Post-war reconstruction, policy transfer and the World Bank: the case of Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Programme

This article investigates the role of the World Bank as an agent of international policy transfer in post-war reconstruction and development. A heuristic method which integrates policy transfer network theory, participant observation and implementation analysis is developed and then used to map the process of policy-oriented learning underpinning the emergence and development of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Programme (NSP). Drawing on the findings of a mid-term evaluation conducted by the authors for the World Bank it reveals that initial World Bank funding of the NSP was opportunistic; a voluntary form of policy transfer emerged from a cohesive policy transfer network which mainly drew lessons from the Kecamatan Development Project (KDP) in Indonesia, leading to the development of a culturally insensitive model of community-driven development; but due to the technocratic expertise of key indigenous actors and the technical support of facilitating partners, these elements of the programme were successfully mitigated during operational delivery. It concludes that ‘Rational’ lesson-drawing which avoids the ‘learning paradox’ – learning that leads to inappropriate transfer – can be successful. In other words, lesson-drawing can be a progressive learning activity, but only if the programme is culturally assimilated through comprehensive evaluation and piloting, builds on existing organisational strengths and is transferred by high-quality indigenous knowledge elites. Local solutions must be found to local problems which deliver public value in terms of direct social or economic benefits to the citizenry. Indeed, although development outcomes have been less than impressive, the NSP has delivered significant gains to the Afghan people with regard to institution-building and social solidarity at the national and community levels.