and Improve Performance of Legislative Technical Working Groups.
  • Promote Citizen and CSO Political Participation at District and Provincial Levels.
  • Design, Administer and Award Issue-Based Advocacy Grants.
  • Ensure Women Civil Society Leaders and CSOs are Involved in National Policy Development.
  • Invest in Emerging Civil Society Leaders and Broaden Youth Political Participation.
  • Establish and Award Women Empowerment and Youth Activism Grants.
  • Include Afghan CSOs in International Events and Monitoring Reform Commitments.
  • Monitoring and Reporting on Government Service Delivery
  • Reduce Corruption through CSO and Media Watchdog Efforts
  • Advertise and Award Government Monitoring
  • Develop Original TV and Radio Programs, SMS, and Social Media Content
  • Assist CSOs to Access Information and Utilize Media for Good Governance
  • Establish New Technologies to Promote Good Governance and Civic Engagement
Program Area 2
Increased CSO and media expertise in democracy & governance:
The ACE team’s experience in Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia and the Caucasus has proven that, when presented the opportunity to participate in policy formulation and legislative drafting, CSOs must be able to demonstrate deep sector expertise, professional presentation and interpersonal skills as well as activity follow-through. Building expertise and specializations among media professionals and within CSOs in specific technical areas is essential to an effective democratic process. Moreover, organizations that derive their strength from a broad network of individuals and partner organizations and work primarily within their areas of sector expertise will be better able to cultivate a strong reputation among those they serve and with public officials they aim to influence with policy advocacy and legislative recommendations. Our ACE design assessment found excellent examples of effective social sector networks; however, many CSOs in Afghanistan are reluctant to coalesce on democratic reform issues because of a lack of time, money and desire to collaborate with peer organizations. This threefold program area strategy includes: 1) assisting CSOs to deepen their research and technical area expertise, 2) facilitating sector-specific networks and coalitions for improved advocacy, and 3) improving the enabling environment and image of civil society in Afghanistan. ACE will provide demand-driven technical assistance and create the opportunities and the space for like-minded CSOs to network, plan and execute joint activities. This strategy also entails constructing a value chain of democratic reform that includes research organizations (think tanks and universities), CSOs and media outlets. Linking this chain ensures that advocacy policy positions are data-supported and that the public will be informed of the advocacy issues and activities of CSOs. Lastly, ACE will promote successful case studies of coalition advocacy efforts and support leaders in sharing their lessons learned and techniques with other Afghan CSOs.
  • Create Comprehensive System of Sector Technical Assistance Provision and Self-Learning.
  •  Link CSOs to Individual and Organizational Researchers to Better Support Policy Positions.
  • Design and Award Policy Research Grants.
  • Facilitate the Creation of Issue-Specific Civil Society Networks and Action Alert System.
  • Facilitate Sector CSO Clusters for Experience Exchange and Partnership Grants
  • Empower CSOs as Facilitators of Local Development and Good Governance.
  • Train Media Professionals and Provide Media Lists of Experts in Key Technical Topics.
  • Improve Civil Society Enabling Environment.
Program Area 3
Expanded civic education:
Counterpart has been designing, delivering, rigorously evaluating and improving a core civic education curriculum in Afghanistan since 2008. Counterpart has longstanding relationships with the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan, which we have found to be professional, accessible and collaborative, and the Ministry of Education (MOE), which has adopted and distributed 40,000 copies of our Civic Education Handbook. We will leverage those relationships to support ACE civic education work. An Afghan First approach – fostering local ownership of the process and promoting Afghan development – has been and will continue to be central to the ACEP strategy for ensuring effective design and delivery of civic education efforts. One of the strongest predictors of civic engagement is the quality of civic education sessions and materials. To this end, our team will continue our best practice of employing materials written by Afghans in their native Dari or Pashtu and working with local CSOs to further refine, disseminate and deliver the content. ACE will work with Afghan teachers, and with the MOE at the national and provincial levels, to ensure content collaboration for in-school and out-of-school civic education materials, including a series of audio and visual materials for less literate populations and incorporating the IEC’s work on gender and elections. As part of our civic education gender approach, ACE teams will engage men and religious leaders in support of women’s participation while also educating women about their rights and responsibilities within Islam and civil society. 
