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1,000 Days to Reach the Millennium Development Goals

This blog is part of a series focused on USAID’s innovative approach to reaching Millennium Development Goal #2: Achieve universal primary education. The theme “Room to Learn” highlights programs and priority countries where access to education is now a reality.

Increasing access to primary education in developing countries. Reaching the nearly 61 million still out-of-school children and getting as many of them as we can into safe learning environments. Improving the quality of education by making sure that children are not only in school, but also that they are learning. And just 1,000 days to get it done.

It’s a daunting task but just the kind of challenge I love. After 38 years as a teacher, 8 years advocating for education, literacy and libraries as Iowa’s first lady, 12 years as president of my own literacy foundation, a few years working to assure young women have access to reproductive health, and two years running for Congress, I have found the perfect capstone to my career in the USAID Education Strategy (PDF) and Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2.  Friday, April 6 started the countdown of 1,000 days to reach MDG2, by 2015:

Schoolchildren in Aqaba, Jordan, who are beneficiaries of the Jordan Schools Program and Education Reform Support Program, both funded by USAID to improve the quality of education in the country. Photo credit: Jill Meeks, Creative Associates International

“Ensure that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.”

The best part of this challenge is that I join a committed team of experienced and passionate USAID education and foreign-service professionals who have already spent the past two years creating a focused strategy which includes access to education but also quality and accountability. We are led by a visionary, Administrator Rajiv Shah, who is determined to produce results we can measure. Thus, the big numbers. The numbers, while hard to compile in countries subject to coups, civil wars, earthquakes, drought and corruption, are important in creating a report card for Americans who want to help but who also want quantifiable results. The numbers are important because they will help us to do “good” well. Even more important, I recognize that USAID is just one organization in the global community committed to literacy and learning.  What an opportunity to join this growing collection of education champions!

Last weekend someone asked what I’d learned from two weeks of briefings that I found most valuable. First, I am convinced of the commitment of my colleagues and I learned that we are not without partners worldwide who are also resolute about literacy. More surprising and not without irony, this language arts and journalism teacher learned that reaching our millennium goals is partly about getting the numbers right.

Sixty-one million children still don’t have access to basic primary education. I talk with folks on Main Street who wonder why it matters if a child in Africa knows how to read. For every child or youth who has room to learn—a safe place to learn and a trained teacher—the world will be a safer, more productive place for all of us.

I’m going to do everything in my power to tell the USAID education story to anyone who will listen—elected officials, other public servants, business leaders, those supporting non-profits, civic organizations, and faith-based organizations, the wider education community at home and abroad, my family, my hairdresser, the person sitting next to me at dinner and on the Metro. I’m going to ask all of them and you, to help us, or at least, to support our efforts.

The children who learn to read in Afghanistan, the teachers who learn to teach reading in South Sudan, the ministers of education who have data to show results in Pakistan, Haiti and Nigeria, the parents who will learn to demand quality as well as access in the Democratic Republic of Congo, over time will help knit the fabric of an education system that underpins every strong democracy. Those children will become teachers, start businesses, engage in trade, heal the sick, build roads, write novels and make scientific discoveries.  One thousand days to reach MDG2. There’s no time to lose. Let’s get busy.

Here’s how you can help :

Video of the Week: Education in Kenya

Education is an important component of reducing poverty, promoting peace, and empowering individuals to participate in democratic institutions. Since 2003, primary school enrollment has increased more than 50 percent in Kenya. In recognition of USAID’s 50th anniversary working in partnership with Kenya, this video provides an overview of USAID’s education programs and particularly focuses on efforts to reach vulnerable, marginalized children.

USAID in the News

President Obama’s 2014 Budget Proposal and Proposed Food Aid Reform

This week President Obama released his 2014 Budget Proposal, which introduced major reform in the delivery of food assistance. The Washington Post reports the White House has proposed “the first major change in three decades to the way the United States supplies food aid to impoverished nations, significantly scaling back the program that buys commodities from US farmers and ships them to the needy overseas.” Under a budget proposal released Wednesday, “nearly half of $1.4 billion in requested funds for the aid could instead be spent to purchase local bulk food in countries in need or to distribute individual vouchers for local purchases.” USAID administrator Rajiv Shah said in an interview, “We’ve made a strong commitment to provide more flexibility,” noting that “local purchase of food allows for a response time nearly 14 weeks faster” than shipping from the US, and also is “30 percent cheaper for certain types of commodities.” Shah added, “We recognize that any transition has to be done in a careful, thoughtful manner,” but argued that over the long term “spending money to build and modernize agricultural systems in current food-recipient countries ‘is ultimately what creates tens of thousands more jobs here in our country.’”

