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SMARTgirl Empowers Women in Cambodia

Originally posted to the FHI360 blog.  

Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, joined Assistant Administrator for Asia, Nisha Biswal for a special visit to the SMARTgirl project in Cambodia, a USAID funded project led by FHI 360. SMARTgirl aims to prevent and mitigate the impact of HIV and improve the sexual and reproductive health of entertainment workers, many of whom are sex workers. There are an estimated 35,000 entertainment workers in Cambodia, working at night clubs, bars, massage parlors, karaoke clubs (KTV), restaurants, beer gardens, as well as on the street. Prevalence of HIV is as high as 14 percent, among some groups of entertainment workers.

SMARTgirl stands apart from other programming among entertainment workers in Cambodia because of its positive, non-stigmatizing approach. It combines evidence-based interventions with the strong SMARTgirl brand, which empowers women to protect their health and well-being. SMARTgirl reaches nearly half of all EWs in Cambodia in their workplace, because it treats them respectfully, recognizes what is important to them and improves health-seeking behavior by raising self-esteem.

SMARTgirl is one of a number of projects that validates what the international community and national leaders have been emphasizing for more than a decade— that empowering women and girls are vital components of human development. Since coming into office, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, as well as Ambassador Verveer, have continually underscored the importance of integrating these issues into Department of State foreign policy objectives.

During Secretary Clinton’s recent ASEAN development meeting in Phnom Penh, she was influential in integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment into the Lower Mekong Initiative agenda. In a statement, she emphasized the importance of reproductive rights for achieving gender equality; an area that the innovative FHI 360 SMARTgirl program has been integrating into its HIV mitigation program:

“Reproductive rights are among the most basic of human rights. … Millions of women and young people in developing countries don’t have access to information to plan their family. They don’t have health services and modern methods of contraception. This is not only a violation of their right…it’s also a question of equity as women everywhere should have the same ability to determine this fundamental part of their lives.”

As this short video on SMARTgirl reveals, the women in the program feel inspired, often for the first time. They see themselves as “smart girls”– women who are empowered to change their lives, and educate others about health issues and rights.

Says Kheng, “Before I became a SMARTgirl leader, I used to face issues on my own, … but we have the right to help each other and we have to participate in the community where we live.”

An “IdEA” That Runs Deep: Engaging America’s Diaspora Communities

Growing up, John Henry Thompson was fascinated by technology. His family’s farm in Jamaica had no running water or electricity. But when he immigrated to New York with his parents at the age of 12, he quickly proved his technological aptitude. He devoured books on electricity and the latest editions of “Popular Mechanic.” For his seventh grade science fair, he built a rudimentary computing device. This science fair marked the beginning of what would become a lifelong passion for computer programming.

There are many “John Henry”‘s from India to Colombia to the Philippines who have come to the United States to learn and create new futures. Currently, more than 60 million Americans are first- or second-generation Diasporas, and many of them have close ties to countries with critical needs. Instead of just sending money back home, imagine what they could do to help improve the lives and change futures.

Like John Henry, his homeland of Jamaica has come a long way in the past few decades. Yet he knows that Jamaicans haven’t leveraged that mobile lead into greater economic prosperity and better health. He knows that Jamaica can do better. And he wants to ensure that future generations of Jamaicans have the tools they need to compete in the global knowledge economy.

This is why he became a volunteer mentor and trainer for the Digital Jam 2.0 Mobile Applications Competition. Sponsored by the Government of Jamaica and the World Bank, the Mobile App Competition combined both a competition and educational workshops for app developers. As trainer, John Henry helped young developers gain the tools they needed to build effective native mobile applications.

This passion to give back to their homelands is what makes the potential for diaspora communities’ engagement in development so powerful. From their language skills and cultural familiarity to professional networks and personal ties, the diaspora community has the potential to be a significant people-to-people asset for positive development impact. If we can deepen and expand diaspora outreach, we can develop stronger bonds with other nations — through their civil societies, business leaders, inventors, and scientists. We can do things that USAID working alone never could.

