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A New Milestone in Child Protection

Disasters impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world every year. Half of those affected are children, who often bear the biggest brunt of humanitarian crises. Nowhere have we seen this more clearly than in the wake of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. As a result of the disaster, hundreds of thousands of children lost a parent, caregiver or other family members. They lost access to essential services and resources including food, water, shelter, education and health care. Children who were separated from their families– orphaned or disabled– and those living and working as domestic servants were particularly vulnerable. Many more were exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.

Children at a school damaged by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2010. USAID, through the International Medical Corps, helped ensure that children were safe and protected when attending classes. Photo credit: Ron Libby, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

This devastating event hammered home the need to provide children with timely and appropriate protection, care, and support when they need it the most. The need for child protection was clear in Haiti, and yet, despite the best of intentions and a wealth of resources, emergency child protection interventions were slow to start and inadequate for the scale of the problems. In reviewing what happened in Haiti, USAID and our global partners identified a need to advance our efforts for children in emergencies.

USAID is leading the charge in this effort by supporting the launch of the new Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action. These standards were developed by the Child Protection Working Group in response to the hard lessons we learned in Haiti. Specifically, these standards strive to strengthen coordination, increase accountability, improve the quality of protection programs, and enable better communication on issues involving children. These standards provide a common approach to the protection of children for the entire humanitarian community across sectors. Over the next few years, frontline humanitarian personnel will receive training on these new standards, and organizations will develop strategies to translate them into life-saving assistance on the ground.

While the standards are oriented to staff working in the field, I believe they also provide donors and governments with new opportunities to promote stronger child protection interventions especially in times of crisis. These new standards also compliment the commitments made in the soon-to-be released U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity. This plan emphasizes the need for the entire government to work together to ensure quality, coordinated, evidence-based programs to protect children. The U.S. Government is fully committed to seizing the opportunities presented through the release of these standards.

USAID's Neil Boothby (right) and UNICEF's Annette Lyth (left) discuss the new Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action at a press conference in Geneva. The standards were developed as common guidelines for the global humanitarian community. Photo credit: Eric Bridiers, U.S. Mission Geneva

I had the opportunity to attend the launch of the minimum standards earlier this month in Geneva. In the more than 30 years I have spent working in this field, I have witnessed first-hand the struggles children in Rwanda, Mozambique, Indonesia, Darfur, Haiti and elsewhere face in the wake of conflict and disaster. I am heartened to see how far we, the humanitarian community, have come in efforts to assist these children, and the promise and hope these standards give us all to do even more going forward.

Dr. Neil Boothby is the U.S. Government Special Advisor and Senior Coordinator to the USAID Administrator on Children in Adversity

 

VIDEO of the Week: President Obama

Yesterday, President Barack Obama was the first sitting U.S. President to visit Burma. There, he officially opened the USAID mission after a 24-year hiatus. “Today, I was proud to reestablish our USAID mission in this country, which is our lead development agency,” said President Obama. The President affirmed the United States’ partnership  in helping Burma, “reestablish its capacity to feed its people and to care for its sick, and educate its children, and build its democratic institutions as you continue down the path of reform.”

To learn more about our efforts in Burma, visit www.usaid.gov/burma.

Watch the full video of the President’s remark’s at the University of Yangon:

Development Labs Launch at Seven Universities

View photos from the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) Launch at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC on November 9, 2012, and from the HESN meeting with Secretary Clinton.

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Last week, OSTP Director John P. Holdren joined USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in launching the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN)  – a groundbreaking partnership between USAID and seven top universities that is designed to harness the ingenuity and passion of university faculty and students  to develop innovative solutions to global development challenges.

USAID’s HESN was first announced at the White House in February 2012 and its formal launch marks the latest milestone in the Administration’s work to leverage US comparative advantages in science, technology, and innovation to accelerate progress toward global development goals. The effort is a direct response to the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development, which calls for investments in game-changing innovations with the potential to solve long-standing development challenges—such as vaccines for neglected diseases; drought-resistant seed varieties; and clean energy technologies.

