USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for USAID

Celebrating Peace Corps Week: Those Extraordinary Ordinary Volunteers!

This post originally appeared on Feed the Future.

This week, we’re celebrating our partner agency the Peace Corps during its annual Peace Corps Week. Today marks the anniversary of when John F. Kennedy signed the executive order to establish the Peace Corps. The following is a guest blog post by Jean Harman of the Peace Corps, highlighting Peace Corps volunteers’ contributions to Feed the Future’s goal to reduce global hunger, poverty and undernutrition.

Ever since John F. Kennedy and Sargent Shriver created the Peace Corps in 1962, it had been my dream to be a volunteer. But by the 1980s, having finally completed my undergraduate degree at 29, I thought I was too old. Turns out, I wasn’t too old for two years of volunteer service and I began my Peace Corps experience as an agriculture volunteer, helping villagers in Zaire (what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), raise sheep, goats, rabbits, and other small animals.

Peace Corps launched my career in food security. When I returned to the States, I went to graduate school and began a 25-year career as a resource and agricultural economist. Over the course of these years, I learned how many different facets there are to sustainable food security; a variety of issues help create or foster food security in households and communities. I’ve worked in trade, agriculture, natural resource management, and development, to name a few.

A Peace Corps volunteer trains his local community in Malawi on the nutritional benefits of growing soy. Photo credit: Peace Corps

Volunteers are never called ex-volunteers, but rather returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). And we’re a diverse lot, with more than 200,000 RPCVs today. We often hear about RPCVs of note—a former Cabinet member, the president of a university, members of Congress—but there are a lot of extraordinary ordinary volunteers as well.

Take for instance, Elaine Bellezza, who served as a Peace Corps teacher in Cameroon. She ended up helping her community develop an artisanal cooperative, which made bowls, bags, tools and other items out of leather, gourds and other local agricultural products. Through this cooperative, women in the community went from earning about $2 a month to between $60 and $100. Yes, this is food security! Increased income means more money to spend on quality foods. And women’s income is more likely to be spent on food and children’s goods, so increased women’s income can significantly impact food security and improve nutrition.

Elaine returned to the United States in the mid-1990s but was soon overseas again, this time working in Mali. She eventually opened a high-end boutique of household articles and furniture. As a part of the private sector, Elaine worked with a range of women’s cooperatives in Mali. She developed a staff capable of taking over the business for her and running it as a cooperative-owned, woman-led business in Mali—even to this day!

Elaine never left Africa or economic development for long. She now works as a consultant in a variety of countries. An extraordinary ordinary volunteer.

There’s also Gordon Hentze, who served as a “fish” volunteer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was my mentor when I started my Peace Corps assignment, even as his own service was drawing to an end. We quickly discovered when I arrived at my village that we had both attended the same college and lived close to each other in Oregon. Gordon worked with farmers to build fish ponds for raising fish to eat at home and sell for income. Another facet of food security: sufficient food to eat at home and income to purchase additional foods, pay school fees, or buy medicine when it’s needed.

Gordon returned to Oregon after the Peace Corps. He owns a family farm in Junction City where he grows fruit, vegetables and nuts. He also caters to people who want to process their own fresh food: He developed small-scale processing equipment so a family can process its own fruits, vegetables and nuts in household-sized quantities. Innovation—a skill Gordon developed as a volunteer and now uses to foster food security through his business as a farmer in the private sector. Another extraordinary ordinary volunteer.

While many Peace Corps volunteers are extraordinary ordinary people, the same could be said of their service. Helping start a local cooperative. Training business owners. Teaching people to fish. These tasks are ordinary when taken at face value. But when you see each as a contributor to global food security, they take on an extraordinary quality. A local cooperative in a developing country that raises incomes of women so they can invest more in their children and families, sending both their sons and daughters to school. A business owner whose business sells nutritious foods and supplements in a community that sorely needed jobs and access to these items. A family that improves its diet with fish and is able to sell extra fish on the local market, sharing the nutritious value of the fish with the community and making extra money to invest in the family business, children’s education, and healthcare for all family members.

All this is happening thanks to the extraordinary ordinary work of Peace Corps volunteers at the grassroots level of agriculture and economic development. Seemingly ordinary tasks, carried out by individuals in partnership with developing communities, that are helping lift communities out of chronic hunger and poverty and into sustainable food security.

