Mustafa Babak and Haris Tarin attribute their motivation to start the Afghan-American Foundation (AAF) in part to a mapping study of the Afghan diaspora in the United States. It painted a vivid picture of the unique makeup, opportunities, and challenges of this community, and coupled with the lack of Afghan-American representation in the country—especially in regards to domestic and foreign policy—Babak and Tarin realized they needed to provide a mechanism for public education and support.
In January 2020, the duo officially started the Afghan-American Foundation, which takes a multi-pronged approach to advance the interests of Afghan-Americans through thought leadership, public education, engagement activities, and policy advocacy. It is led by the Board of Directors, composed of nine members (including Babak and Tarin) who serve in diverse roles including law, community leadership, academics, community mobilization, and entrepreneurship.
“Our goal is to function as a resource center for Afghan-American communities across the U.S., whether it’s advocacy, networks, guidance, or finding resources that allow them to build their community, thrive socially and economically, and prosper like other diaspora communities,” Babak said.
The AAF mobilized in response to the August 15 crisis in Afghanistan, which brought thousands of Afghan refugees to the U.S., by advocating for appropriate resettlement of the Afghan refugees and working to develop programs that support long-term integration of these refugees—for example, advocacy for federal and state benefits, and developing local resources that can help with employment and education of the refugees. The AAF is also doing work to ensure that the U.S. and the international community “find viable solutions to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the collapse of the Afghan government,” encompassing advocacy for the rights of women and minorities.
The AAF’s response in the face of this crisis was a proud moment for Babak.
“I had never seen the Afghan-American community come in large numbers with such a commitment to reach out, engage and provide a helping hand to the newly arrived Afghans. It was also unprecedented to see Afghan-Americans engaged at some of the highest levels of the federal government including the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] and the White House on their own without being represented by someone else who does not understand our community,” Babak said. Moving forward, “we want to play a bigger role in informing U.S. foreign policy towards Afghanistan, a policy that is engaged, that is informed by Afghans, Afghan civil society and Afghan-Americans, and that is constructive for both countries.”
In a constantly-changing social and political landscape, developing pathways for meaningful advancement has been a challenge, but one that the AAF is tackling head-on.
“Starting a nonprofit or even a movement has been the first challenge that I think we as AAF and the community at large has succeeded in,” Babak said. “But the bigger challenge is how to keep the momentum going and take the opportunity to help grow the community.”
To support the Afghan-American Foundation, visit their website https://www.afghanamericans.org/ or contact HSI to learn how you can help.