Ambassador Mohib: How Afghanistan’s Citizens’ Charter is Using Technology to Bridge Social Divides

Afghan Ambassador to the United States Hamdullah Mohib has told an international gathering of policy and data professionals how Afghanistan’s new Citizens’ Charter program is harnessing technology to deliver basic services and reconnecting Afghans around the world with their roots at the same time.

The Ambassador was a featured speaker on February 22 at the Data Revolution for Policy Makers international conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, which was hosted by Pulse Lab Jakarta.

The conference brought together international experts to discuss how new ways of analyzing and sourcing data can be used to provide better services for the public.

Discussions revolved around issues related to big data and real-time analysis techniques for planning, monitoring and evaluating social development policies.

In his remarks, Ambassador Mohib spoke of the central importance of technology in today’s world, but also of the social isolation it has helped create. He said although social media and the Internet have contributed the cultural and social divide between rural and urban populations, technology can bring people together when used the right way.

The focus of his talk was Afghanistan’s new Citizens’ Charter – the Afghan government’s first attempt after 40 years of war, displacement and violence to “reinvent the social contract … by promising the people that our government will not be a code for corruption among the elites, violence, and fear, but a partner to the people.”

Read his full speech here.

 Reconfiguring Citizen Digital Engagement in Afghanistan

Data Revolution for Policy Makers, International Conference 2017

February 22

Hamdullah Mohib, Afghan Ambassador to the United States

Self-identity – that very personal sense of how we understand ourselves and how we see ourselves in relation to the rest of the world – is an often overlooked but deeply important concept.

I say, “overlooked,” because for many people, their self-identity has become a casualty of our rapidly evolving and ever more globalized world.

And this loss of identity has led to a sense of panic.

Good decisions are rarely made in a state of panic. This fact helps explain why we have seen so many people racing headlong to grab onto anything that can replace that lost sense of identity.

Something that will make them feel like they have a place in this world, a place where they belong: maybe it’s their ethnicity, race or even an extremist ideology.

In this pursuit, technology is an enabler.

As a result, we are faced with the irony that although our world is incredibly interconnected, the human race is the most tribal it has ever been in modern history.

The biggest divide has occurred between urban and rural populations. Cities have become humming oases of modernity that run at a pace most rural and suburban dwellers find inhumane. Residents of cities have created their own distinct cultures that isolate them even more from non-urbanites.

In addition to our sense of self, a second casualty of the globalized, computerized age has been our sense of empathy.

Technology may allow us to communicate and connect with others more easily, but there is no emoji for empathy. And there is no app for acceptance of others – which we need a lot more of in this world.

We have so many friends online, but they remain just that – online. They don’t translate to real friendships in real life. We have different expectations for happiness – how many likes we get, how many stars we rate, how many followers we accumulate. We are surrounded by people and consumed by our interactions with others but we still feel alone.

The places we used to go to find a slower pace and peace of mind – in the countryside and rural towns and villages – have become unfamiliar to us. And the people who live there seem irrelevant to our busy lives in cities. Little wonder that rural populations — which account for the largest share of people in the world — feel ignored and mocked. Technological connectivity, both virtually and in terms of mobility, has exacerbated the divide.

All this mutual displeasure has created a burning desire for change – but what kind of change? It remains largely undefined, although it sounds logical: Something feels wrong so something must change.

Empowered by technology and connectivity millions of people have mobilized to bring about undefined change. Politicians have stumbled on a new political currency, a new path to power: they tell us they know what ails us – and only they know how to fix it.

So we elect leaders who seem to understand our pain, even when we don’t ourselves.

We throw out governments without first setting our expectations for the next one.

The result? Havoc, further despair, anger, more isolation and loneliness. We blame social media — Twitter and Facebook — for their power to bring down governments but their inability to build them. We watch as traffickers of evil exploit these same tools and achieve their goals faster than we can– or at least that’s how it feels.

So what is the problem? Why aren’t we focusing on repairing the tears in our social fabric?  Do we even know how?

I am here to argue that as much as technology has contributed to what ails us, it can also help fix it.

It is this potential that Afghanistan stands poised to benefit from.

We have figured out a way to use the ease of modern interconnectivity to bring diasporas and city dwellers back in touch with their roots, back to where they come from. They may not share a location but they share something stronger: a common intangible culture – and therein lays a wonderful identity waiting to be reclaimed.

Through technology, no matter where they live, Afghans can choose to participate in and/or fund small, achievable projects that will give them the immediate gratification we have all become so used to, and make them feel part of a shared experience that enriches everyone involved.

I’m talking about Afghanistan’s Citizens’ Charter. What is the Citizens’ Charter? After forty years of war, displacement, and violence, it represents our government’s first attempt to reinvent the social contract. It is a promise to the people that our government will not be a code for corruption among the elites, violence, and fear, but will be a partner to the people. And in return for providing essential services that provide for the development of all citizens, it will receive their trust and be viewed as legitimate in exchange.

How many of us in the developing and even now the developed world are not yearning for this kind of partnership?

The foundation of the Citizen’s Charter is very simple – give every citizen the basic needs in life, give them a voice in setting their priorities instead of having experts tell them what they need, and distribute development funds fairly and in accordance to the needs and will of the society. But its major achievement is creating a bridge between the urban and rural divide.

By connecting Afghans anywhere via an online platform, it sets the stage for our diverse populations to connect and work together — it lets urbanites and diasporas bond over the common goal of developing their communities.

The projects are small enough for donors to closely track the good their money is doing, and close enough to their hearts for them to care and follow personally.

Someone can sit in California and help their community in Ghazni province in Afghanistan build a small off-grid solar power plant that will light up the whole community – the community where they still belong – and in this way, know that they have helped children there be able to read books at night and assisted its people in building an economy.

So not only will the Citizens’ Charter program harness technology to directly improve people’s lives, it will also bring people together, encourage empathy and create micro-identities – and through all that, foster the creation of an interdependent global Afghan family.

If this works as we intend it to, and succeeds on the scale we hope it will, Afghanistan’s Citizen Charter should be studied and emulated around the world.

We cannot build a more prosperous world without bringing up the less fortunate amongst us. We cannot create security if it costs people their identity. We cannot fix the hole in our social fabric until we bring back empathy – the willingness to look at the world through another person’s eyes and understand how they feel and perhaps even what they need.

We may not be able to slow down the pace of globalization or technological advances that are making us ever more dependent on machines, but it is entirely within our power to harness both those forces to work for the good of the human condition and the strength of our societies.

Not just in our power to do so, but also in our best interest.

Thank You!