Alum Works Toward Afghanistan's Democratic Transition
On April 5, 2014, approximately seven million Afghan citizens turned out to vote in the country's first presidential election since Hamid Karzai took power a decade before. The election, and its subsequent runoff vote on June 14, marked the first peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history. For many Afghans and outside observers alike, the elections -- although fraught with barriers from violence to illiteracy -- were a signal of progress.
“Seeing long lines of voters on election day was very moving, especially given the violent attacks that preceded the election and the threats of violence on election day,” said Jean-Marc Gorelick (M.A. ’09), who served as a senior elections advisor in Kabul with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the year leading up to the elections. “Afghans defied threats and bravely took to the polls in record numbers. It was a moment of national pride for the country.”
Jean-Marc, a graduate of the Elliott School’s International Development Studies program, spent his tour in Afghanistan with USAID working toward this moment. His efforts supported domestic and international election observation, Afghanistan’s National Election Commission, and civil society organizations focused on civic education.
“First-time candidates often lack the skills needed to campaign effectively,” wrote Jean-Marc in an online post for USAID. “Funds to produce materials can be hard to come by. And, in a country still confronting challenges from those who prefer rage over renewal, many candidates have had their lives threatened.”
One of Jean-Marc’s projects aimed to expand women’s political participation in the country by providing training to female candidates. He helped USAID run a “campaign school” in November 2013. The five-day workshops, which covered topics from conducting a campaign to fundraising, provided training for 290 of Afghanistan’s 308 female provincial council candidates.
After the dust settled, Afghan women won 21 percent—or 97 of 458—of the available seats.
“None of the formidable challenges seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of extraordinary Afghan women determined to be valued and included in a democratic Afghanistan,” wrote Jean-Marc.
Now, Jean-Marc hopes to apply some of the lessons he learned in Afghanistan to a new environment. After his tour there concluded in August 2014, Jean-Marc moved to Cambodia, where he will spend the next four years working on democracy and governance development projects. For him, the Foreign Service offers a unique opportunity for personal and professional growth.
“If you love to learn, this is the perfect job. As soon as you master one set of skills, you move on to the next assignment for an entirely new experience,” said Jean-Marc. “But, most importantly, your work makes a difference in people’s lives.”