Oxfam’s Paul O’Brien welcomed the proposals, telling the Wall Street Journal: “The Obama administration has taken an important step towards long overdue reforms to bring food aid into the 21st century…This president’s proposal will get food to more hungry people faster, cheaper and more efficiently. Congress should pass them expeditiously.”

Read more about the Proposal in these publications: The HillNPRWashington Post and Huffington Post

LGBT Global Development Partners spoke on advancing LGBT equality in developing and emerging market countries on April 8 in Washington. Photo credit: USAID

USAID Announces Initiative to Promote LGBT Rights Abroad

The four-year public-private partnership between USAID and Olivia Cruises, UCLA’s Williams Institute, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency “will work with local LGBT groups to provide leadership training, research and other help, lending the imprimatur of the U.S. government to people who in many countries are outcast and vulnerable, ” The San Francisco Chronicle reports. “This partnership leverages the financial resources and skills of each partner to further inclusive development and increase respect for the human rights of LGBT people around the world,” noted Claire Lucas, senior advisor of the USAID Office of Innovation and Development Alliances. “It can be a real game-changer in the advancement of LGBT human rights.”

Facilitating Economic Growth through Infrastructure and Trade

Eric Postel is assistant administrator for the Bureau of Economic Growth, Education and Environment

Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to 11 of the world’s 20 fastest growing economies. Economic growth in the entire region is expected to be strong – between five and six percent – in the next few years, and it will be led by the private sector; foreign direct investment now dwarfs foreign aid in Africa.

Yet, a recent World Bank report noted that regional trade barriers are cost African countries billions of dollars in potential revenue every year. Trade among African countries makes up only 10 percent of the region’s total trade volume. In East Africa, it costs 50 percent more to move freight one kilometer than it does in the United States or Europe, and in landlocked countries transport costs can be as high as 75 percent of the value of the goods they are trying to export.

On March 29, I participated in an economic growth roundtable with the Presidents of Malawi, Senegal, and Sierra Leone and the Prime Minister of Cape Verde to discuss these challenges and to examine ways to strengthen trade and investment, enhance regional integration, and improve the four countries’ business environments.

The four African leaders called attention to a major impediment to trade and investment in Africa: poor infrastructure, which inhibits both regional and global trade.  That is why USAID is working with governments to assess and prioritize critical infrastructure needs.  For example, in South Sudan, USAID helped build a 192-kilometer-long Juba-Nimule Road, the largest infrastructure project ever built in South Sudan, and the young nation’s first paved highway. The road has reduced travel time between Nimule and Juba from eight hours to less than three, linking Juba with Uganda and providing the shortest, most efficient route to the Port of Mombasa in Kenya. The road has generated economic activities along the route, and created employment and training opportunities for South Sudanese communities, thereby enhancing stability.

Meeting with the four leaders allowed me to reaffirm USAID’s commitment to work with both the governments and private sector in all four countries to improve export readiness, and reduce the time and cost to trade.  In Cape Verde, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, USAID has helped establish Resource Centers to assist local businesses take advantage of the provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which offers duty free entry for 6,400 products from qualifying African countries into the United States.

We are also supporting three regional Trade Hubs designed to help sub-Saharan African governments and businesses reduce the time and cost of trade, harmonize trade and regulatory requirements, and work directly with African firms to identify export opportunities. In Malawi, our Southern Africa Trade Hub has helped to streamline customs procedures and develop a national single window system, which allows traders to submit all required data into a single electronic system accessible to all border agencies. Systems like this one significantly reduce the time and cost of moving goods across borders and increase customs revenue.

We have also helped Malawi and Sierra Leone develop export strategies and stand ready to support strategy implementation and the crafting of similar strategies in Senegal and Cape Verde. When developed and implemented in consultation with the private sector, the strategies serve as an invaluable tool to facilitate trade and improve economic growth.

