Building a World Voice for Afghan Women

Building a World Voice for Afghan Women

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Since 1995, the Afghan Institute of Learning has empowered Afghan women-first with literacy and education, then teaching computer skills, and now with world-wide access through the internet.

About You
Afghan Institute of Learning
Visit website
Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name


Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


Organization Name

Afghan Institute of Learning

Organization Phone

in U.S.: 313-278-5806

Organization Address

c/o CHI, P.O. Box 1058, Dearborn, MI 48121

Organization Country
How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, XX

What makes your idea unique?

In 1995, there were millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. The Taliban in Afghanistan forbid women from receiving any education. Most Afghans were illiterate, and there were few options for formal education for women in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) opened schools for women and girls in Pakistan, and supported 80 underground schools for females in Afghanistan. The primary goals of AIL were to offer opportunities for Afghan women to become literate, and offer skills that would allow women to earn an income. AIL knew that in order for Afghan women to be able to communicate with their sisters in cyberspace, they would have to first be able to read and write.
Early on, AIL recognized the importance of computers. In Pakistan, AIL was one of the first non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to offer computer training. When AIL opened Gawhar Shad University in Pakistan for secondary education, Computer Science became one of three educational tracks for students to obtain a degree.
As AIL grew and moved into Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, offices were set up in Kabul and Herat. All AIL offices offered computer training; many literate Afghan women and government officials participated in these classes. Many Educational Learning Centers (ELCs) were established in rural areas. Literacy and work skills (such as Tailoring) were offered in all ELC’s, and those with electricity developed computer training classes as well.
Through several grants, AIL has been able to obtain newer computers, train teachers, and in some cases buy generators to make electricity for IT classes. The newest innovation is purchasing satellite dishes with monthly service fees for AIL offices and one ELC that allows reliable access to the Internet.
Within a few years, Afghan women have gone from being illiterate to communicating with other women world-wide. AIL’s systematic approach, combining literacy with technology, has allowed this.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

Since 1995, AIL has trained 16,000 teachers in pedagogy, work skills and health topics, and nearly 3.5 million students have benefitted from this teacher training. AIL has supported a total of 315 Education Learning Centers (ELCs), providing education to over 234,000 women and children. The goal with AIL support of an ELC is eventual self-sufficiency and 90% of AIL’s ELCs have achieved self-sufficiency.
In 2009, there were 22,765 students in AIL supported schools and Educational Learning Centers, with the majority being Afghan women and girls. Participation in literacy classes has been steadily in decline each year, as Afghans learn to read and then move on to advanced classes, such as computer training. In 2009, 2,759 AIL students attended computer training classes and over 200 students had completed their university degree in computer science.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

Afghanistan is an Islamic republic whose population is approximately 32 million. Women in Afghanistan are an estimated 48.8% of the total population.
Adult literacy fell in Afghanistan from 28.7 % in 2003 to 23.5 % in 2005. Only 23.5 % of the population 15 and older can read and write. More shocking, only an estimated 12.6 % of women are literate, compared to 32.4 % of men.
Many Afghan cities and towns are rural; the majority of these have either no or limited electricity. It is culturally inappropriate for females to interact on certain levels with males, and females often have to obtain permission from male family members to go to school or work.
For Afghan women to express their thoughts and opinions in a world forum via the web, the first step was literacy. Then an introduction to computers and the necessary technological training is necessary, including such basics as keyboarding. THEN these women need access to a place where the required technology is available- newer computers that have the speed to process graphics and html coding, and internet access. In modern countries, internet access is a given. In Afghanistan, it is both expensive and a rare commodity.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. What might prevent that success?

AIL was one of the first non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Pakistan to offer computer training.
When AIL created the Gawhar Shad University in Pakistan for secondary education, Computer Science became one of three educational tracks for students to obtain a degree.
All three AIL offices (including Pakistan) offer computer training; for Afghan women and government officials.
Educational Learning Centers (ELCs) have been established in rural and outlying areas. Those ELCs with electricity have offered computer training classes.
AIL has been able to: obtain additional newer computers, train teachers, buy generators to make electricity, purchase satellite dishes and pay for monthly Internet service fees.
Women from AIL are participating online with, a website that looks at global issues through the eyes of women.
AIL is currently working with New Global Citizens to arrange communication with Afghan and American high school students.
Within a few years, Afghan women have gone from being illiterate to communicating with other women world-wide. AIL’s systematic approach combining literacy with technology has allowed this.

Our biggest challenge is funding. We have the funds to maintain our programs, but would need additional funds to expand. There are still many thousands of women who have no resources and are not being served.