  • Update, Enhance and Expand Access to the Civic Education Handbook and Materials
  • Select and Train 56 Community Activists as Civic Educators  
  • Directly Engage 303,000 Citizens in Civic Learning, Dialogue and Action
  • Reach Five Million Citizens with Democratic Development and Civil Society Messages
  • Voter Education and Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) Effort
  • Advertise and Award Voter and Civic Education Grants
Program Area 4
Improved access to independent news and public affairs information:
The growth of independent media in Afghanistan in just over 10 years is one of the US Government’s most remarkable achievements in a country. The establishment of a self-sustaining and pluralistic media sector is critical to a successful transition and stabilization effort in Afghanistan. An independent media will play a crucial watchdog role to build citizen trust in democratic institutions; educate the citizens of a nation with 70% illiteracy rates and limited and impoverished education institutions through free access to news and information; and provide multiple platforms for Afghan citizens to participate in political processes, reconciliation and peace building. By strengthening relationships between media and CSOs, as well as increasing skills and collaborative efforts on issues of mutual interest, media and civil society can improve public awareness and participation and government accountability. Our ACEP strategy will provide technical inputs to strengthen the media-enabling legislative environment and to enable local media organizations and CSOs move towards more democratic and information-rich processes that promote enhanced civil society engagement and improved information access. To increase media viability, ACEP will build on previously successful activities such as mentoring vulnerable radio stations, continuation of the SW Sustainability Index and Nai capacity building efforts.  ACE will support the Media Regulation Capacity Index, reviewing the government’s Media licensing framework, Spectrum Management, digital broadcasting transition planning, civil society accountability and transparency content regulations and industry engagement. ACE will help local broadcasters meet the demand for news, public affairs and other topical content that will increase in 2014 with the introduction of digital television in Afghanistan, which will enable every broadcaster to reach all 34 provinces.
  • Assisting the Government in Improving the Media Regulatory Environment
  • Supporting Media Sector Advocacy and Policy Reform
  • Support Annual Afghan Media Dialogue
  • Increase Journalistic Professionalism
  • Supporting Public Interest Programming on Civic Participation and Social Issues
  • Supporting Programming and Training Journalists in Good Governance Issues
  • Providing Technical Assistance and Grants for Interactive Civic Programming
  • Improve Communication and Outreach Skills of CSOs through Multimedia Centers
  • Improve Quality and Profitability of Provincial Media
  • Enhancing Sustainability of Media Support Organizations and Wire Service
Program Area 5
Increased CSO organizational capacity:
CSOs in Afghanistan are severely challenged by the lack of mobility due to insecurity, a declining international donor base and a less-than-responsive government. There also is a vast capacity gap between urban and rural CSOs as well as challenges with engaging and broadening constituencies. Community and district-level groups in the provinces have not traditionally had the access to training, funding or technology that exists in larger cities. In addition, although women-led and women-focused CSOs are emerging as formidable players in the civil society movement, they are often limited to working on social service or women’s issues and excluded from serious political activities. Counterpart has long been an architect of establishing civil society infrastructure where it hadn’t previously existed, catalyzing networks of sustainable CSOs – including the certification of associations of Intermediary Support Organization (ISO) networks in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and three ISOs in Armenia – all meeting auditable criteria for USAID direct funding. ACE partner AKF has similarly worked throughout Central and South Asia and Africa on strengthening CSOs and establishing sustainable certification programs in Pakistan and Kenya. Our ACEP strategy for increasing CSO organizational capacity utilizes a cascading and mentoring methodology whereby the 14 leading CSOs will each train, mentor and network 10 less developed CSOs. Our organizational development tool and process includes a rigorous evaluation of the organization and the provision of capacity building support toward quantifiable organizational improvement. The process emphasizes programmatic and financial sustainability, operational competence and transparency, and expanding the CSO provincial infrastructure. In addition, by synthesizing and institutionalizing Counterpart and AKF CSO certification models in Afghanistan, CSOs will ensure their longer-term credibility with government, the private sector and communities.
  • Support Civil Society Assessment to inform PACE Implementation.