By working to reduce barriers to trade in African markets, USAID supports sustained growth in the region and improves bilateral trade and investment opportunities for both African and U.S. firms.

Learning Law Through Practice

On April 8, lawyers from USAID’s Office of General Counsel led a roundtable dialogue with two Iraqi and two Palestinian teams that participated in the annual Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, which took place in Washington, DC, from March 31 to April 6. The competition was an opportunity for the four teams to highlight their litigation skills that are being developed through programs supported by USAID.

Iraqi and Palestinian teams in front of the USAID seal. Photo credit: USAID

The Jessup competition brings together students from 550 law schools that represent more than 80 countries and simulates a fictional dispute between countries before the International Court of Justice, the judicial organ of the United Nations. This year’s participants addressed the factual and legal consequences of climate change on statehood, migration and sovereign lending. Teaching methodology has historically been lecture based in both Iraqi and Palestinian universities so the practical experience that students gain from the Jessup competition process, including competing against other teams and receiving feedback from distinguished judges, is extremely valuable.

The two Iraqi teams from Baghdad and Anbar Universities earned the right to represent Iraq after competing against over 100 law students and professors from 17 Iraqi universities. All of the teams were trained on courtroom etiquette and advocacy skills by USAID’s Access to Justice program in Iraq prior to their participation. The program promotes a practical approach to improving both legal services for vulnerable groups and the knowledge and skills of those who assist them.

The two Palestinian teams, from Bir Zeit and An Najah Universities, came in first and second in the Palestinian Jessup qualifying round. Palestinian partner universities received training as part of USAID’s Palestinian Justice Enhancement Project, which is designed to strengthen public confidence and respect for justice sector institutions and the rule of law in the West Bank.

The teams received guidance from competition judges, established new friendships with law students from around the world, and learned more about the United States while gaining important courtroom experience.  The Bir Zeit team had the honor of being elected by fellow competitors to receive the Spirit of Jessup Award for the team that “best exemplifies the Jessup spirit of comradeship, academic excellence, competitiveness, and appreciation of fellow competitors.”

Both the Iraqi and Palestinian students told the USAID lawyers that when they get home, they plan to gain practical experience in providing legal assistance through legal clinics supported by USAID in their law schools.

Palestinian competitor Obaida observed, “Jessup taught me to see international law from other perspectives. I now can argue and fully express myself before expert judges and I will bring back with me knowledge, success and memories.”

The students also toured the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and met with one of the court’s legal advisers.

“Competing in Jessup has helped to increase our experience and build our confidence as young lawyers,” remarked Baghdad competitor Ahmad. “We are so excited to represent our country and learn about the legal system in America.”

A New Era: Reflections on USAID’s First Public Consultation of a Draft Policy

Last month USAID distributed for public comment a new policy in draft form for the first time. Its Bureau of Policy, Planning & Learning’s Office of Policy solicited input on a draft of the Sustainable Service Delivery in an Increasingly Urbanized World (PDF). USAID aimed to improve the draft and sharpen our institutional focus. We shared it online to USAID’s Twitter followers and Impact e-newsletter subscribers and received more than 100 comments.

The Urban Services policy is a product of more than a year of extensive internal discussion and research, and last month’s public input – inspired by the Obama Administration’s Open Government Partnership commitment – is expected to draw attention to USAID’s attempt to help communities and countries provide pro-poor services in the midst of unprecedented urban growth.

Taken during a United Nations flight, the photo shows one of the many campsites that have sprouted throughout Port-au-Prince, Haiti, since more than 1 million people were left homeless after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. Photo credit: Andrea Sternberg, USAID

What kind of growth are we talking about? By 2030, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities and more than 1.2 million square kilometers will have been converted into urban areas about the size of South Africa.

As we begin to analyze the results of the public outreach, I offer the following as a sample of early findings from our outreach (in percentages):

  • Roughly half of respondents affirmed that economic growth and trade (25) or democracy, human rights and governance (22) were program areas most likely to be affected – negatively or positively – by urban growth. About a fifth of respondents thought the program areas most likely to be affected were environment and global climate change (19) and water and sanitation (19). The effects on global health (8), agriculture and food security (3), and other programs (6) were also noted;
  • Respondents stated that USAID should pursue sustainable urban service delivery to increase USAID staff’s understanding and skills to deal with urban issues (29), increase the use of partnerships, particularly with the private sector and the donor community (29), and incorporate urban assessments into USAID Mission annual strategies and assessments (26). A smaller number affirmed that it was important to provide tools for Missions to design urban-focused programming (14).

