The View from Kabul

I have spent the last two weeks working for the International City-County Management Association (ICMA) in Kabul, Afghanistan, on the Capacity Building and Change Management Program (CBCMP) in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL).  As with any national program, part of the challenge is mastering a blizzard of acronyms.

Many of the problems MAIL is wrestling with are common to most organizations, including some that are similar to what we face at the City of Albany.  The primary difference is that MAIL employs nearly 10,000 people spread across the country while we have fewer than 400 located mostly within the city limits.  The capacity building program I’m involved with is providing training on planning, performance measurement, process improvement, and organizational structure, as well as coaching and mentoring of civil service employees.  More than 200 skilled Afghan professionals have been hired to be Change Management Specialists (CMS) by the project to work directly with MAIL civil service employees.

During my first week, I spent time developing some simple handouts to be used in training sessions on performance measurement.  Some of the training material I’ve seen here seems too complex, even for organizations like the City that have invested many years in developing performance measures.  I have also participated in several training sessions where my CBCMP colleagues and I have talked about strategic planning and performance measurement scorecards.  Most of this training has been directed toward the project’s Change Management Specialists, who are then responsible for sharing and helping to implement changes within their departments. 

I was able to visit Jalalabad during my second week and met with our CMSs as well as the director of the provincial Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL).  Our employees included a CMS with a master’s degree from Purdue University and several well-educated, articulate young professionals.  Not surprisingly, the DAIL director was very complimentary of the CMSs assigned to his directorate.  The evidence of their impact was visible during a tour of a demonstration project where the DAIL is showing local farmers the best practices for raising a variety of crops that included tomatoes, cabbage, strawberries, and flowers.

I’ve had discussions with a number of Afghan employees who feel that most of the world has a wrong impression of their country.  They rightly point out that most people go about their business normally and that episodes of violence are no more frequent here than in many other parts of the world.  I sat next to a young man from Detroit, Michigan, on my flight into Kabul; and he said he felt more secure in Afghanistan than he did at home.  I can’t say that because Albany seems like a very safe place to me and I don’t recall routinely seeing people with automatic weapons scattered throughout the city.  There are real dangers here, but there is also a growing prosperity and a sense of change for the better.

Tomorrow I will be helping with an orientation for new employees, something I do in Albany but will be missing this month.  I’m enjoying the experience here, and I’m learning lessons that I think I can apply at home.  I hope my contributions to the project justify the expense of sending me here and will play a small role in helping to build administrative capacity.