Lack of electricity and lack of access to the internet in many parts of Afghanistan are other obstacles to expanding AIL’s computer program.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

Through AIL, tens of thousands of Afghan women and girls have learned to read. Many have gone on to higher levels of education. Many have become teachers and continue the education cycle.
Many have learned skills to earn an income, such as tailoring or computer technology. Government workers have taken AIL computer classes to advance their careers.

A good example of the impact of AIL’s integrated approach is the Jabreel ELC. AIL started supporting this educational learning center November 2004 with 485 existing students. There were basic classes in literacy, sewing and English. By June 2009, Jabreel had 1080 students with 3 computer classes and 7 literacy classes. Now Jabreel has women participating in online discussions with other women.
Atifa, an accountant at AIL, had this to share at “Afghan women are powerful- if they want they can change their life by seeking good education. An educated woman will reach to her real place. If she is a mother her children will respect her … If she is a sister, she is seeking peace and dignity for her brothers … My Hope is that Afghan women could play their role in building up an Islamic Society by getting education.”

In the first year we expect that at least 20,000 additional women and children will receive education and that at least 10% of them will have computer training and at least 2 more Centers will have a computer center available.

In the second year we expect that at least 20,000 additional women and children will receive education and that at least 15% of them will have computer training and at least 2 more Centers will have a computer center available.

In the third year we expect that at least 20,000 additional women and children will receive education and that at least 20% of them will have computer training and at least 2 more Centers will have a computer center available.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?


If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

Approximately 150 words left (1200 characters).

What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your innovation

Working with the Afghan government is integral to the successful growth of our projects. Many government employees do not know how to use computers and need to learn how to use them for their jobs. AIL has consistently offered training to government employees, particularly women, which allows the employees to do their job more effectively and to rise in the ministry that they work for.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

More than 90% of AIL's funding comes from grants from non-profits, foundations, or private donations.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

In the early 1990s, after completing my masters degree in the U.S., I returned Pakistan to work with my people in the refugee camps. My heart broke as I saw the plight of Afghan children who were only barely surviving with little or no access to education. But, the children were so eager to learn and so bright. Here I had just come from a country where most people, even then, had computers and all had access to education. I knew that in the future all would have to know how to use computers. It was the future. But first Afghan children had to be educated and be healthy so that they could learn. It was then that I determined to do whatever I could to provide education for Afghan children and also women and men who had had not opportunity to study because of the years of war. I knew that first they had to learn to read and write, but I was determined that once they had become literate, that Afghans would also have an opportunity to learn how to use computers. AIL was one of the first Afghan NGOs to have computers in its offices and to train its staff in the use of computers. After the staff learned, we then opened a computer center in our office so that we could offer computer training. We charged fees for those who could afford it and we gave scholarships to those who couldn’t. We offered computer training to the top students, particularly girls, in the high schools. That was the beginning and that is the pattern that we have followed since then.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

Dr. Sakena Yacoobi is Executive Director and founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning. Established to provide education and health services to women and children, AIL now provides services to 350,000 Afghans annually by working at the grassroots level. Sakena’s vision of a healthier Afghanistan evolved after watching her mother give birth to 15 children, only to have 5 children survive. AIL was the first organization to offer human rights and leadership training to Afghan women and first to open Women’s Learning Centers—a concept now copied by many organizations throughout Afghanistan. Dr. Yacoobi has received multiple awards and honors, including becoming an Ashoka Fellow. Recent awards include the Gleitsman Award and the Henry R. Kravis Award for Leadership. Sakena has also

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Email from Changemakers

If through another source, please provide the information
Does your project address any of the following barriers to women’s technology access and use?

Economic or institutional constraints, Women’s lack of involvement in the technology development process.

If you checked any of the boxes above, please explain how.

AIL provides educational opportunities to women in their Centers at no cost and when there's no electricity, AIL finds ways to obtain electricity through generators.

AIL first teaches women how to read and write and then offers them English classes and then trains them in how to use computers.

Does your project involve women in one or more of the following stages of the technology lifecycle? Identification of the problem the technology will solve:

Technology training.

If you checked any of the boxes above, please explain how you will ensure women’s involvement in each relevant phase of the technology lifecycle.

Where possible, we use trainers who are females.

If women are a focus of your project, how did this focus evolve?

The project focused on women from its conception..

Which type of women will your project reach directly?

Rural, Peri-urban, Urban, Low income, Middle income.

In what ways does your project team/leadership involve women?

It is led by a woman/women., It is led by a woman/women from a developing country., The core project team includes women., The core project team includes women from developing countries..

Has your organization formed any new partnerships in response to this challenge? If so, with what type/s of organization/s?

Non-profit/NGO/community-based organization, Government.

Has your project leadership had prior experience with the following?

Working with women, Working with technologies, Working to increase women's economic empowerment through technology, Working on innovation.