The USAID-funded Agriculture, Rural Investment and Enterprise Strengthening (ARIES) program provided expanded access to rural financial services, primarily in Alternative Livelihoods Program (ALP) regions. The program was designed to create a strong private sector foundation for a rural finance system capable of providing a full spectrum of financial services on a sustainable basis. ARIES addressed the lack of access to financial services in rural Afghanistan at the micro level (households, microenterprises and smallholder farms) as well as the growing demand for finance from primarily agriculture-based small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and larger businesses.
ACDI/VOCA drew upon its experience in creating and managing wholesale, retail, rural and SME financial institutions to establish a financial institution that is appropriate for the Afghan context. We have a financially viable business model that builds upon lessons learned in establishing financial institutions in challenging environments and that provides support and post-project assistance and stability for the institution.
In February 2007, ACDI/VOCA founded an Afghan-registered limited liability nonprofit financial institution, Afghan Rural Finance Company (ARFC). ACDI/VOCA prepared the bylaws, hired and trained staff, appointed the board of directors, which comprised Afghan and U.S. nationals, and developed internal policies and procedures to ensure sound and efficient lending operations. The mission of the institution is to encourage investment in the rural economy of Afghanistan and to support economic and social development by serving the credit needs of small, medium and large enterprises in the rural cities and communities where they reside and conduct business.
In April 2008, the rural finance center changed its legal status to a limited liability for-profit nonbanking financial institution. With this step in its development, ARFC was able to maintain its socially minded mission while increasing its effectiveness and operational sustainability by taking advantage of the business avenues opened to it with its for-profit status.
In December 2009, ARFC became a standalone company with over $17 million in capital owned and managed by ACDI/VOCA. Today, ARFC is one of the few financial institutions in Afghanistan that provides loans to small and medium-sized Afghan-owned and -operated enterprises, and plays an important role in the economic development of the country. With a portfolio of $7.7 million, ARFC provides loans that range from $20,000 to $500,000 or more for terms up to 36 months. ARFC is currently managed and run by an Afghan national team. As the shareholder, ACDI/VOCA provides supervision and control at the board of directors level and technical assistance at the operational level.