That’s why USAID joined with the U.S. Department of State in 2011 to launch the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA). Recognizing the powerful yet untapped potential of diasporas in development, IdEA seeks to deepen America’s engagement and partnership with diaspora communities.

To further advance our work with diaspora communities, USAID, the U.S. Department of State, and IdEA are hosting the second Global Diaspora Forum, an annual celebration of America’s diaspora communities, July 25-26. The Forum is focused on how new technology can empower and increase diaspora philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, volunteerism, and social innovation. I encourage you to visit IdEA’s website to watch live streaming videos from the Forum and read more about diaspora communities’ contributions to their countries of origin and America’s diplomatic relationships and development commitments worldwide.

A Vaccine to Help End the AIDS Pandemic

A new energy animates the hallways of the Washington Convention Center this week, as leaders and advocates commit to a goal once thought impossible: ending the AIDS pandemic.

Indonesian volunteers light candles during a ceremony to mark World AIDS Day in Jakarta. Photo Credit: Adek Berry/AFP

Attendees at the AIDS 2012 Conference here in Washington, and at conference hubs from Nairobi to Chennai, are telling the world that we can end the AIDS pandemic. Among the astonishing accomplishments in our battles against other infectious diseases that allow us to believe this bold claim, is the long-sought eradication of polio. The world learned in January that one of the last holdouts of this viral disease – India – has not recorded a single new case of natural polio infection for more than one year.  Polio still needs to be defeated in a small number of countries, but one of its most stubborn reservoirs of the virus is clearly being drained. That is no small feat.

How was this extraordinary feat accomplished?

In short: through massive immunization campaigns and people working together around the world to end a common threat.

HIV is, admittedly, a far more challenging foe. The virus attacks our body’s immune cells, changes its appearance ceaselessly and incorporates itself into our DNA, where it cannot be extinguished. The deviousness of HIV has long challenged the brightest minds of science. But it is nonetheless a challenge that can be overcome—if, that is, we commit ourselves to supporting research and building on the progress scientists have made so far.

In the last three years alone, clinical studies have demonstrated that preventive HIV vaccines and microbicides are possible. Other research has shown that antiretroviral therapies can be used in various ways to prevent HIV transmission as well. Meanwhile, voluntary medical male circumcision is increasingly being used to reduce the risk of HIV infection.

Each and every one of these strategies must be added to the existing toolkit for HIV prevention—and used together as a tour de force—if we are to end the AIDS pandemic.

New impact modeling, conducted jointly by the Futures Institute and IAVI, suggests that the full implementation of the UNAIDS Investment Framework by 2015 could help turn the tide of this pandemic. The subsequent development and deployment of a broadly effective AIDS vaccine could then further bend the curve and bring us closer to truly ending the AIDS pandemic.

Recent advances have fueled optimism and lent a new momentum to the field of HIV vaccine R&D. This momentum must be sustained. IAVI and its many partners around the world are racing to build on this progress. We invite you to join us in our efforts.

Pioneering African Entrepreneurship on Display at Diaspora Marketplace

At USAID, a central tenet of our efforts is the belief that developing nations must take the lead on implementing innovative solutions to improve their economies and the lives of their countrymen in order for development to be effective in the long term.

This principle was on prominent display at the second African Diaspora Marketplace (ADM II) at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., held June 22 and 23, where participants showcased their promising ideas for businesses to create employment and strengthen trade in emerging markets in sub-Saharan Africa. The event, sponsored by USAID, the Western Union Company and the Western Union Foundation, was an opportunity for 44 finalists selected from a pool of 495 applicants to display their entrepreneurial prowess in a wide variety of sectors, including agribusiness, renewable energy, and information and communication technology.

The U.S.-based applicants were competing for up to $50,000 in matching grants and/or up to $20,000 in technical assistance to advance the businesses that support their African communities.