Fully achieving this vision will require what the President has called an “all-hands-on-deck” approach. That is why we are so enthusiastic about HESN: it embodies a new way of doing business—one that empowers innovators around the world to tackle big development challenges (a model that Administrator Shah has dubbed “Open Source Development“).  We are also pleased that the HESN will leverage the stores of untapped energy and expertise that reside on university campuses. The seven HESN universities were selected from nearly 500 applications from 49 states and 33 countries.  And, the pulse of student interest on campuses across the country is nearly palpable.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah speaks at Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) Launch on November 9, 2012. Photo Credit: Rodney Choice

With financial support from USAID matched by private sector partners, each of the seven universities will establish a Development Lab with a unique focus. For example, the Development Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will publish a Consumer Reports-style series of evaluations that will help donors and policymakers invest in the best existing technological solutions; the University of California Berkeley will establish a new field of Development Engineering and shepherd a portfolio of specific development solutions – such as low-cost, solar-powered vaccine refrigerators – through the pipeline of research, field evaluation, translation, and scale-up; and the College of William and Mary will build a world-class research consortium of geographers, economists, epidemiologists, political scientists, computer scientists, and statisticians to collect, geo-code, and analyze data to enable USAID and developing country governments to make hard-nosed, evidenced-based decisions.  All seven of the Development Labs – including Labs at DukeMichigan StateTexas A&M, and Makerere University in Uganda – will work closely with USAID’s field mission experts and Washington staff at every step along the way.

Congratulations to USAID and to the university leaders, faculty, students, and staff that will be key to the success of the Higher Education Solutions Network.  By ensuring that faculty tenure- and promotion-policies encourage and reward social impact, interdisciplinary work, and international engagement; by pursuing Grand Challenges for global development; and by adopting humanitarian licensing strategies that increase global access to university-developed technologies– we hope all universities will embrace the critical role they can play in global development.

To learn more about the HESN, please visit: http://www.usaid.gov/hesn

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP

Robynn Sturm Steffen is Senior Advisor to the Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP

America Extends a Hand to Burma

Chris Milligan serves as mission director to USAID Burma Photo Credit: USAID

Yesterday, the streets of Rangoon were lined with huge crowds of enthusiastic well-wishers, holding signs welcoming President Obama as his motorcade sped to the last stop – Rangoon University – for a major speech.  The excitement, building here since the trip was announced, was now electric.

Even just a few months ago, this visit was likely unimaginable to the people of Burma.  In the President’s speech to a spellbound audience at the University’s historic Convocation Hall, he said, “When I took office as President, I sent a message to those governments who ruled by fear:  We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist… so today, I have come to keep my promise, and extend the hand of friendship.”

It was also unimaginable to me that I’d be standing by a U.S. President as he dedicated a USAID mission, a first time in the Agency’s history.  It’s been over 50 years since the inaugural U.S.-Burma Economic Cooperation Agreement was signed.  In the decades that followed, our two countries have shared a long and, at times, tumultuous history.  Yet, President Obama began a new chapter when he became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Burma, highlighting the country’s historic shift to democracy and the partnership of the United States in this effort.

Burma is in the process of a remarkable transition, moving from military, authoritarian rule to parliamentary democracy; negotiating ceasefires after decades-long conflicts; and shifting to a market-oriented economy.  And, as President Obama said, this remarkable journey has only just begun.

Yet, what an incredible start.  As a Foreign Service Officer for 23 years, I can tell you that helping countries chart a more prosperous future is not always easy. We know there is hard work ahead, but yesterday we got a huge lift. That momentum will only strengthen the optimism and resilience of the Burmese people.  I’ve never been prouder than when the President said to those listening all across Burma, “America is with you every step of the way.”

From the Field: Gender Equity through Education in South Sudan

Regina Anek, a deputy director for gender at South Sudan’s Ministry of Education in Eastern Equatoria, just saved a 14-year old girl from an early, forced marriage. She says she was empowered to intervene as the result of her participation in a USAID-supported mentor-training program for teachers and education officials aimed at encouraging girls not just to enroll, but also to complete, secondary school.

Mentoring is just one of the ways USAID is addressing financial, social and institutional barriers to gender parity in education through the Gender Equity through Education (GEE) Program.

School completion rates for girls in South Sudan are extremely low. Survey data indicates that the rate of completing the eight-year primary cycle is currently 30 percent for boys, while the girls’ completion rate lags far behind at 17 percent. Secondary school completion rates are even worse.  This cannot only be attributed to the long conflict in this country, which prevented many girls from attending school, but also to other unique cultural and financial barriers.

One rampant cultural barrier is early marriage. Persistent poverty has been cited as a major reason for parents marrying off their daughters in exchange for money. Moreover, cultural norms in some places dictate marriage readiness for girls as young as 13. Communities often stigmatize older girls in schools, causing them to give up their education.

With USAID’s mentoring support and some tuition stipend, many girls now stay in school, and some who were married at an early age are now able to return and complete their secondary schooling.

