To establish a reliable and proficient civil society sector in Afghanistan by connecting CSOs, donors, government, and capacity-building services through certification schemes that are culturally suitable. 
Mission and Purpose
The CSOs' Working Group, established in 2017, was a network of AICS-certified CSOs with the goal of enhancing their effectiveness. This was done through fostering continuous and meaningful interaction with civil society stakeholders, creating opportunities for partnerships, and enabling cross-learning and networking. The Working Group conducted an annual meeting while its Steering Committee meets every quarter. In 2018, the group was attended by 46 CSOs, and the topics discussed included mechanisms for increasing cooperation among certified CSOs and their constituencies.[i]
The Core objectives of AICS:
- Certify local organizations against recognized standards
- Coordinate capacity-building initiatives against performance indicators.[ii]
[i]Afghanistan Institute For Civil Society (AICS) official website page: https://aicsafg.org/
Origins and Development
The idea of establishing the Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society (AICS) has been evolving for several years within the country's civil society community. In 2007, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Aga Khan Development Network, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, and the Asia Development Bank organized the Enabling Environment Conference to discuss ways to create a favourable environment for such an institute.
One of the main recommendations made at the conference was to establish independent certification bodies for civil society organizations that the Government would recognize, the private sector, donor agencies, and civil society. In 2010, a working group comprising donors, civil society networks, and INGOs was created. The working group developed the vision, mission, and strategic objectives of the Afghanistan Independent Civil Society Organization (AICS). AICS was established by the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in partnership with Counterpart International under the USAID-funded Afghanistan Civic Engagement Program (ACEP) in 2014. The long-term goal of AICS was to enable CSOs to realize their potential in support of the development of Afghanistan. This initiative was backed by crucial CSO networks, civil society professionals, and representatives from national and international CSOs who have an interest in Afghanistan.[i]
Organizational Structure, Membership, and Funding
The Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society (AICS) became an NGO registered with the Ministry of Economy (MoEc) in 2014 and was officially launched in February 2015. Its long-term goal was to support civil society in Afghanistan and help it realize its potential to contribute to the development of the country. The organization's third Executive Director played a critical role in ensuring its programmatic and organizational success. Being unique and essential to Afghanistan's civil society, the AICS required a competent leader to steer it towards success. [i]In additions, The establishment of the AICS is being supported by the USAID funding.[ii]
[i] Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society. Official Website page: https://easyjoob.com/companies/afghanistan-institute-for-civil-society-aics/
Specializations, Methods and Tools
AICS has made significant contributions to enhancing education in Afghanistan through its multifaceted approach. This approach includes digital learning, capacity building, policy influence, and collaboration. AICS has expertise in conducting thorough assessments of community education, identifying gaps, and understanding specific requirements. It facilitates collaboration with local stakeholders and engages with leaders, teachers, parents, and community members. This builds partnerships and empowers Shuras to manage schools effectively. Furthermore, AICS has the proven expertise to design a flexible and relevant curriculum that addresses the unique needs and challenges of community-based education (CBE), especially alternative learning classes (ALC). AICS can provide comprehensive training to teachers on CBE, driven by years of community-level expertise and contextual needs. Monitoring and evaluation are vital elements in achieving substantial progress, and AICS has relied on this to enhance the capacity of numerous grassroots organizations relevant to education. In addition, AICS has the expertise to lay out mechanisms adaptable to the CBE needs to evaluate the local shura contribution and the entire unplaced system's competency and applicability to achieve the intended progress. With the objective of conducting CBS and ALC classes successfully in Afghanistan, AICS has the potential to make a significant impact.
After assessing various CSOs under its Certification program and analyzing key findings, AICS found that many CSOs require assistance in developing policies for different organizational functions. To help address this need, AICS has created a set of generic policy reference manuals for essential management functions that can be adapted to an organization's internal culture, values, context, and structure. These policy reference manuals/guidebooks have been developed with the aim of strengthening the management of CSOs.[i]
Major Projects and Events
These are the core activities of AICS:
The AICS Certification Program was designed to enhance the effectiveness and credibility of the civil society sector by certifying CSOs against recognized standards, both locally and internationally. From an organizational perspective, civil society is defined as the voluntary association of people in a society. The certification program empowers CSOs to align their policies, processes, structure, programs, and activities with the best international practices, thereby contributing to the growth of a competent, transparent, and effective civil society in Afghanistan.
AICS had the knowledge and skills to significantly contribute to reducing the education gap in Afghanistan, especially in women's education. They established a strong network with NGOs/CSOs nationwide through initiatives such as National Civil Society Week (NCSW) and (SEECA). The DCOP provided e-learning courses and peer-to-peer learning facilities that empower individuals and organizations to develop and refine their skills and knowledge, enabling them to tackle the unique challenges faced in Afghanistan. This created a strong community of sharing and collaboration, increasing the effectiveness and impact of their work. Their innovative approach to blended learning in civil society, which combines in-person training, workshops, and mentorship sessions with impactful e-learning content, has made a lasting impression on member organizations and the overall civic space. With the guidance of Education Advisors, AICS was well-positioned to play a critical role in advancing Afghanistan's National Education system towards sustainability and resilience.
