No more standard programming: economic development in fragile settings. Lessons from Afghanistan

Giulia Minoia and Urs Schrade

Type: Afghanistan, Policy paper

Organisation: AREU

Country: Afghanistan

Date: 24/04/2018

Full summary

This policy paper provides some key lessons from Afghanistan that international cooperations should take into account when undertaking economic development in the context of protracted conflict.


Building on five qualitative case studies on economic life and markets in Afghanistan, the publication summarises lessons we can learn from observing the outcomes of more than 15 years of international intervention. On this basis, the authors formulate recommendations on what development agencies should do differently in the country. Lessons from Afghanistan and the according policy recommendations also frame the backdrop for general suggestions regarding what international development agencies should take into account when undertaking economic development in fragile settings.



The evidence suggest three major factors must be taken into account to understand economic development in Afghanistan: 


  1. Development actors need to accept that Afghanistan’s economy works according to different rules
  2. Development actors need to understand how Afghan markets work in practice, in order to shape new programmatic models for economic development
  3. Development actors need to complement standard economic development approaches that address constraints rooted in social norms, obligations and relationships of trust.


The paper concludes with three implications for decision-makers:


  1. Team up early, invest in understanding the rules of the game and translate them in feasible programming
  2. Supplement standard economic development approaches with tools that address social barriers to economic opportunities and test them in the field
  3. Engage with institutions for what they do rather than for what they resemble.