Peace Corps volunteers have been working on food security issues in their host countries for decades. Recently, Peace Corps teamed up with the U.S. Agency for International Development to work on food security issues under Feed the Future. In name, this designates the volunteers as Feed the Future Peace Corps Volunteers. In action, it provides better coordination between USAID and Peace Corps’ agriculture and economic development efforts and enables Feed the Future to benefit from one of Peace Corps’ major competitive advantages: grassroots development activities that support global food security.  

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Guatemala

In this next installment of the USAID Pounds of Prevention series (PDF), we travel to Guatemala. Many people in Guatemala live in areas prone to natural hazards. Earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, floods, and landslides have all challenged the population and spurred the country to take action to prepare for and lessen the effects of disasters. Photo by USAID.

Lessons of Financial Independence and Self-Sufficiency in Georgia

Working in 85 communities in 10 target municipalities across Georgia, the USAID/New Economic Opportunities (NEO) initiative enables highly vulnerable individuals to be self-sufficient through vocational training.

“Amazing, but I have to put some of my villagers on the waiting list,” smiles Shalva Grigalashvili, plumber and tile-setter from Kvishkheti community in Khashuri municipality. “More and more people in Kvishkheti feel a need to put appropriate tourism infrastructure in place and start to upgrade their houses to attract more visitors,’” explains Shalva. As a popular tourist destination in Georgia, the income of the Kvishkheti population significantly depends on the tourism revenues accrued each summer.

The twenty-two year old Shalva Grigalashvili was one of 20 students who graduated from the USAID-sponsored plumbing/tile-setting vocational training program at the Khidistavi Orienti Vocational College in Gori in September 2012. Along with other top students in his program, the USAID/New Economic Opportunities Initiative (NEO) awarded plumbing and tile-setting toolkits to encourage graduates like Shalva to start their own businesses and support income generation opportunities.

Shalva Grigalashvili, one of USAID/NEO beneficiaries, tiling a guesthouse bathroom in Kvishkheti village of Khashuri municipality. Photo credit: USAID/NEO

Unlike many of his friends and neighbors who travel to work in Tbilisi, Shalva decided to stay in his own village and help other residents improve their living conditions. After completing his training, Shalva started to renovate his neighbors’ houses in Bulbulistsikhe village in Kvishkheti community. Shalva also decided to help a less successful classmate who because of poor performance did not receive a plumber’s toolkit. Through their joint efforts, Shalva gave his friend the opportunity to build upon his training and better master their profession, gain employment and increase his income.  “Hard work,” Shalva admits, “but well worth the effort. It is so rewarding to have such a highly demanded profession that brings you money and respect.”

Shalva is just one of the 254 vulnerable individuals from NEO target communities in the Shida Kartli, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Racha-Lechkhumi, and Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti regions of Georgia that benefited from USAID-funded vocational training programs. Within three month of graduation, 168 graduates (66 percent) had already obtained new jobs or improved their employment status. Additional sessions of vocational training for NEO vulnerable beneficiaries in trades such as apparel-making, hair dressing, cooking and construction works are scheduled for early 2013.

Learn more about the USAID/New Economic Opportunities (NEO) initiative in Georgia.

Follow USAID Georgia on Facebook and Twitter.

Video of the Week: Women Mobile Phone Users in Indonesia

Todaythe United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with partners Qtel Group and AusAID, announced the winners of the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge, which aims to redefine the smartphone user experience for resource-poor women in emerging markets.

The GSMA mWomen Design Challenge was created to simplify the smartphone user interface to help overcome reading and technical literacy barriers for women. Twenty-two per cent of women surveyed in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda who do not use mobile phones say it is because they do not know how to use them. Watch this video with women mobile phone users in Indonesia review the winning submissions to the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge.

Generate. Capture. Share. Apply Knowledge at the KM Expo

Effective knowledge management is crucial to achieving USAID’s mission of ending world poverty. Groups internal and external to the agency have been working on individual Knowledge Management (KM) initiatives to improve their processes and capture the impact their work is having on international development. The Knowledge Management Expo, hosted by USAID’s Knowledge Services Center KM Team, in conjunction with the KM Reference Group, will bring these groups together to share their innovative knowledge management practices, tools and solutions, and exchange best practices, lessons learned and the challenges.