Students in a classroom in northern Bahr el-Ghazal State, South Sudan. Photo Credit: Ezra Simon, USAID/South Sudan

The GEE program’s three components include:

  • a scholarship program;
  • an advocacy, community mobilization, and mentoring program;
  • and an institutional support program.

Regina Anek was trained as a mentor, enhancing her skills to intervene in communities where girls face social pressure to leave school to get married.

“I was informed that a student from one of the schools in my state was about to be married off, and I hurried to convene a meeting with the family and community. Meanwhile, I asked the parents to allow me [to] accommodate the girl at my house so that she could continue attending school as we resolved her marriage case,” Anek said.

After weeks of negotiating and educating the community leaders and the girl’s parents on the importance of an educated girl to the family and society, the girl was allowed to return home and continue with school.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about our programs in South Sudan.

Thai Students Win Mobile App Contest

A group of five first-year Thai engineering students won the USAID Asia Students with Solutions 2012 Mobile App Contest last week. The contest challenged Thai university students to create mobile applications (“apps”) to help solve development issues.

The winning group, Team Optimo from King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT), received a cash award of 50,000 Thai baht (equivalent to $1,625) and tablet computers. The team designed an app called “FloodFinder” that provides real-time data on water levels by using a smart phone’s built-in capability for high-quality photos, GPS and 3G connection, to be available on the market by next April. They were inspired to create the app by the historic flooding that occurred in Thailand in 2011 “to help save people’s lives and improve the quality of life,” said Nuntipat Narkthong, of Team Optimo.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie A. Kenney, USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia Director Michael Yates, and KMUTT Vice President Assistant Professor Bundit Thipakorn posed with the Students with Solutions 2012 winner, Team Optimo, and members of six finalist teams after the final presentations at Hitech Digital Live Studio, Digital Gateway, Siam Square. Photo credit: Jakkapong Mangmool

Team Vana, consisting of four computer engineering students from KMUTT, won the contest’s popular vote with more than 2,900 “likes” for its deforestation app called “A-Eye” on Facebook, which available on the market next year. The app is designed to capture details of illegal logging and report the information to park officials, and to provide helpful information to park tourists.

Organized by USAID Asia, the Students with Solutions 2012 Mobile App Design Contest launched in June and focused on encouraging university students to think of creative ways to address disaster resilience and response, deforestation and forest degradation, and human trafficking. Six teams were chosen from the original applicants for the final round of the contest. U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie A. Kenney announced the top winning teams at the final event, based on a decision by an expert panel of judges.

“The Students with Solutions contest looks to Thailand’s brightest to develop answers to their country’s most pressing development challenges,” Kenney said at the event. “Realizing that mobile phones have transformed our lives, apps like these can provide easy ways to share information and create greater access to services.”

Read about the Students for Solutions 2012 Mobile App Design Contest from one of Thailand’s online newspapers.

How We Can End Modern Day Slavery

MTV EXIT Media Event to Announce Burma Concert on Combatting Trafficking in Persons. Front row (left to right): Ko Pho Hla, The Trees; Chit Thu Wai, Actress & Singer; Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein, MTV EXIT Celebrity Ambassador; Ohnmar Ei Ei Chaw, UNIAP; Matt Love, MTV EXIT Campaign Director; Simon Goff, MTV EXIT CEO; Police Brigadier General Soe Myaing, Head of the Department Against Transnational Crime, Myanmar Police Force; Derek J. Mitchell, U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar; Michael Hassett, AusAID Counsellor; Myint Moe Aung, Music Composer. Back row (left to right): R Zarni, MTV EXIT Celebrity Ambassador; Kyaw Zin, The Trees; Nick Grono, Walk Free; Phyo Gyi, Singer; Lynn Lynn, Singer; Saw Thar Gay, The Trees. Credit: MTV Exit Photo

After decades of isolation, Burma is quickly becoming the place to be. Today, President Obama became the first U.S. sitting President to visit Burma and last Friday, multi Emmy-award winning singer songwriter Jason Mraz announced he will headline a historic MTV EXIT concert there on December 16th to raise awareness and increase prevention of human trafficking.  The free, live concert will be held at the Yangon People’s Square, which lies at the base of the 2,600 year-old Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the country’s most iconic and auspicious sites.

Launched in 2004, MTV EXIT is a public awareness campaign that uses the power of music and entertainment to educate young people about human trafficking.  In addition to concerts, MTV EXIT and their partners use advertisements, hotlines, PSAs, music videos, documentaries, and youth training to reach at-risk communities.  To date, MTV EXIT has produced 30 concerts across Asia, reaching tens of millions of people.