“The African Diaspora Marketplace is a great example of the type of public-private partnership we want to see more of at USAID,” said Dr. Maura O’Neill, Chief Innovation Officer and Director of the Office of Innovation and Development Alliances at USAID. “By supporting African diaspora entrepreneurs who are looking to create innovative, sustainable businesses in their country of origins, we are building the foundation for inclusive economic growth critical to sustaining long-term development. USAID is proud of our partnerships with diaspora communities—from the ADM II to our ongoing work with the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA)—and we wish the winners great success in their business endeavors.”

Michael Griffin, CEO of produce importer Sardis Enterprises International, discussed the work his company was doing in Ghana to provide opportunity for fruit growers.

“One of the biggest things is that we have a co-op,” he said. “The cooperative farms for us. Without us bringing the product in [to the U.S.], they don’t get to take their product to the export platform. … The main thing is that we help them in building some type of finance for themselves.”

Another eye-catching display at the market belonged to the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative, which creates durable bicycle frames from bamboo.

“Most of the bikes that are imported into the country are of poor quality, they are very expensive, and they are not designed for rough roads that run in the country,” said Kwaku Kyei, a global strategist at the organization. “So we decided to come out with these bamboo bicycles which are multipurpose and affordable for our target groups, especially for farmers and people from the rural areas.”

David Bariho, the Technical Director for ORIBAGS Innovations, highlighted the dual benefits of his business, which produces paper and customized reusable shopping bags from agricultural waste in Uganda.

“Our aim is to increase production, fulfill the market, give our clients what they need, and increase employment for people, mostly women and youth,” he said. “These are people who give us materials, so we need to give back. … Our product, really, provides both social and environmental benefits for the community and for all people.”

This year’s 17 winners, and the innovative approach of the ADM II will be recognized at the Secretary’s Global Diaspora Forum on July 25-26. Hosted by the U.S. Department of State, USAID, and IdEA, the Global Diaspora Forum celebrates the contributions of America’s diaspora communities to development and encourages greater partnership between diasporas, the U.S. Government, the private sector, and civil society.

African Leaders Call for Scale up Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision in East and Southern Africa

Dr. Emmanuel Njeuhmeli is the Senior Biomedical Prevention Advisor with USAID and Co-Chair of PEPFAR’s Male Circumcision Technical Working Group.

Scientific advances in the treatment and prevention of HIV infection over the past years have created unprecedented optimism that the fight against the HIV/AIDS. Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) for HIV prevention is one such intervention that has enormous potential to alter the course of the epidemic.

Three clinical trials have definitively demonstrated that VMMC can reduce female to male transmission of HIV by approximately 60%.  This means that if brought to scale to achieve a coverage of 80% of adolescents and men, VMMC could prevent 3.4 million new HIV infections and save countries in East and Southern Africa US$16.5 billion in care and treatment costs between now and 2025.

With tens of thousands of people who work in the field of HIV in Washington, D.C. —political leaders, public health experts, activists, people living with HIV—all equally committed to achieving a future free of AIDS, the time is now to examine possibilities to rapidly scale up comprehensive VMMC services. Key African political and traditional leaders from some of the hardest hit countries of East and Southern Africa will participate in a satellite session tonight to discuss challenges and solutions to accelerating VMMC scale up in 14 priority countries.

These leaders understand very well the urgency of bringing this intervention to scale.  Mr. Blessing Chebundo, a member of Zimbabwe’s Parliament, was publicly tested and circumcised last month in an amazing show of leadership. I was fortunate enough to be in Zimbabwe that day and witness 44 members of Parliament in a makeshift tent at Parliament House stepping up to inspire other men in their country to do their part for HIV prevention. It was a moment I will never forget.

We know that with strong leadership, commitment and coordination this is doable. We’ve seen Kenya’s successful VMMC program where more than 400,000 voluntary medical male circumcisions have been administered since 2008. Government leadership and program flexibility have been key.  In Iringa, Tanzania, local leaders and officials, with PEPFAR support, overcame human resource and infrastructure constraints and managed to exceed their targets, performing more than 100,000 VMMC since 2010. Thirty-one thousand circumcisions were performed during an eight-week campaign. Based on modeling estimates, they’ve already prevented over 14,000 new HIV infections. Surely other countries can do this too.

