The Afghanistan Rural Investment & Enterprise Strengthening (ARIES) program helps to expand access to financial services in underserved regions, particularly in the Alternative Development Program (ADP) areas.  The program’s objective is to create a strong private sector foundation for a sustainable, market-driven finance system consisting of different types of financial institutions capable of providing a range of financial services and products, including Shariah-compliant loans.  ARIES-supported institutions serve a variety of businesses, from microenterprises (households and smallholder farmers) requiring loans of $1,000 or less to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with a capacity to create a significant number of jobs.
ARIES works with and through a full spectrum of micro and SME lenders across Afghanistan, some previously existing and some established under ARIES.  Specific activities, involving both microfinance and SME finance, are carried out by different implementing partners experienced in credit methodologies suitable for the goals of the program under the overall leadership of the Academy for Educational Development (AED). 
  • On the microfinance side, ARIES aids in developing a sustainable network of credit cooperatives, credit unions, microfinance village banks and other microfinance institutions.  It also works with the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MISFA), an apex institution established by the World Bank, to help improve its wholesale on-lending operations to the microfinance sector.  MISFA has multi-donor support, including a substantial capital contribution from USAID.  
  • With respect to SME finance, ARIES works with MISFA to develop its wholesale SME lending capacity and also with the stronger financial institutions to develop their capacity to do SME lending. 
As of May 2009, ARIES has achieved the following by the coordinated efforts of its specialized implementing partners:
  • Provided $9 million in loan capital to six microfinance partners in the ADP regions through the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MISFA).
  • Provided technical assistance (TA) and over $15 million in wholesale capital to five commercial banks interested in the SME market through Shorebank International (SBI).
  • Established 28 Islamic Investment Finance Cooperatives (IIFCs) and points-of service in the ADP regions, serving nearly 37,836 members with disbursements totaling $17.6 million in loans through the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU). The IIFCs operate in major commercial centers and are making inroads with hard-to-reach populations in the South.
  • Working through 6 microfinance branches and disbursed over $27.5 million to 18,433 borrowers through FINCA (The Foundation for International Community Assistance).
  • Provided over $15.4 million in loans of up to (and over) $1 million to rural SMEs and agribusinesses through ACDI/VOCA (Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance).
  • Created 174,000 jobs.
Managed by the Academy for Educational Development (AED), ARIES is a three year, $100 million project that runs from September 16, 2006, through the end of December 2009. The project is implemented through a Leader with Associates (LWA) award and includes the five implementing partners listed above.  The original ADP regions in which ARIES works include 24 provinces in Central Afghanistan (Kabul and Parwan); the North (Balkh, Jawzjan, Faryab, Samangan, Baghlan, Kunduz, Takhar, and Badakhshan); the East (Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar, Ghazni, Logar, Kapisa, Paktya, Paktika, and Khost); South (Kandahar, Hilmand, and Uruzgan); and the West (Hirat and Badghis).