Rebuilding Afghanistan's civil service

After decades of war, extremism and occupation, Afghanistan's civil service is in dire need of help. A United Nations fellowship program has been pitching in with leadership and expertise.

By Natalie Dawes
March 2015


Afghanistan and Japan are separated by thousands of kilometers and several generations when it comes to development. But an enduring commitment from the Prefecture of Hiroshima to support peace and rebuilding after the devastation of conflict has brought them together.

That commitment is also one of the reasons that the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) chose to run its Fellowship for Afghanistan program from Japan. The program arose from the need to rebuild Afghanistan’s civil service, which was devastated by decades of war, the extreme rule of the Taliban and foreign occupation. Over the past 13 years, the fellowship has evolved to meet the needs of the participants and the country.

Lorne Jaques, associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work and one of the program’s founders, travelled to Hiroshima last month to act as an international adviser for the current cohort of Fellows. He’s had a number of different roles over the years — all of them volunteer — and the Fellows are one of the main reasons he keeps going back.

“They have such a sense of pride and joy for being Afghani,” explains Jaques. “It is powerfully rewarding to work with a group of highly competent, motivated and curious people.”

The fellows include senior government officials, academics, professionals and community leaders. They come from a wide variety of sectors including finance, infrastructure, health and agriculture. To get into the program, they go through a rigorous application and interview process. fellows then spend seven months with about 60 colleagues in a series of online and face-to-face classes and workshops. Face-to-face workshops take place in Kabul, Dubai and Hiroshima.

Fellowship encourages continuous learning

The fellowship has a number of built-in layers to reinforce the concepts and encourage continuous learning. Outstanding fellows are invited back to be further trained as coaches and local resource persons for the next cohort. These graduates play a critical role in contextualizing the training for the constantly changing realities in Afghanistan.

The program’s international advisers come from across the world and a variety of backgrounds, including business, management, health care, development, education and engineering. They develop and provide the course content. Over the years, Calgary has become a very strong source for advisers. In fact, Jaques believes that there have been more advisers from Calgary, many of them from the university, than anywhere else.

For the most recent cohort, Jaques led sessions on leadership, highlighting social capital and stakeholder analysis, all focused on building community in the workplace and in a country that remains heavily dependent upon foreign development investment. His main message to the fellows was that, “it is not about the glory of leadership, but rather on the facilitation of a service mindset when it comes to rebuilding the civil service, communities and a country.”

Jaques speaks from experience. In addition to his academic work, he led the UNITAR New York office for two years and served in more than 30 low- and middle-income countries in a wide range of roles.


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