In this interview, Dr. Ashraf Ghani discussed his role as Minister of Finance throughout the implementation of Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Program (NSP). The interview highlighted the immense challenges faced by the Transition Government in a country decimated by war, drought, and a very large refugee and displaced population. After 24 years away from the country, Dr. Ghani returned to Afghanistan in order to assist in rebuilding the nation. Throughout the interview, he stressed the importance of design thinking as unique from project implementation. Restructuring the government required innovative thinking that incorporated the preferences and opinions of all Afghani citizens including the most impoverished rural populations and women, two segments of society traditionally excluded from the decision making process. Additionally, he explained how this approach was revolutionary and challenging for the new government and NGOs who had previously operated in a more patronizing capacity perceiving rural Afghans as recipients rather than agents of change. Dr. Ghani emphasized the notion that villagers should set their own priorities and have the same rights and obligations as the populations from more urban and prosperous regions. Furthermore, he discussed the challenges of scalability for such a program and the need to mobilize the existing capabilities to areas of poverty and exclusion. The interview concluded with advice for others looking to implement similar national development projects in similarly devastated environments.
Dr. Ashraf Ghani was born in Afghanistan in 1949 to an influential political family. As a young man, Dr. Ghani studied at the American University in Beirut earning his first degree in 1973. He returned to Afghanistan in 1974 to teach Afghan studies and Anthropology at Kabul University before he won a grant to pursue a Master’s degree in Anthropology at Columbia University in New York. After he left Afghanistan in 1977, pro-Soviet forces came to power and most of the male-members of his family were imprisoned. Despite his intentions to return to Afghanistan after two years, due to the political state of the country, he remained in the US and received a Ph.D. He taught at University of California, Berkeley until 1983 and then at Johns Hopkins University from 1983 to 1991. Thereafter he joined the World Bank as its lead anthropologist serving as an adviser on the human dimension of economic programs. During his ten years at the World Bank, he worked in China, India, and Russia managing large-scale development and institutional transformation projects. After the September 11th attacks and the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, Dr. Ghani was asked to serve as an adviser to the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Afghanistan. During that time, he worked on the design, negotiation and implementation of the Bonn Agreement, which outlined the transition to a new government. During Afghanistan’s Transitional Administration, Dr. Ghani served as the Finance Minister and is credited with designing and implementing some of the most challenging and thorough reforms. In 2004, he declined to join the newly elected Government; however he remained an influential voice in both Afghanistan and abroad.