In their submissions, many commenters applauded the Agency for recognizing and responding to the development challenges of urbanization. Several applauded the draft for addressing “the needs of marginalized groups, including women and persons with disabilities” and “highlighting of the role of governance as a prior condition for other service improvements.” Others noted a comparative advantage in the Agency’s local capacity building and its ability to “more easily work with [and] directly impact sub-national entities than most other donors.”

Some zeroed in on specific areas. For example a number of respondents recommended a focus on land rights and “more attention to the built environment – shelter, settlement and housing.” Others said USAID’s could heighten its role in supporting improved city management, “strengthening participative democracy at local level,” and supporting the “direct participation by the urban poor in the planning and implementation of service improvements.”

In terms of staffing, one commenter recommended a call for “strengthening the Agency with a cadre of Urban Development Officers.”

The impressive number responses suggests that the Urban Services policy is timely and an acceptance that development must adapt proactively to urban growth sustainably. Just as important, it showed that transparency has a role in development policy – before, after and during the time we implement our programs.

Building A More Tolerant, Inclusive World

David N. Cicilline is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-RI).

USAID is showing extraordinary leadership by establishing the LGBT Global Development Partnership to address serious issues of inequality and discrimination faced by LGBT individuals around the world. Both in the quality of USAID’s work and the way it is doing business, it has recognized that we cannot achieve our development goals unless we first learn to solve problems creatively, partner with our private sector allies, and address how equal treatment can empower individuals to be more effective and impactful members of society.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the bold step just a few years ago to assert that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” and this initiative builds upon her leadership as well as the incredible leadership of President Barack Obama, who addressed the nations of the world at the UN and said, “No country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”

America’s leadership in the world on the issue of LGBT equality is no coincidence. Equality and equal protection of the law are deeply embedded in the idea of America and the foundation of our democracy. We were, after all, a country that was founded on this radical idea – or at least radical at the time – that people have inalienable rights not because of the generosity of a monarch or a sovereign ruler, but as a result of the natural affairs of human existence and a recognition that every person has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

America’s real power in the world is the overwhelming might of these founding principles, and it is important to understand our responsibility to countless LGBT individuals all over the world who face violence, institutional discrimination, criminalization of their status, and violations of basic human rights. The challenges that USAID addresses – global health, access to food and water, education, and economic growth – cannot be fully met unless we are honoring basic human rights, especially the basic responsibility of keeping LGBT individuals safe. This partnership will do just that.

We must urgently make certain all LGBT individuals around the world are safe from violence and physical harm. In 2011, I introduced and successfully worked to pass an amendment out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that would have empowered the Secretary of State to discourage foreign governments from sanctioning acts of violence against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I will continue to work with my colleagues to strengthen the collaboration between federal agencies and Congressional leaders in order to apply pressure to governing bodies that oppress LGBT communities abroad.

And I know that we can continue to make progress on these issues because LGBT voices are stronger than ever in Congress. I am one of six co-chairs of the LGBT Equality Caucus in the House, and our membership grows every day.

While our work to enact legal prohibitions against discrimination and violence continues, ultimately our progress must not only be reflected in the executive orders of our President, or even in the laws adopted by Congress, but in the words and actions of ordinary citizens in cities and towns all across America and the world who are seeing members of the LGBT community marry, serve their country openly and honestly, raise families, hold office, and distinguish themselves as business and academic leaders.

Seeing the power of these examples will, in the end, help advance the cause of equality all over the world.

Separating Children from Armed Groups in the DRC

On March 23, 245 combatants from the militia group Kata Katanga marched into Lubumbashi in Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). After entering the UN Peacekeeping base there, the combatants, including 40 minors, reportedly surrendered and were disarmed. With support from USAID, UNICEF and its local partner Reconfort responded to the situation within hours, verifying and separating these 40 children from the surrendered group. UNICEF successfully negotiated to allow the children to be turned over for care in the transit center, rather than be handed over to government officials along with the Kata Katanga adult combatants.

