By Colin B. Guard
The conference took place virtually, as did the preparation. Nevertheless, the results were real, and so was the team that made it happen.
The “A Team,” the Department of State’s Office of Afghanistan Affairs (SCA/A), recently took on the challenge of coordinating U.S. participation in the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, which resulted in international pledges of more than $3.3 billion in assistance in 2021 and a renewed global commitment to Afghanistan’s future as a peaceful, stable, and self-reliant country.
The conference was initially planned as an entirely in-person event to be held in Geneva but transitioned just days before to a fully virtual format due to the impact of COVID-19 travel restrictions. On short deadlines, SCA/A coordinated with other bureaus, posts, agencies, and donor countries to organize Department participation, ensuring U.S. policy equities were addressed. The need to engage with three co-hosts—Afghanistan, Finland, and the United Nations—made things even more challenging. In the process, the team learned that online tools enabling staff to telework during a pandemic also make it possible to utilize talent across time zones. During the conference, Embassy Kabul and a Mission China-based domestic employee teleworking overseas (DETO) participated first during early morning Washington working hours and then seamlessly handed the baton over to the Washington team. Colleagues in Geneva quietly bridged the organizational issues with the co-hosts in the background throughout the day.
The Office of Global Social Media in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs provided a crucial assist by producing a pre-recorded video of then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s address to attendees, which Under Secretary David Hale introduced in livestreamed remarks.
In all, 66 countries and 32 international organizations came together to reaffirm international support for Afghanistan, setting expectations for how their assistance will be used to support peace, reduce corruption, improve good governance, and promote human rights.
Colin B. Guard is a public diplomacy desk officer in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.