Preventable HIV infections occur every day among uncircumcised men in the countries of East and Southern Africa. Each day that this proven prevention method is not brought to scale represents a lost opportunity to change the course of the epidemic.

There is no time to waste, now, it’s time to act.

Developers for Development: The Evolution of the Food Security Open Data Challenge

Geeks, Coders, Hackers, Developers, Computer Scientists, Technologists- whichever term you choose, people with technical acumen have proven to be some of the most prolific volunteers for social good.  It is not hyperbole to state that on any given weekend, in nearly every major city around the world, volunteers can be found gathering together to create products that benefit education, security, economic, and other social interests. Participants cobble together the vision, team, the code, and the experts over 48 hours, and present themselves for judging by Sunday evening.  These gatherings are dubbed “hackathons,” “codeathons” or “codesprints” and they have found success: out of the Disrupt Hackathon, which is hosted by TechCrunch and connects developers and entrepreneurs, the Docracy team formed to make legal and business documents more free and accessible, and went on to raise $650,000 over the next year to expand its operations.  StartupWeekend, a hackathon targeting entrepreneurs, claims hundreds of new startups including Reddit, a widely popular user-generated news aggregator.  In 2010, the State Department and iHub launched the Apps4Africa challenge  to connect local developers and global mentors to local NGOs to learn and solve local problems.  The winner, iCow,  is a successful mobile-phone application that tracks cows’ hormone cycles to inform better breeding, milk production, and nutrition information to Kenyan dairy farmers.

Indian woman arranges a display of grains and seeds at Millet Fest 2012, in Hyderabad on March 24, 2012. The three day event aims to promote use and increase knowledge of the nutritional benefits of millet seeds when used as part of a daily diet. Photo Credit: AFP

If you’re not familiar with the hackathon model, you’re not alone.  Government engagement with the tech community, though expanding, is limited.  And though hackathons bring together widely diverse communities to contribute their time and expertise to solve problems, they are not a flawless solution.  Rare is the startup that can convene and be commercially viable in 48 hours.  To increase the impact of the products of these hackathons, and ensure that those volunteering their time are doing so wisely, we have to improve on the existing model.

Enter White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, and his bold concept for public sector improvement of the hackathon model to connect developers directly to the people who will ultimately use their product, and to incubate solutions to be attractive to investors.  Under his model, weekend sessions are stretched across at least ninety days and buttress the hackathon with brainstorming and planning session weeks prior and an incubation period of the successful products for weeks following.  He outlines this model as an endeavor of the White House’s “Open Data Initiative” and, following on the successful implementation at HHS, has taken it to various other agencies including the Department of Energy, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Education, and USAID. Through his leadership, each agency has taken up the mantle of instituting their own open data initiatives.

USAID is  building its first data initiative around food security, and I encourage anyone who is curious to get involved.  All backgrounds and interests are welcome; participants need not be an expert in food security nor in software, a willingness to contribute to the efforts of innovative solutions and commercially viable products is all that’s required.  Writers, designers, networkers, and creative thinkers from all walks are welcome.  As access to information increases globally, so does the potential for innovation and great ideas to be borne and fomented across borders.  USAID is convening a global community to engage more directly with those who are willing to volunteer their time and expertise to the cause of development, and who want to work together to “hack” new and creative solutions to long-standing development priorities.  Just yesterday, Secretary Clinton observed “Data not only measures progress, it inspires it.” At USAID we want to build and support the platform for those who are inspired to create and sustain lasting progress.

For more information and to participate, visit agrilinks.org/openagdata and contact OpenAgData@USAID.Gov

The Journey of Life for Children Living with HIV – From Diagnosis to Adulthood

Not long ago, it was expected that children living with HIV would not survive to adulthood.  Today, children living with HIV are thriving through adolescence into adulthood, and doing so in large numbers.

