Innovative Approaches to Community Development in Afghanistan: Well-Being Analysis

By: Christopher James Wahoff and Ahmad Shaheer Shahriar[1]   

In conflict-affected contexts, such as Afghanistan, local communities are often isolated from the direct and reliable support of the central government. In conflict, the perceived lack of support from the central government can damage its relationship with communities and exacerbate underlying grievances throughout its territory. Concerted efforts from multiple national administrations beginning with the National Solidarity Program (NSP) to the current Citizens’ Charter Afghanistan Project (CCAP), which receives funding through the support of the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund's (ARTF) 34 donor countries and organizations[2], have responded to this dynamic through the implementation of community-driven development plans informed by innovative tools, such as the Public Resources Map, Well-being Analysis, and other participatory planning methods. The current CCAP program not only recognizes that Afghanistan has suffered from chronic instability and conflict during its modern history, leaving the country’s economy and infrastructure in ruin, but it also provides innovative pathways for communities to promote inclusive development on their terms. 

To prepare their community development plans, each of the current 13,005 (12,155 rural and 850 urban) community development councils (CDCs) take part in the Well-being Analysis and other participatory community-driven exercises. These exercises are meant to provide a nuanced understanding of each community’s economic and social relations from the bottom-up, with a focus on seasonal hunger, indebtedness, poor wages, lack of access to health services and education, among others. The sequential exercises and analyses not only emphasize understanding the key dimensions of poverty, but also how poor families experience poverty in each community.

To better understand underlying socio-economic dynamics, each community is led by professionally-trained social organizers hired by the national government to conduct a Well-being Analysis with men and women representatives of 60 percent of all households. During the Well-Being Analysis, the community systematically explores each household’s economic and social conditions, thereby promoting a greater understanding of the specific hardships that poor and very poor households face. Members of the community gather to sort and place all village households in a list from wealthiest to those with the lowest income to identify the community’s income distribution and socio-economic needs.










The analysis also identifies and records data on vulnerable population groups within the community’s members, including internally displaced persons (IDPs), people with disabilities, female-headed households, and the elderly. As a result, the analysis not only elucidates economic relationships between wealthier community members, the poor (e.g. taking loans or advanced wages), and the very poor, but also provides important data for the national government in its identification of vulnerable populations and targeting these populations for investment. In most communities, this is the first opportunity members have had to identify and understand the needs of these vulnerable populations with respect to their own position in the community. As a result, the exercise has been shown to create greater awareness of vulnerable groups and situations of extreme poverty, while also enhancing solidarity among community members and targeted corrective actions to support low income households.

In the case of the Salih Khan community in the Kandahar Province, residents were reluctant to recognize the social and economic differences in their community. According to the participants, there were no social differences as the community’s members stood beside one another in times of need; however, following the Well-being Analysis, the participants realized the level of need from the local “poor” and “very poor” households. The community further realized that government support was distributed evenly among all households, including those identified as relatively wealthy and middle-class through the Well-being Analysis. Based on this information, the community members agreed to differentially invest future resources in the households identified as “poor” and “very poor.”

In light of the current peace talks in Qatar, one of the greatest opportunities to promote buy-in and greater cohesion is the continued technical and financial support provided by CCAP and other community-driven efforts that allow for broad participation in Taliban-controlled, contested, and government-controlled areas. In an interview with one of the CDCs during the Well-being analysis in Mazar City in the Balkh province, the chairperson, Mr. Abdul Qadir explained, “[t]o say truly we had lost hope from the government, national and local institutions, which was the main reason of taking distance from them and hating them, but Citizens Charter built our trust and believe in the government since the program began its activities and fulfilled its promises. Now we consider ourselves part of the government and we work together with government through the Citizen’s Charter to upgrade our roads.” He added, “If the government takes one step to get closer to us, we will take ten steps towards the government.” Now, more than ever, the Afghan people need the government to continue fulfilling its promise through CCAP so that communities across the country take ten steps closer, promoting stronger governance and improved local development from the ground up.

[1] The authors thank Luiza Nora, Brigitta Bode, Baktash Musawer, Maiwand Abrahimsai, and Moujeeb Rahman for their invaluable inputs and guidance. 

[2] The ARTF is a multi-donor trust fund administered by the World Bank Group on behalf of 34 current and past donors, including: Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the European Commission, Finland, Germany, India, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. The ARTF provides on-budget financing to support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan through its Ministry of Finance and is the largest single source of such funding to the Government.