The Initiative To Educate Afghan Women Pilots Professional Development Program

Two-semester academic enrichment, professional mentorship and leadership certification program puts outstanding professional women at the center of knowledge transfer from US to Afghan public and private organizations.

PROVIDENCE, RI, Thursday, February 8, 2018 - The Initiative To Educate Afghan Women (The Initiative) is pleased to announce the addition of our new Professional Development Program. The two-semester academic enrichment, professional mentorship and leadership training program has two aims: 1) to promote Afghan professional women as change leaders and advocates within their industries and organizations; and 2) to position Afghan professional women at the center of partnerships that promote the transfer of knowledge from US to Afghan public and private institutions primarily in the areas of government and industry, architecture and engineering, education and healthcare, and media and journalism.

Assessing Our Impact

The Initiative is proud of our fourteen-year history providing 99 Afghan women with undergraduate education at 25 US colleges and universities as well as leadership training and career guidance. In accordance with best governance practices and in anticipation of our Fifteenth Anniversary year (beginning fall semester 2018), The Initiative’s Board of Directors (the Board) last year commissioned an Ad Hoc Committee on Mission and Program (the Committee) to: 1) review the impact of our mission and programs in Afghanistan since 2003; and 2) recommend mission and program enhancements that address current needs of Afghanistan's women leaders. The Committee’s recommendations were informed in large part by Afghan government priorities shared with the US-Afghan Women’s Council by its Honorary Co-Chair Her Excellency First Lady Rula Ghani; critical assumptions and development goals of USAID|Afghanistan’s current four-year transition plan; recent Asia Society Surveys of the Afghan People; and interviews with The Initiative’s alumnae and students as well as other US- and Afghanistan-based public and private organization leaders.

Understanding Current Context

When The Initiative was founded in 2003, only an estimated one million children in Afghanistan (mostly boys) attended school, while women and girls were almost completely excluded from educational opportunities. With the help of significant US and other foreign government and private aid, today more than 9.2 million children are enrolled in school of which 39% are girls, according to the Afghan Ministry of Education. Currently, approximately 9.6 percent of college-age students (around 300,000 students) are enrolled in public and private universities, including around 100,000 women. Although much work remains to increase enrollment numbers of girls and women in basic and higher education in Afghanistan, significant progress has been made since 2003 and stands out as one of Afghanistan's greatest successes in the post-Taliban era. Looking forward, education remains Afghanistan's third largest expenditure after security and infrastructure, inspiring hope that we will see many more outstanding academic achievements by Afghan girls and women coming up through that system like the silver medal winning Afghan Girls Robotics Team and American University of Afghanistan's Class of 2014 valedictorian, Onaba Payab.

Leveraging Past Success

The Initiative measures the efficacy of its mission and programs based on the success of its students and alumnae in employing the US education, leadership training and career guidance acquired through our programs in the service of Afghan people and institutions each summer and after graduation. To support that success, over the past five years, The Initiative has rounded out the academic experience of our US Undergraduate Program with New Student Orientation, Summer Internship in Afghanistan and Leadership Academy programs, which deliver seminars on academic and professional road mapping, cross cultural communications, leadership, diversity and media training, as well as workshops on career planning and development. These programs have proven to be an important catalyst for our students' professional contributions in Afghanistan in the areas of women's health and human rights; public policy and community building; foreign affairs and diplomacy; family services and support; higher and special education; and communications and journalism.

Addressing Future Need

Much like The Initiative’s US Undergraduate Education program, which addressed previously nonexistent higher education opportunities for Afghan women in 2003, our Professional Development Program will address Afghanistan’s current development need for the transfer of knowledge from US to Afghan industries and organizations as well as the needs of increasing numbers of female university graduates and young professional women in Afghanistan seeking to attain or advance to senior positions despite long-entrenched patriarchal and patronage systems. (See the January 9, 2018 New York Times article, Cutting Into Afghan Patronage: A Struggle to Make Government Younger featuring Initiative alumna Adela Raz (Simmons 2008 | Tufts Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy 2010).

Professional Development Program

The Initiative's two-semester Professional Development Program will provide continuing education, professional mentorship and leadership training to outstanding professional women from Afghanistan to position them as change leaders and advocates central to the transfer of knowledge from US to Afghan industries and organizations upon their return to Afghanistan.

Candidate Profile

Candidates for the nine-month Professional Development Program are outstanding professional women currently employed in public and private organizations in Afghanistan in the areas of government and industry, architecture and engineering, education and healthcare, as well as media and journalism.

Recruiting and Admissions

Selected employers wishing to advance their organizations through the transfer of knowledge from US counterparts will be asked to support the candidacy of female employees best positioned to take advantage of the Professional Development Program. Candidates will meet admissions standards similar to our US Undergraduate Program and submit proposals supported by their employers for industry or organizational improvement projects they will lead upon their return to Afghanistan.

Program Components

Throughout the program, students will further design and develop their projects with implementation plans assisted by academic advisors, professional mentors, and leadership coaches to ensure the subject matter, professional and leadership expertise they gain in our program positions them as leaders and agents of change in their industries and organizations when they return. Components of the current US Undergraduate and new Professional Development Programs are similar consisting of:

  • New Student Orientation

  • Undergraduate or Academic Enrichment/Continuing Education

  • Summer- or Semester-long Internships in Afghanistan and the US

  • Leadership Academy at Georgetown University CCHD

  • Post-Program Project Implementation Support in Afghanistan


The Initiative will pilot its Professional Development Program at the start of fall semester of the 2019-2020 academic year. Program curriculum, administration, funding and partnership development with academic, Afghan and US employment partners began at the start of spring semester of the current academic year.

Questions regarding the Professional Development Program may be directed to Christian Wistehuff, Executive Director at cwistehuff@ieaw.

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