Keynote Speaker Erin Elizabeth McKee is the Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning (PPL). Ms. McKee has played an integral role in PPL’s push to incorporate learning into all USAID programming by spearheading USAID’s Open Data Initiative. The Open Data Initiative was launched in response to the President’s call for a more transparent, collaborative, and participative federal government, and seeks to strengthen USAID as a platform where the world’s biggest development problems find the best development problem solvers.

The KM Center allows an exchange of ideas to provide solutions for people around the world, such as Ojok's family who was displaced from their land during a former war in Uganda. Photo credit:USAID

The KM Expo features presenters from both inside and outside the agency, reflecting the strength of knowledge management throughout the development community. Presentations topics include how to integrate knowledge management into daily work and project management, how to use social media as a learning tool, and USAID’s premiere KM initiative, the Program Cycle. Each presentation topic is specifically related to knowledge management for development and how to better use it in daily work and strategic planning. The broad range of topics within this framework reflects the importance of knowledge management in all aspects of development and ensures a rich and beneficial dialogue among attendees.

In addition to presenters, various exhibitors will be showcasing their KM initiatives during the Expo. Exhibitors including the M/CIO’s Knowledge Services Center, the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy, USAID’s GeoCenter, Economic Analysis and Data Services, and USAID’s Applying Science to Strengthen and Improve Systems (ASSIST) project, among others, will have the opportunity to share what they have been working on as well as contribute to others’ projects.

The KM Expo will bring knowledge management and the development community together to share projects, ideas, challenges and inspiration, enabling USAID and its partners to become stronger, more agile and better able to achieve the ultimate goal of ending world poverty.

Can’t attend the Expo? No problem. Follow along on Twitter at #KMExpo.

Empowering Women with Mobile Money: The Tanzania Report

This originally appeared on Mobile Payments Today

Tanzania’s first mobile money service, M-PESA, was launched less than a year after it started in neighbouring Kenya, but adoption has been much slower in Tanzania. Consumers, especially women, face a myriad of barriers to mobile money uptake and regular usage.  During my fieldwork in Tanzania, I met with a number of women, both mobile money non-users and users, to learn more about these barriers. I also explored opportunities for the mobile money industry to overcome these challenges and develop a compelling case for women to use mobile financial services.

A message confirms the deposit of a new customer who is signing up for mobile banking. Photo credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

The women users I spoke with were using mobile money mainly for remittances of under TSH 20,000 (approximately US$13). Some used the service for business, but most transactions were personal.  Many of the women who reported receiving remittances had married men from other towns or villages and had thus moved, and were receiving money from family at home. The frequency of mobile money usage varied from every two months to as many as seven times a month.

The women I spoke with suggested that using mobile money has improved their lives because of its ease and convenience. However, they also shared stories about agents charging more than the commission rates set by the operators, forcing users to pay more than they should to withdraw and deposit their money.  For some, this extra cost was acceptable because it was still lower than the costs of travelling to obtain the money by other means; for others, they did not have agents nearby so they incurred this fee on top of the time and cost to reach the closest agent.

In rural areas, respondents suggested that families live so close together that there is less need for remittances. However, learning more about women’s lifestyles and money management practices still highlights the potential role of mobile money in this context. For example, nearly three quarters of the population relies on agriculture-related activities for income; people keep crops such as maize as savings, liquidating only when there is an immediate financial need. One group of women acknowledged that they may not get the best price when they sell their crops like this, but they also feared the money would be misspent if they sold sooner.

Key questions we are continuing to probe include: How could mobile savings impact the families in these areas? What would be the best way to structure such services and how could mobile operators best communicate about the service to potential users? The answers to these questions – and more – will be reflected in the final report to be released later this month.

Kristy Bohling, an associate with Bankable Frontier Associates, conducted qualitative fieldwork in Tanzania. A video of Ms. Bohling discussing her research is also available.