Though effective antiretroviral treatment is allowing many to live long and healthy lives, living with HIV remains a complex burden for these age groups. Treatment, care and support needs are challenging and ever-changing.  Focusing on clinical services alone is insufficient.  Children and adolescents living with HIV have a range of other essential needs that must be supported.  They require psychosocial support, sexual and reproductive health education, alcohol and substance use counseling, and information on voluntary and safe disclosure, loss, grief, and bereavement.   Children and adolescents are often confronted with a multitude of emotions, questions, and concerns regarding the complexities of disclosure, their health, and their future.

PEPFAR, WHO, UNICEF, national governments, NGOs, organizations of people living with HIV, and others are working to support children living with HIV as they transition from childhood to adolescence and adulthood.

One of USAID’s foremost concerns is how best to support and address the unique health, psychological, and social needs of adolescents living with HIV as they transition into adulthood and into adult care environments.  Only an estimated 15% of HIV-exposed infants are identified and in southern Africa less than 12% those between 15 and 24 years of age have been tested and know their HIV status results.   USAID acknowledges the urgent need for age-appropriate HIV testing and counseling for children and youth to identify those that remain undiagnosed. 

With the participation of children and adolescents living with HIV in USAID programs, we continue to better understand how best to reach adolescents with the services they need.   For one, HIV remains highly stigmatized.  Children and adolescents living with HIV are confronted with complex challenges regarding disclosure with their peers and even family members.   They are in need of support to practice voluntary and safe disclosure, maintain treatment literacy and adherence, and have healthy relationships.

This is a historic moment in human history. We know what works in the effort to combat major killers of children and we are in a unique position to further reduce childhood all-cause mortality and virtually eliminate new pediatric HIV infections while keeping mothers healthy.

The focus on adolescents living with HIV is important to USAID and part of a greater initiative to meet the health needs of children.  For fifty years, USAID has been committed to improving child health.

In June, the Child Survival Call to Action challenged the world to reduce child mortality to 20 or fewer child deaths per 1,000 live births in every country by 2035.  Reaching this historic target will save an additional 45 million children’s lives by 2035.

Fifty-six governments and over 100 civil society partners committed to sharpening national plans for child survival, monitoring results, and focusing greater attention on the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children.

For children and adolescents living with HIV, we must manage their care with the desire and actions that show their self-worth including treatment and clinic adherence.  And let’s continue to prioritize meeting essential needs so children and adolescents can make a healthy transition into adulthood and a fruitful, productive life thereafter.

Join the USAID-sponsored International AIDS Society satellite:  Journey of Life for Children Living with HIV – From Diagnosis to Adulthood Sunday, July 22, 2012 from 9:00-11:00.

Progress in Haiti

Thomas C. Adams serves as Haiti Special Coordinator at the U.S. Department of State, and Mark Feierstein serves as Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The government of Haiti recently addressed the double bind their country often faces when the international media covers the development that is occurring in Haiti, identifying either how development is slow in coming or that the development that is occurring is harmful. We anticipate an upcoming AP article may reflect this same perspective. Haiti is working tirelessly to overcome adversity that existed even before the earthquake and to begin to build a stable and sustainable foundation for economic prosperity and societal stability.

Like many other Haiti donors, the United States government has been a proud partner of the government and people of Haiti. We have approached our work in a fundamentally different way. We have followed the lead of the government and people of Haiti, and we have sought for our development assistance not only to provide aid, but long-term sustainable investment as well. Our investments fall into four areas prioritized by the government: agriculture, health care, infrastructure and rule of law/security. And, while the assistance the United States is providing today is not always immediately apparent, the investments we are making will be lasting.

Haiti has a long way to go. Yet, there are successes. We want to share a few that sometimes go unreported.

