Securing Businesses and Jobs Amid a Dual Crisis in Northern Afghanistan

October 20, 2020


Milk collection center, Northern Afghanistan. ILO 2017.

The global pandemic, coupled with an increase in violence and attacks, is pushing Afghanistan to the brink of poverty and insecurity[1].  Last spring, with cases spreading like wildfire, the government closed down its borders and called for a lockdown in major cities to reduce the pressure on a weak healthcare system and containing the spread of the virus among a highly vulnerable population already affected by a conflict that has lasted a generation.

With a business climate in freefall, the ILO Road to Jobs project, a market systems development project that seeks to generate more and better jobs in Northern Afghanistan, started to closely monitor its partner companies to understand how to better support them during this dual crisis. The challenges were numerous: dairy companies couldn’t order packaging from their usual Iranian suppliers; a logistics and transport start-up had to stop its operations across the country due to a lack of demand; export-driven carpet weaving businesses had international orders and tradeshows cancelled; while business development services providers had to stop face-to-face training activities. These broad challenges put these micro and small firms at risk and threatened the sustainability of the results achieved by the project to date.

Road to Jobs followed the principles of adaptive management and decided to strategically pivot their delivery model to respond to the emerging needs and challenges faced by their partners and help them address the blockages. Through regular exchanges with companies and other market actors, the project team helped these businesses adapt their business models to navigate and stay afloat during the crisis, as well as integrate new hygienic measures and social distancing it the workplace. For example, the project supported dairy companies to adopt new occupational health and safety measures (protective equipment, shift rotations) such that they could continue to commercialize their dairy products. The transport and logistics start-up was able to resume its activity by diversifying and expanding its client base to other agribusinesses in the country. The carpet weaving businesses decided to slow-down the pace of production to keep most of their female carpet weavers employed while meeting client demands and scoping for new buyers in different markets.

To date, none of the 25 project-supported companies had to cease operation and despite the limitations on project delivery, the team has been able to generate new partnerships with businesses that are keen to try new ways of working.

Looking ahead, Road to Jobs will continue to support companies in addressing emerging challenges, securing the jobs and livelihoods for those who need them most. 

Read more on this project: Doing more business and less aid: The journey of a market system development project in Afghanistan


[1] See UNAMA special report June 2020.