Empowering Women One Mobile Phone At a Time

This originally appeared on Mobile Payments Today

Today, half the world’s adult population — 2.5 billion people — lacks access to basic financial services and the majority of them are women. Being financially excluded means relying on cash, where a simple task like paying a bill or receiving money from a family member can be risky, costly and time consuming. This exclusion from financial services also reinforces the cycle of poverty and slows economic growth.

From Kenya to Haiti to Indonesia, mobile phones already have begun playing an important role in expanding access to financial services, including ways to send, receive and save money. At the end of 2012, an estimated 1.7 billion people in the world will have a mobile phone but not a bank account, but thanks to advances in mobile banking technology, these are no longer mutually exclusive.

Mobile banking saves women time and money. With mobile services, women no longer have to make all-day treks to and from the bank. Photo credit: USAID

Mobile technology in the hands of women can help enable entry into the financial mainstream and provide access to life-enhancing services such as savings, payments, healthcare, education, and entrepreneurship. But as research has shown, there’s a gender gap in mobile phone ownership and usage, in part because of the lack of products designed for the wants and needs of women. In order to achieve the full potential of the role mobile technology can play in women’s empowerment globally, it is critical that service providers understand what women need and design products that effectively reach this audience.

Toward that goal, the GSMA mWomen Programme and Visa Inc. have partnered with Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA) to conduct groundbreaking research in five key countries: Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania. Building on the results of GSMA mWomen’s Striving and Surviving, which was prepared as part of Visa and GSMA’s partnership with USAID and AusAID, the BFA research will provide a deeper dive into how best to reach these women and what services and products will directly meet their needs – offering important lessons for mobile operators, financial institutions, governments, and other partners.

Consider Pakistan, where field work already is underway. In Pakistan, only 12 percent of the total population has a bank account — and those who do are primarily men. However, mobile phone penetration hovers around 70 percent, offering a unique opportunity to provide access to more formalized financial services via mobile phone. Our early field work indicates that while Pakistani women are remarkably sophisticated and adept at managing their household finances, they don’t have access to formal financial tools. Instead, they save in money boxes in their homes or via savings groups, both of which can carry significant risk. Given the increasing presence of mobile phones in the country, mobile financial services – if designed properly – can provide an accessible and convenient avenue for women to enter the financial mainstream.

To hear more about the work underway in Pakistan, please click here to view a video from one of the field researchers, the first in a series that will highlight the work being done in all five countries.

“Through this research, we aim to uncover the challenges women face in their daily and longer term financial management and to suggest ways of easing those burdens with mobile money,” says Daryl Collins, co-author of the seminal work, Portfolios of the Poor, and a director at BFA. “Poor people of both genders manage their money with a complex portfolio of financial instruments. However, the evidence suggests that women are doubly burdened, given that they are often responsible for making ends meet, yet are less empowered to make full use of the options available.”

Our hope in this effort is to help women realize the promise of mobile financial services. In order to do that, we need to learn more about women’s attitudes towards mobile services, including barriers to frequent use and whether mobile financial services offer an entry for women who previously did not value or know how to use mobile technologies.

As our research continues over the next few months, we look forward to sharing with you the voices of these women from around the world.

Aletha Ling is chief operating officer for Fundamo, a Visa company. Chris Locke is managing director of GSMA Mobile for Development Department.

USAID In the News

This week Secretary Kerry defended foreign aid spending amid budget cuts in a Reuters report, saying “Foreign assistance is not a giveaway. It’s not charity. It is an investment in a strong America and in a free world.”

In Africa, The New York Times reports USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah met with Somali leaders in Mogadishu on Thursday, and announced $20 million in new American food aid for the country. Dr. Shah said that “after two decades of conflict, famine and terrorism, it was necessary not only to address Somalia‘s ‘critical emergency needs’ but also to promote stability and recovery.”

Administrator Shah announces partnership in Somalia on February 21, 2013. Photo credit: USAID

The Washington Post notes that Shah is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Somalia in years. Meanwhile Somali diaspora came together in Hargeisa to launch infrastructure investment strategies for the country, which Suleiman Mohamed from USAID’s Partnership for Economic Growth attended according to The Somaliland Sun.

And Maura O’Neill gave NextGov a “sneak peak at the jobs available for the next round of Presidential Innovation Fellows at USAID during a Social Media Week event on Tuesday.” If you are a private sector innovator with experience in big data, venture capital or crowd-sourcing technology, check it out!