  1. More than 1.1 million Haitians have moved out of temporary tent camps. The U.S. government, through USAID, has worked with the government and people of Haiti to repair damaged homes, build transitional shelters and provide rental support. These efforts alone have benefited more than 328,000 people.
  2. The government of Haiti ensured more children are attending school, paying the tuition of 850,000 primary school students and enabling 142,000 new students to attend school this past year alone.
  3. In the North, one of the poorest regions of the country, the government of Haiti is leading one of the largest and most ambitious regional development efforts in the country’s history. Haiti has lead the U.S. government, the Inter-American Development Bank, and businesses — including domestic and foreign — to invest in the future of the region. The Caracol Industrial Park, for example, began operations at one factory in April. A modern power plant that provides electricity to the Park’s factories and surrounding communities is up and running. There is a new vocational training center, a modern university provided by the Dominican Republic, and an improving community-based health care system. An airport expansion, construction of a new settlement with more than 1,280 hurricane and earthquake resistant houses with electricity, potable water, and flush sanitation in every home, and engineering drawings for a new container port are underway. These projects are part of Haiti’s vision for a more prosperous and stable future that harnesses the economic potential of Haiti’s impoverished regions, which the Haitian government put forward, and which donor partners and development experts endorsed.
  4. With more than 60 percent of Haitians reliant on agriculture for income, the United States has expanded agricultural programs, deploying the strategy of Feed the Future, the U.S. government food security initiative. To date we have worked with more than 9,700 farmers, introducing improved seeds, fertilizer and technologies. These efforts have resulted in a 118 percent increase in rice yields, 368 percent increase in corn, 85 percent increase in bean yields, and 21 percent increase in plantain yields. Our goal is to support 100,000 farmers in our three geographical regions of focus.
  5. The U.S. government, through USAID, is funding the services of an experienced management firm to help improve the commercial and operational sustainability of Haiti’s electric utility in Port-au-Prince. In a country where only 12 percent of the population has legal access to electricity, the firm is also seeking to expand services to another 60,000 active customers by next April, which will increase the active customers in Haiti by a third. Since November 2011, the USG has been rehabilitating five electrical substations in Port-au-Prince, ensuring that available power in the system reaches households and businesses. To date, the U.S. government has signed contracts in the energy sector worth $52 million that are in different stages of implementation, half of which focus on the Port-au-Prince area.

The U.S. Government Is Working in Partnership

Dozens of countries, multilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector entities are supporting Haiti. Together, we all pledged more than $12 billion in March 2010 in humanitarian and recovery funding over 10 years — a testament to the wide-spread commitment Haiti’s partners share to its future prosperity. The United States pledged $1.15 billion or about 12 percent of the total funds. The government of Haiti and its partners are striving to ensure each dollar invested yields maximum results and complements, rather than overlaps, with other investments. The U.S. government development strategy can be found at: www.state.gov/s/hsc/. In addition to direct assistance, the United States funds efforts in Haiti through multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Bank. We are the largest donor in the health and agriculture sectors; the IDB is the largest donor in the education sector, as well as one of the lead donors on water, sanitation and hygiene programs (WASH). Today, because of coordination with the government of Haiti, the IDB and the government of Spain, more Haitians have access to clean water than before the earthquake — yet there is still much more progress that needs to be made.

The U.S. Government is Focused on Productive Infrastructure for Haiti’s Renewal

If you don’t look closely, numbers can be deceiving. The United States used existing funds from 2009 and 2010 and redirected existing programs to jumpstart recovery assistance, rehabilitate the electric grid and upgrade neighborhoods and health clinics before emergency supplemental funds were made available by Congress. Infrastructure projects don’t begin or get completed overnight, and with good reason. So while the United States is on track to disburse all $475 million we committed to housing, energy and ports, disbursements for these types of complex projects are slower. To build a new port, power plant, hospital or housing complex — all of which the United States is in various stages of implementing — in a collaborative, responsible manner requires feasibility studies, consultations and planning with relevant government entities and communities at the local and national level, environmental studies, and plans for staffing and operations and maintenance. For Haiti to become an economically prosperous nation, we need to support sustainable projects. To do so means providing assistance in a deliberate manner.