  • Institutionalize CSO Legitimacy and Accountability through Certification – Catalyzing the AICS.
  • Technical Capacity Building of 14 Leading Afghan CSOs and AICS Certification
  • Build Operational and Implementation Capacity of 140 Provincial CSOs
  • Increase CSO Opportunities for Funding Diversification and Financial Sustainability
  • Improve Constituent Engagement Tools and Performance of Partner CSOs

Cross Cutting-gender & youth
Counterpart’s programs around the world are guided by our Gender Integration Operational Guidelines, which closely align with USAID’s Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy. Transformative gender approaches are infused throughout each ACE program objective, which aspires to markedly improve gender equality and women’s access to opportunity in Afghanistan through the media and civil society sectors. While women-led and women-focused CSOs have flourished during the past decade, severe challenges continue to adversely impact their outreach abilities, including: weak organizational capacity, too-wide program focus, personality-driven management, lack of cooperation among organizations, and gender-based societal constraints. ACEP aims to support Afghan CSOs to be the drivers of larger and longer-term social change and positively impact gender relations by not only strengthening women’s organizations and creating specific opportunities for women but also by building the capacity of all civil society organizations to identify and address the different needs and priorities of men, women, boys, and girls throughout project design and implementation.
ACEP is taking a multifaceted approach of: 1) continuing to focus on gender mainstreaming where attention to gender is integrated into the practices, programs and policy advocacy of all partner organizations; 2) delivering assistance specific to women-led organizations and on women’s issues; 3) engaging men and boys in support of women’s issues and greater inclusion in society; and 4) encouraging women’s organizations to expand their focus beyond traditional women’s issues. ACE will also increase women’s visibility and voice within the media sphere through content development by and about women, training women media professionals, supporting women as audiences and participants in the media, increasing women’s access to quality news and information programming via mass media and helping media outlets better target and reach female audiences. ACE has designed qualitative and quantitative gender indicators to measure the anticipated change over time in attitudes toward gender equality, female political participation, gender sensitivity of legislation, portrayal of women in the media, and women’s meaningful participation in the civil society space.
ACE has a comprehensive and innovative approach for working with youth throughout the program. Youth in Afghanistan tend to be more optimistic, ambitious, technology savvy and open to new ideas than their parents and grandparents. At the community level, youth will make up a significant proportion of civic education trainees, service monitors and youth action grantees. As with gender, ACE will “mainstream” youth into most of what we do. In addition, ACE will support leading youth organizations and individuals through training, grants and our hallmark Emerging Leaders Program. ACE will identify and support young people and youth-serving organizations as a primary source of positive future change in Afghanistan. Within the media sphere, ACE will build upon the capacity and networks created through the 2010 Afghan Youth Voices Festivals and continue this as an annual event, with increasing support from and management by local youth CSOs like Youth in Action. Salam Watandar, local radio and TV station initiatives, Pajhwok Afghan News, and the Multi-Media Production Centers will support youth media production and distribution activities. These initiatives will deliver immediate impact in tandem with a commitment to building the long-term capacity of youth to play an active role in society.
While corruption in Afghanistan is obvious and deleterious, past efforts to expose or prevent corrupt practices have been rare. ACE aims to address this challenge through a variety of cross-cutting and direct activities, including: 1) modeling clean and transparent grant-making and program implementation; 2) including anti-corruption messaging and content in all civic education, advocacy and community development trainings and activities; 3) producing news, programs and public messaging aimed at reducing citizen participation in corrupt acts; 4) advocating for laws and a policy framework that reduces corruption; and 5) supporting Afghan CSOs and media outlets in exposing corrupt practices and inept service provision. There is a clear nexus between the quality of journalism and governance. Credible, evidence-based information is an essential public good, without which good governance is unachievable. Media initiatives under ACE that will support good governance include Nai’s courses in investigative reporting, SW’s daily hard-hitting public accountability radio programs such as Your Representative, My Right, and two broad economic and current affairs discussion shows. Lastly, through the Fix-It program, radio audiences will use SMS to highlight parochial problems in their communities (poor road repair, garbage collection, etc.), and these messages will be discussed with local officials on live discussion programs.