When people hear that I am a medical doctor and that I work for USAID, they often say that my heart is in the right place. I correct them: actually, my heart is in three places—America first, as I am now an American, but also India and Pakistan, where I grew up.
I was born in Pakistan, but as a young child I contracted polio at the age of ten months and was sent to India for treatment. I spent much of my childhood and teen years in India. I did recover, but the disabling effects of polio had already set in. I had also discovered my calling in life to help others in need and my focus has been on women and children to improve their health status and survival. I became a medical doctor and specialized in public health.
I have been fortunate to achieve that dream here in the States and, like so many others in the diaspora, knew I wanted to “give back”—both to my adopted country and to my “home” countries, India and Pakistan. So I am especially excited that the State Department is hosting a gathering of the Indian American diaspora this afternoon, and I am honored to have been asked to participate in a panel on health.
The theme of today’s U.S.-India People-to-People Conference is “Building the Foundation for a Strong Partnership,” and it is an especially appropriate time given the new relationship that is forming between the U.S. and India.
Diaspora groups are natural partners for USAID. They have unparalleled insight into their home country, as well as their adopted one. And they have a passion for seeing good development in their home country, as well as seeing that their U.S. tax dollars are spent effectively and accountably.
It is no secret that, for too long, it has been difficult for small organizations, like many diaspora groups, to navigate the process of applying for USAID grants and contracts. This is changing, as a result of the reforms currently being instituted at USAID. As just one example, USAID’s Administrator Rajiv Shah recently launched Development Innovation Ventures, which will enable the Agency to work with a diverse set of partners to identify and scale up innovative solutions to development challenges.
I hope that this conference is the first of many to bring diaspora groups, the private sector, and the government together to address the issues that we all care so much about.