Disbursements of U.S. Development Assistance to Haiti
$ in thousands for all items

Humanitarian Relief Assistance
Available funding through 03/31/2012: $1,289,024
Obligations: $1,289,024
Disbursements: $1,289,024
Percentage of available funding disbursed: 100%

Recovery and Reconstruction Assistance
Available funding through 03/31/2012: $1,891,743
Of which is the March 2010 New York pledge: $1,170,196
Obligations: $1,129,985
Of which is the March 2010 New York pledge: $649,842
Disbursements: $988,320
Of which is the March 2010 New York pledge: $463,102
Percentage of available funding disbursed: 48%
Of which is the March 2010 New York pledge: 40%

Total
Available funding through 03/31/2012: $3,180,767
Obligations: $2,419,010
Disbursements: $2,277,345
Percentage of available funding disbursed: 72%

You can see how we are investing in Haiti by going to www.foreignassistance.gov and for information on specific contracts you can visit https://www.fpds.gov/fpdsng_cms/.

The U.S. Government is Committed to Transparency and Accountability

The State Department and USAID regularly provide information to the public and consult with Congress. In the last nine months alone, we have held more than 50 briefings for Members of Congress and their staffers, submitted strategies and reports, and have made ourselves available to answer inquiries via letters, emails, phone calls and meetings. And, for U.S. development projects, USAID provides Congress with a progress report every two weeks.

Importantly, we consulted extensively with the government of Haiti and other stakeholders in Haiti in the design of our assistance strategy, to ensure it reflected the priorities of Haiti. As part of this process, we have shared how much funding is available for investments in each sector and the impact the government of Haiti could anticipate from these initiatives. In the North, we have built community kiosks in different townships to share information in French and Creole about the investments the United States is making to receive feedback and remain accountable to local communities. Our commitments are public and tangible, supported by performance benchmarks that allow the people of Haiti and U.S. taxpayers to hold us accountable for our successes and failures.

We have also taken great strides to make the contracting process more transparent and accessible, especially to Haitian-owned companies. Online, any one can readily find the scope of work and information about the projects, excluding company’s business confidential information, to ensure full and open competition for contracts (by avoiding competing companies knowing the costs structures of their competitors).

We are working hard to ensure the United States is the best partner it can be to the government and people of Haiti, while investing the American taxpayers’ resources wisely and sustainably. Our goal is to continually improve our processes and programs, maintain the integrity of our investments, work in a coordinated manner with all stakeholders, and above all else measure our impact by whether the lives of Haitians are improving.

USAID and Partners Kick Off LAUNCH: Beyond Waste Forum in Pasadena

The intense aura of intelligence that permeates NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA seems to signal that it is the perfect place for USAID and our partners to kick off this week’s LAUNCH: Beyond Waste Forum.  It is an incredible privilege—and, to be honest, a great deal of fun—to be at LAUNCH with a world-class group of experts and innovators.  This impressive group that crosses many sectors and industry boundaries will spend the next three days focusing on breakthrough technologies and problems that address some of the world’s toughest waste problems.

USAID and our partners NASA, Nike, and the Department of State formed LAUNCH to showcase and support extremely high potential innovators addressing the world’s most critical sustainability challenges.  LAUNCH: Beyond Waste is our fourth LAUNCH program cycle (previous cycles focused on water, health, and energy).  After a rigorous application and vetting process, we selected nine innovators we believe will make an outsized impact on waste issues in both the developed and developing worlds.  Through LAUNCH, we will spend the next six months working with them to accelerate that impact.

Waste is unfortunately one of the most neglected issues in international development practice.  While many donors in our field have only a few programs worldwide dedicated to waste issues, the waste challenges developing world citizens, organizations, and governments face are daunting.  In most major developing world cities and countries, the vast majority of municipal solid waste streams are not formally processed, while ‘eWaste’, medical waste, and agricultural waste streams (among others) often go unaddressed as well.  At the same time, “untapped” waste streams represent enormous potential resources when waste-to-energy and “upcycling” or recycling methods are applied.

Many of our LAUNCH: Beyond Waste innovators are building thriving businesses and programs based on that very premise: waste is often a resource and an opportunity, not an unfortunate byproduct of modern life.  This impressive group of innovators includes, for example:

Attero Reycling: India’s leading provider of “end-to-end” electronic and electrical goods e-Waste management services—likely the only such full service company in the developing world.

re:char: A leading developer and provider of ‘biochar’ operating in Kenya and the United States.  Biochar is a carbon-negative charcoal that can be used as a charcoal substitute and as a powerful soil amendment, which boosts crop yields.

