Formal opening of CESS 2018, the 19th Annual Conference of the Central Eurasian Studies Society. Short welcome speeches to be made by: CESS President 2018/19, Professor Ali Igmen and others, to be confirmed CESS Awards Ceremony The following 2018 awards will be announced: Book Award (History & Humanities) Book Award (Social Sciences) Graduate Student Paper Award Edward Allworth Lifetime Service to the Profession Award Keynote Speech - Dr Orzala Nemat, Director of AREU Afghanistan The power of evidence-based research in policy making: lessons from Afghanistan Dr Orzala Nemat is an internationally known Afghan scholar and a life time activist recognized for being an expert in political ethnography. Her research focuses on the political economy of governance interventions in conflict affected settings highlighting local governance relations in Afghanistan’s villages resulting from the policies of transnational/international institutions and central government’s development and political interventions. As the Director of Afghanistan’s top research think-tank, Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU, https://areu.org.af/), Dr. Nemat works to bridge the academic and policy platforms by using evidence based social research. She holds a PhD in Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and an MSc in Development Planning from the University College of London (UCL). For over 18 years, Dr. Nemat has worked with grassroots national and international organizations to help marginalized members of society, particularly women and children. Dr Nemat’s own experiences as a war refugee for fourteen years in Pakistan added by her outstanding leadership skills under challenging circumstances in Afghanistan since 1999 has resulted in bringing a unique perspective into the academic and policy platform that knots the disconnect between the two worlds. Dr Nemat founded and led an Afghan NGO that served girls education through home-based schools and safe houses for victims of violence –Humanitarian Assistance to the Women and Children of Afghanistan— She then worked as Program officer and research consultant for various international organisations such as UNDP, UNIFEM, CMI (Norway), Oxfam International etc. Later in early 2010, she founded the Women and Youth Leadership Center, through which Dr. Nemat was able to help developing a network of emerging youth and women leaders in her home country. In 2012 she became a curator for Kabul-Hub as part of the Global Shapers Community by the World Economic Forum (WEF) helping in mentorship and support of youth under 30s. Dr. Nemat served as Senior Teaching Fellow at SOAS convening BA and MA courses on Development studies. She is also serving as advisory on various development organization and academic journal boards, including Afghanaid, Open Society Afghanistan, and journal of Peacebuilding and Development (JPB) and journal of Illicit Economies and Development (JIED). Dr Nemat attended numerous international academic and policy related conferences, representing voices from Afghanistan that often remain unheard. Dr Nemat was selected as Young Global Leader at the World Forum in 2009, Yale Greenberg World Fellow in 2008, and is a recipient of the Isabel Ferror Award for Women’s Education in 2001 and the Amnesty International Award for Humanitarian Aid to Children and Women in 2000. She returned to Afghanistan since 2016 to work briefly as President Ashraf Ghani’s advisor on sub-national governance and then lead AREU. As both a human rights advocate and director of AREU, Dr. Nemat is well respected and offers a unique perspective on many development issues.