The United Nations estimates that at any one point there are 20 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, more than half of these victims are in the Asia – Pacific region.  Human trafficking is the illegal trade of women, men and children involving force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of exploitation.  It is also one of the largest criminal industries in the world today, grossing an estimated $32 billion a year through forced labor, forced prostitution, debt bondage, and other forms of enslavement.  In Burma, citizens are at risk of being trafficked within the country, across its borders, and internationally.

At an MTV EXIT media event in Burma to announce the concert, U.S. Ambassador Derek Mitchell spoke on a panel moderated by Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein, Burmese pop singer and MTV EXIT Celebrity Ambassador.  He was joined by Burma’s Police Brigadier General Soe Myaing, AusAID Counsellor Michael Hassett, Nick Grono from Walk Free, MTV EXIT CEO Simon Goff, and OhnmarEiEi Chaw, UNIAP’s Program Coordinator for Burma.  Ambassador Mitchell reaffirmed the U.S. Government’s commitment to combat human slavery, saying “Human trafficking offends the conscience of everyone.” He also urged the young people of Burma to “be alert, be educated, and be empowered to make safe choices.”

USAID has a long history of countering trafficking in persons (C-TIP) around the world and has been a dedicated supporter of the MTV EXIT campaign for six years.  This year, the Agency released its Counter-Trafficking In Persons Policy to reinvigorate and focus Agency efforts to combat trafficking on concrete, measurable principles and objectives.  We also announced Challenge Slavery, a C-TIP campus challenge that calls on university students to develop creative technology solutions to prevent trafficking, enable victims to escape from traffickers, and help survivors recover.  Please join the community online and work with us to end trafficking.

On December 16th, the people of Burma will join the growing list of communities that won’t accept human trafficking as the reality today.  The concert will be broadcast nationally and will air across MTV’s international network, available in more than half a billion homes.  Raising awareness about human trafficking is key.  If freedom comes from knowledge, then we all have the power to end modern slavery.

USAID Fall Semester Review

It seems this semester is flying by and exams are fast approaching, making this the perfect time to step back and review everything that has happened so far during the USAID Fall Semester. Over the past two months, Administrator Rajiv Shah and other senior USAID staff have visited 14 college campuses across the country, directly engaging over 1,600 students. While introducing students to USAID’s mission, these visits have highlighted the important role that university students can play in development and how their ideas and innovations can be the difference in solving the most pressing global challenges. In addition to our campus visits,  Fall Semester has introduced USAID 101, which provides the history of USAID and in-depth learning materials about select development topics. All of these materials and a complete list of universities visited can be found below.

Administrator Shah greets students from University of Michigan's ONE Campaign campus group this past October. Photo Credit: Gerald Ford School of Public Policy.

And remember, whether it is getting an e-internship or a fellowship, competing in a Grand Challenge, applying for a DIV grant, or engaging with one of our partners, there is no shortage of ways to become involved in development work.

Learning Materials:

  • USAID 101
    • Lesson Plan: Innovation
    • Virtual Classroom: Mobile Money
    • Lesson Plan: Food Security
    • Book Club: Our Fall Semester Book Club gives you a list of development books that have been recommended by senior USAID experts. These books cover a wide range of development topics, from global economic history and world-changing science discoveries to strategies that help companies succeed in developing world markets.
    • USAID Impact Blog

Campus Visits: Check out pictures from USAID Fall Semester visits on the USAID Facebook Page

Serve with USAID: Visit this page to see how you can get involved with USAID.

Mobile Games Bring Social Change to Developing Worlds

The Half the Sky Movement is excited to announce the release of three mobile phone games in India and Kenya. These new games are designed to educate women and girls about essential health issues, increase awareness about gender equality, and empower them to bring about social change in these areas. Family Choices game aims to increase the perception of girls’ place in and value to families, with a focus on keeping girls in schools; 9-Minutes introduces players to the key do’s and don’ts of having a healthy pregnancy; and in Worm Attack!, players work to rid themselves and their communities of intestinal worms.

Can games on mobile devices create impact in the developing world?
With support from USAID, Games for Change (G4C) set out to answer this question with a seemingly simple goal: to produce free, high-quality mobile games that reach and educate women and girls about critical social, economic, and health issues. Looking back, we couldn’t have imagined the challenges we would encounter and the many lessons that we would learn. Here are a few tips to other “game changers” out there with similar aspirations.