Sanergy: A provider of sanitation infrastructure for Nairobi, Kenya’s slums and of fertilizer and electricity from its byproducts.

You can see the full list of the LAUNCH: Beyond Waste innovators and descriptions of their innovations.

We are thrilled with the bright and diverse group of people who have joined the LAUNCH Council, which will advise the innovators.  During the Forum, the innovators will engage in three days of collaboration with the Council, a group representing the waste, business, investment, international development, policy, engineering, science, communications, and sustainability sectors.  We have assembled the Council to give individualized advice to the innovators and to form a network that can help accelerate their progress in the coming months. Check out profiles of the LAUNCH Council members.

Please follow the LAUNCH: Beyond Waste Forum this Friday and Saturday (July 20 and 21, beginning at 1 PM EDT/10 AM PDT) and participate right along with us.  The Twitter hashtag is #beyondwaste and portions of the Forum will be streamed live.  You can also view and participate in the live conversation about the innovations.

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One Year On: Looking Back on Famine and a Smarter Response in the Horn

About six months into my tenure as Director of Food for Peace, in July 2011, I remember calling Nancy Lindborg, the Assistant Administrator of our Bureau, to let her know that famine had been officially declared in Somalia. It was with an air of both sadness and disbelief that I myself absorbed the news that we had actually reached this point. I had left the world of humanitarian aid for development and governance work in the mid-1990s, shortly after one of the most intense periods of my working life, responding to the 1991 Somalia famine. I was in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) in those years, and we broke records by mounting the largest-ever (at that time) Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in the office’s history and spending more on a single disaster in a short span of time than the office ever had before. As a member of USAID’s DART in Somalia, I witnessed the crisis firsthand. I traveled with Fred Cuny, a great humanitarian, as he shared his insights into the nature of famine and the challenges of response. As the months unfolded and relief operations ramped up with the support of the U.S. military, names of towns like Belet Huen, Baidoa, Merca and Kismayo all became commonplace, as did the terrible images of starving children and sprawling graveyards.

We learned a lot from that famine response, and looking back I can say that we played it smarter this time around. Recognizing that mortality rates often spike due to outbreaks of preventable diseases, USAID prioritized health and hygiene programs such as vaccination campaigns and providing clean water and hand washing soap before the rainy season, when disease rates are known to spike. Much improved early warning systems gave us a clear picture of both nutritional needs and market prices. Based on this information, we prioritized cash and voucher programs that allowed people to stay in their villages and buy food and other supplies in their local markets. We found that markets did indeed respond to the increase in demand, inflation was kept at bay, and traders brought goods to areas that were off limits or too dangerous for aid workers.

The in-kind food distributions we supported through the United Nations World Food Program WFP) were also smarter. Thanks to the early warnings received from the experts at Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) and Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU), our food aid was already pre-positioned in the region. WFP largely set aside general food distributions, which are often chaotic at best and violent at worst. Instead WFP focused on more efficiently reaching those in need by working together with health facilities to provide families with food aid, and if needed, supplementary nutrition. For many years USAID has been providing funds for partners to purchase ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) to help those in crisis, but for the first time ever, Food for Peace provided an RUTF that it helped create. And we now have RUTF in our stockpiles.

While the food security conditions in Somalia have improved, our response this past year reflects our understanding of the fragility of the situation: Along with our partners, we are continuing to provide assistance that saves lives while also protecting and advancing livelihoods.

Last night I attended a celebration in honor of Senator George McGovern’s 90th birthday. He was feted with toasts that acknowledged his extraordinary contributions to feeding hungry children around the world. As an American citizen and public servant, I am proud to be part of the U.S. government effort that stays true to the spirit of Senator McGovern’s vision. In far flung and difficult places, including Somalia, we make a difference and make evident every day the compassion and generosity of the American people.

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