AICS improved the relevance and effectiveness of capacity-building services for Afghan CSOs by coordinating and harmonizing initiatives. Moreover, AICS organized two cross-learning events to assist CSOs interested in applying for certification. The objectives of the events were to foster discussions, exchange ideas, enhance the organizational performance of CSOs, and promote the work of certified CSOs. During the first event, ten representatives of certified and non-certified CSOs from Takhar, Nangarhar, Herat, Paktia, and Kabul provinces discussed the benefits and merits of the certification program. In the second event, AICS-certified CSOs presented and discussed human resources, governance, strategic planning, communications and outreach, and financial management benchmarks. In total, 19 CSOs benefited from these events.
The Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society conducted quarterly Information Sessions for representatives of donors, INGOs and CSOs. These sessions aimed to increase CSOs' access to efficient, quality and relevant capacity-building services. During the sessions, stakeholders discussed the persistent gaps and strengths of CSOs that were assessed through AICS' certification program. This allowed stakeholders to interact, understand and suggest ways forward to strengthen CSOs' capacity in areas such as governance, project management, financial management, communication, and human resource management.
Policy Engagement and Research: AICS Policy Engagement and Research aimed to influence policies, monitor government accountability, and advocate for reforms through effective initiatives. This unit conducted civil society thematic roundtables in provinces and issued policy briefs on relevant civil society issues in Afghanistan.
State of the Enabling Environment for Civil Society in Afghanistan (SEECA): Civil society organizations (CSOs) played a crucial role in development. They complement the efforts of the government, private sector, and donors. AICS recognizes that the enabling environment plays a crucial role in promoting or hindering the effectiveness of civil society. Therefore, AICS has conducted its annual flagship research on the State of the Enabling Environment for CSOs in Afghanistan (SEECA) since 2016. The research examined the legal framework, governance, socio-cultural environment, and financial and security environments in which CSOs operate. It was the responsibility of all actors, including the government, private sector, CSOs, international community, and donors, to enhance the CSO enabling environment. The study provides recommendations based on the research findings, either directly suggested by respondents or corresponding to the challenges CSOs are facing in Afghanistan. AICS has conducted SEECA research in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
Roundtables: AICS organized several thematic roundtables in Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Balkh, Nangarhar, and Bamyan after its establishment. The objective of these roundtables was to bring together civil society activists, media representatives, university lecturers, government officials, and think tank scholars to share their thoughts and ideas regarding the relevant discussions.
Regional Collaboration: Innovation for Change was a growing global network of people and online hubs. The network has regional hubs in Africa, Central Asia, East Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, South Asia, and the Pacific. These hubs serve as a meeting point for individuals and organizations to connect, exchange ideas, and collaborate to find solutions to today's and tomorrow's challenges.
The South Asia Hub of Innovation for Change provides an inclusive and secure space to design ideas for creating an enabling environment for civil society. This was especially relevant in areas where government restrictions impede the ability of civil society organizations to work together and achieve their goals. The Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society hosted the Secretariat of the Innovation for Change South Asia Hub. It coordinated events and activities in the South Asia region to promote the exchange of ideas and foster collaboration amongst organizations.[i]
Analysis and Lessons Learned
In 2019, AICS assessed a total of 34 civil society organizations (CSOs) in Afghanistan, which included 11 large and medium-sized CSOs, as well as 23 grassroots CSOs. In total, 107 CSOs have been assessed so far, and out of these, 57 have successfully obtained the minimum score required for certification and have been conferred with an AICS certificate. In 2019, 15 CSOs were certified, out of which nine were medium-large, and six were grassroots organizations. However, the remaining 19 CSOs were deferred as they were unable to achieve the minimum score required for certification. AICS identified the areas of improvement for these deferred CSOs and hoped to reassess them once they address these gaps during the deferral period.[i]
[i] Afghanistan Institute or Civil Society. 2019. Annual Report. https://aicsafg.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/AICS-AnnualReport-2019-Final.pdf
- Civic Space in Afghanistan: https://aicsafg.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Civic-Space-Afghanistan.pdf
- Impact of Insecurity on CSOs Work: https://aicsafg.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/AICS-Newsletter-03-july-september-2018.pdf
- Youth Space South Asia - Arts Lab for Social Change: https://aicsafg.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/aics-second-quarter-newsletter-apr-jun-18.pdf
- State of Corporate Social Responsibility in Afghanistan: https://aicsafg.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/AICS-CSR-Report-English.pdf
- SEECA Broacher. https://aicsafg.org/research-reports-2/
- National Civic Society Week 2018. https://aicsafg.org/event-reports/
- National Civic Society Week 2019. https://aicsafg.org/event-reports/
 Afghanistan Institute For Civil Society (AICS) official website page: https://aicsafg.org/
 Caroline Takawira and Maxwell Saungweme, (2019) Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society (AICS). Policy and Procedures Manual. https://aicsafg.org/
 USAID. Civic Space in Afghanistan. https://aicsafg.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Civic-Space-Afghanistan.pdf
 Afghanistan Institute or Civil Society. 2019. Annual Report. https://aicsafg.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/AICS-AnnualReport-2019-Final.pdf
 Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society. Official Website page: https://easyjoob.com/companies/afghanistan-institute-for-civil-society-aics/