Children formerly associated with armed groups engaging in recreational activities at a USAID-supported transit center in Bukavu, South Kivu. Photo credit: Dan Rono, UNICEF

These children, all boys between the ages of 10 and 17 who UNICEF and Reconfort were able to literally “separate” from the armed group, were placed in a transit center in Lubumbashi, which Reconfort was able to open, stock, and staff within a single day as a result of USAID’s ongoing work to improve the local organization’s capacity. In the transit center, these 40 boys are getting shelter, protection, medical care, psychosocial support, and opportunities for recreational and educational activities. Over the next few months, the youth will be reintegrated into their families and communities and enrolled in school or vocational training programs.

Murals at a USAID-supported transit center for children associated with armed groups in Goma, North Kivu. Written in Swahili above the murals are the sentences “Children are not intended to be soldiers” and “Help me to leave the armed group.” Photo credit: USAID

Since 2011, USAID’s child protection work with UNICEF has separated over 1,100 children from armed groups in North Kivu, South Kivu, Orientale, and Katanga provinces, provided separated children with temporary care in transit centers or foster families, supported their reintegration into their communities, and helped an additional 5,000 conflict-affected children to enroll in school or obtain vocational skills training. In addition, USAID has strengthened the capacity of 15 local organizations, like Reconfort, that are assisting children associated with armed groups, and we have created or strengthened over 70 community committees to promote child rights at the grassroots level and prevent child recruitment into armed groups. USAID has recently signed an agreement to continue UNICEF’s child protection project, bringing the total project amount to $5 million. This new agreement will give the project more geographic flexibility and build more capacity among local organizations to ensure rapid response to unexpected events like this one.

2014 Budget Affirms Commitment to End Extreme Poverty and Strengthen Reforms

Chuck Cooper is the Assistant Administrator of Legislative & Public Affairs

Earlier this year, in his State of the Union address, President Obama made a commitment to ending extreme poverty in the next two decades. Today, with the release of the President’s budget for Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14), we are reminded of our role in fulfilling this commitment. As an agency, we’re fortunate to have this as our mission: to work on behalf of the American people to eradicate poverty and its most devastating corollaries, widespread hunger and preventable child death.

To seize this moment, USAID is fundamentally changing the way we work: harnessing innovation, science and technology; leveraging our resources to build partnerships that have an even greater impact; and focusing like never before on delivering and measuring results. To deliver these results, we are implementing an ambitious set of reforms called USAID Forward that have touched every aspect of our work.

While real progress has been made, we’re clear-eyed about the challenges ahead. Under the President’s budget, USAID will continue to strengthen our reform efforts. Our budget fact sheet outlines some of the critical programs that are funded under this budget – and details an important new reform initiative to modernize how the United States delivers food aid.

The President’s food aid reform proposal envisions a more efficient, effective, and timely program that will reach 4 million more hungry people each year. Today, Administrator Shah will share his vision on the future of food assistance at an event hosted by CSIS. To learn more about food aid reform, please visit our food aid reform page: www.usaid.gov/foodaidreform

Alongside diplomacy and defense, our development work will continue to play a critical role in America’s economic and national security. With just over one percent of the federal budget, the State Department and USAID budget moves us closer to ending extreme poverty, advances U.S. national security, protects Americans at home and abroad, opens markets overseas, creates American jobs, forges global partnerships and delivers real results for the American people.

For additional resources on the President’s FY14 budget and USAID’s work, please visit our website.

Photo of the Week: Pumping Water to Urban Nigeria

Three young boys look to be having some fun while they use a public standpipe in Bauchi town, Nigeria. This is one of the sites where town residents retrieve water since few have water taps at their homes. In December 2011, USAID’s Sustainable Water and Sanitation in Africa project signed an agreement with town officials to help them expand and improve services to residents. Demand for water in urban areas like Bauchi exceeds 200,000 cubic meters per day—nearly four times the volume the town’s water utility is currently able to pump to its customers. Photo is from Emily Mutai, SUWASA.

Read the recently released FrontLines issue to learn how USAID is working to provide safe water to the millions who live without this vital resource, and how unique approaches to wipe out neglected tropical diseases are faring.

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