Children play the Half the Sky mobile games in Kenya. Photo credit: Ed Owles, Worldview

1. Involve audience and content partners to inform and iterate on design.
Early on, G4C and publishing partner E-Line Media reached out to a handful of NGOs, seeking partners who would mutually benefit from the use of these games. We worked to integrate the NGOs into the development process. Each group assisted with the game conceptualization and helped define the goals of the game. NGOs were also enlisted for their content expertise –  to align the game content with their existing programs.

Our NGO partners also connected us with local communities to solicit feedback on art, gameplay, language and instructional content. We strengthened relationships with each NGO and used their valuable feedback to enhance the games. One local partner was so enthusiastic about helping that we decided to name a game character after her.

2. Design with the technology platform in mind.
Next we explored how to get the games into the hands of our hard-to-reach audiences. Just how does someone living in a rural village access digital technology?

Recognizing this problem from the outset, we looked to mobile technology as a gaming platform. Feature phones (J2ME) offered an opportunity to reach a much broader audience and offered media consumption to communities who might not otherwise see any other form of interactive media.

3. Penetrate the market with multiple distribution channels and consider how each will impact game use.
Upon release, G4C and E-Line Media will launch the games for free on local mobile operators’ and handset providers’ app stores in India and East Africa. However, no access to mobile Internet would mean that the games would never be seen by the hardest-to-reach audiences.

To address this problem, we worked with our NGO partners to leverage existing infrastructure and distribute the games through their programs on the ground. E-Line Media developed a multi-pronged strategy, with several NGOs in both India and Kenya, to create a variety of additional channels for distribution.

Conclusions
For everyone involved, this has been an incredible journey that has created a foundation for mobile game development and distribution that we hope to build on and bring to scale in the coming years. As mobile technologies continue to penetrate and dominate emerging markets, we will continue to shape and build the infrastructure and methodology for game design and development.

We are pleased to announce that starting today and in the following weeks, the three mobile games will be made available for free download from local app stores. They will be featured on the Nokia, Safaricom, GetJar and Appia app stores for a range of operators and devices in both Hindi and Swahili.

 

From the Field: Giving At-Risk Youth a Chance in Guyana

For many at-risk youth, workforce development training is the key to gaining the necessary skills to enter the workforce and become productive, earning members of society. In Guyana, a Caribbean country on the northern coast of South America, USAID workforce development programs serve critical needs in areas where crime rates are high and youth who lack job skills have few options to make a living. A USAID-supported program aims to give young Guyanese youth who are vulnerable to crime and violence, or have already committed minor crimes, a chance to turn their lives around.

Employment coach Rollin Tappan advises a participant in the Guyana SKYE program. Photo credit: Tomaisha Hendricks, SKYE Program Officer (fully owned by EDC and the SKYE Project)

The Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) Guyana project will, by August 2013, provide 805 at-risk youth ages 15 to 24 with training in market-driven skills, and improve their ability to transition into the workforce. Community partners are preparing youth for the workplace by providing training in communications, personal development, local labor laws and financial literacy — areas that have been identified as priorities by public and private sector employers in Guyana. All activities are integrated through the provision of employment coaches that are paired with each youth to assist them in reaching individual development destinations.

The SKYE Project is part of President Obama’s Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), in which the United States is working together with the nations of the Caribbean on substantially reducing illicit trafficking, increasing public safety and security, and promoting social justice. Funded by USAID, SKYE is managed by the Education Development Center (EDC), and works with private sector partners, government ministries, community agencies and NGOs.

Youth participating in SKYE activities are given the opportunity to avoid entering or re- entering the juvenile justice system by taking part in activities that help them achieve their goals and become productive members of their communities — before their lives are lost to crime, violence and incarceration.

Employment coaches are key to the project’s success. The SKYE Project is recruiting and training 22 employment coaches, mostly local credentialed social workers that focus on youth, to work with young participants in four regions throughout Guyana.

“It isn’t difficult to train youth to be carpenters or construction workers,” Corbin says. “But when training ends and job seeking begins, youth are in danger of vulnerability if they don’t get a job right away. Our employment coaches are there to provide support and guidance to transition youth to real jobs in their communities.”

In the next few years SKYE will also assess labor market needs to better position youth for success. The project is also working to build local capacities by providing curricula and training so that Guyanese communities can continue to engage at-risk youth and provide opportunities to become productive members of society.

Visit our website to learn more about the new USAID Youth Policy (PDF).

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