USAID Announces #Popcorn + International Development Winners

At the end of January, we asked our partners for videos that showcased the creative ways digital space is used for development. The call for submissions was In participation with the global Social Media Week 2013 at which USAID participated for the first time this year.

Beny, a peer educator in the DRC uses Facebook to educate society about HIV prevention.

We received more than 50 videos from around the world, and we selected 20 that best illustrated how technology directly advances development and social good. We welcomed participants and others interested in social media to our headquarters at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington this afternoon, and shared a dynamic dialogue about the approaches organizations used, the successes they experienced, and the challenges they faced.

Thank you to all those who submitted videos to us! More importantly, thank you for the great work you are doing for making our world a better place to live.

Watch the final playlist that includes all winners. Follow the conversation on Twitter about the video showcase at #smwUSAID.

Advancing Development Through Social Media

Dr. Maura O'Neill is the chief innovation officer and senior counselor to the administrator at USAID.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel for Social Media Week about the latest social media trends in international development. It was the first event of its kind here at USAID and I was happy to moderate. With panelists from UN Foundation, USAID, Huge Inc., iStrategy Labs, and Internews, it was a vibrant discussion to say the least.

The social space has become saturated with creative content from diverse thinkers and implementers of social good, and this could not be a better time for partners in development to use this space for improving programs and reaching even more people. Each panelist introduced a unique, and important, perspective to the conversation about the role of social media in the development world.

The UN Foundation alongside the UN General Assembly hosted an amazing  Social Good Summit  last September. Caleb Tiller, executive director of Communications and Public Affairs, introduced it as a powerful example of how social media can drive conversations around the globe about important issues that directly affect the daily lives of those engaged in the discussions online. He also pointed out that the inherent reach of social media is a benefit for initiatives such as the Summit because it is a quick way of engaging the individuals who are important to the conversation. The Social Good Summit reached  more than 300 cities worldwide and local simultaneous summits were held. This has significant impact in the development space because it means we can connect with more people, educating them about important issues that affect their lives – from global health, to gender equality, to ending extreme poverty (the list goes on!). It also means that any work we do has the potential to reach a thousand-fold the audience we would have reached through more traditional communications means.

Social media also allows room for more innovative ways of assisting people with few resources. And our partners and colleagues have been doing great work using social media as a tool to help promote advancements in the field of development. Through Facebook, Kate Watts, Managing Director at HUGE, helped facilitate the highly successful Pepsi Refresh campaign that gave more than 300 grants and $20 million to users for beneficial projects around the community. Participants submitted thousands of ideas through Facebook that people voted on. Nearly 132 schools and organizations benefited as a result of the campaign, more than 40 communities received affordable housing and parks, and 21 neighborhood parks were refreshed.

Kathleen Reen (right) of Internews explains the importance of digital security at USAID's panel on social media and development. Photo credit: USAID

Kathleen Reen, Vice President for Asia, Environment and New Media Programs at Internews, brought up the important factor of protecting information that resides in digital spaces. To address the challenge, they’ve implemented programs and training to ensure digital security in vulnerable societies that face challenges with access to Internet. As Kathleen said, “In vulnerable/censored societies, changemakers need knowledge digital tools to stay safe.”

It’s clear that the broad boundaries of social media bring to the forefront various issues we need to keep in mind, and continue to fine-tune, so we use platforms in smart ways. At USAID in particular, it is critical for our virtual efforts to translate to “real-life.” One way to do this was to use videogames as a channel to reach youth in Jordan.  It increases their real-life knowledge about civic responsibility and engagement by getting them engaged in building and running virtual cities. Maryanne Yerkes, senior civil society and ICT advisor at USAID, explained how USAID’s Innovations in Youth Capacity and Engagement (IYCE ) program says that games  directly strengthen youth engagement when integrated offline components.

We know that social media has isn’t perfect and has some of its own downsides. But, only through trying new approaches to our work and embracing new technologies can we discover powerful ways to drive more quickly our development goals.

What is your experience with social media and development? Join the conversation.

Maura O’Neill is on Twitter.

Follow USAID on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Storify.

Page 46 of 97:« First« 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 »Last »