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Video of the Week: “Bosnia Moves Forward”


Bosnia and Herzegovina endured a devastating war from 1992-1995. In the aftermath, the country not only underwent post-war reconstruction, but also launched the transition from a Socialist system to a system of democratic governance. As local governments work to overcome the challenges posed by reconstruction, democracy-building, and the global economic downturn, the Governance Accountability Project, Phase II, has been working with 72 municipalities across Bosnia – comprising nearly 60 percent of the country’s population – to improve the quality of life for members of their communities.

Progress, Promise, and Peril: A Generation of Change for Civil Society in Europe and Eurasia

Paige Alexander with Alex Sardar, Chief of Party for Counterpart International, Armenia. Photo Credit: Patricia Adams, USAID

This week, I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion about progress, promise, and peril debating a generation of change for civil society in Europe & Eurasia. We were fortunate to be joined in Washington DC by prolific leaders: Doug Rutzen, President and CEO of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law; Nadia Diuk, Vice President for Programs at the National Endowment for Democracy; Pavol Demes, Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund; Alex Sardar, Chief of Party for Counterpart International-Armenia; and Iryna Bilous, Deputy Chief of Party for PACT Ukraine.

We enjoyed a rich dialogue on the transformation, challenges, and hope for civil society on the occasion of the launch of the 15th edition of the Non-Governmental Organization Sustainability Index – now called the Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI).  The CSOSI reports on the strength and overall viability of CSO sectors in each of the twenty-nine countries in the E&E region.  The Index highlights both advances and setbacks in sectoral development, and allows for comparisons across countries and sub-regions over time.

When I arrived in Prague for the first time in 1990, it was still Czechoslovakia. Civil society had power but lacked organization, structure, and sustainability. Visiting with my family again last year after 20 years, it was incredible to see Prague’s transformation into a vibrant city with dynamic and engaged civil society. As the CSOSI highlighted, organizations in the Czech Republic and several other countries are branching out to use new technologies for their fundraising and advocacy efforts.

We have seen tremendous success and positive trends tracked by the CSOSI over the last 15 years, and continue to witness less successful interventions. This region, and the trends that are highlighted in the CSOSI, are an incredible resource for lessons learned and best practices that can be applied globally from the Middle East to Latin America.

The conversation today with our incredible partners taught us what has and has not worked over the last 15 years and how we can apply that knowledge into the future success of civil society.

Building a More Inclusive USAID

Earlier this week, Administrator Shah administered the Oath of Office to Peter Malnak, USAID’s new Mission Director to Rwanda.  As USAID works to build a more inclusive agency, Mr. Malnak’s swearing-in took on special significance as it marked the first time a same-sex partner of a new Mission Director participated in the event by holding the copy of the U.S. Constitution.  Mr. Malnak referenced the importance of the occasion in his remarks, portions of which are excerpted below:

Administrator Shah administers the Oath of Office to USAID Mission Director to Rwanda Peter Malnak as his partner John Palmucci holds a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Credit: USAID

I would like to thank Administrator Shah and Deputy Administrator Steinberg for their leadership over the past two and half years. Their vision for reform, and commitment to inclusive leadership, has made us a stronger organization that helps more people than ever before.

I would also like to acknowledge Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for her commitment to inclusive leadership and tireless support for the LGBT community.

The story [of how I joined the Foreign Service] offers an example of the importance of personal leadership, how using your moral compass can change the lives of others, and provides a glimpse into how USAID has changed over the past twenty years by creating a more diverse, inclusive and global workforce.

When I joined the Foreign Service in 1992, Europe had just broken down internal barriers, and the dramatic changes in the former Soviet Union were still unfolding. Socially, there were important issues society continued to grapple with.  One was gay rights.  Being gay in 1992 was something many people didn’t speak about.  That’s not surprising as being gay in almost all states was grounds for dismissal from your job, removal from housing and within the federal workforce, in many cases, rejection of a clearance, based on security.  With the AIDS epidemic in the backdrop, significant bias continued.

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With a Little Help from the Crowd, USAID Increases Government Transparency

At USAID we’re fortunate to work on an incredible mission. But it’s an impossible one to achieve on our own. That’s why we’re always looking for creative ways to engage new problem solvers and develop new partnerships.

One of the best ways to engage the public is to open up our data. Set it free. Make it accessible. By opening up seemingly boring reams of spreadsheets to outside analysis, we have an opportunity to discover new trends, opportunities, and yes, inefficiencies.

In March, Administrator Shah wrote about how effective aid is transparent and accountable aid. This June, we took this commitment one step further when USAID’s GeoCenter and Development Credit Authority (DCA) hosted the Agency’s first-ever crowdsourcing event to open and map loan guarantee data.

Crowdsourcing is a distributed problem-solving process whereby tasks are outsourced to a network of people known as “the crowd.” Without the staff or resources to comb through 117,000 loan records on our own, we turned to the crowd for help in opening our data to the public.

The idea that the public would be willing to volunteer their time to geocode data – that is, to pinpoint the location of USAID loan guarantee activities – raised some eyebrows.  Yet what we anticipated would take an entire weekend sorting through 10,000 hard to identify data points, only took 16 hours thanks to an incredible outpouring of support from the online volunteer communities Standby Task Force and GIS Corps. Social media tools helped bring many more people to the virtual table.

Ultimately, volunteers wanted to meet like-minded people, plug into USAID, and make a difference. And they did. DCA utilizes partial credit guarantees to encourage private financial institutions in developing countries to lend their own money for local development. The released data represents an anonymized 117,000 loans made by these institutions thanks to risk-sharing agreements with the U.S. Government.   While this data was extremely valuable, we couldn’t map it until all of the location records were standardized.

With the release of DCA’s data and associated map, entrepreneurs in developing countries can discover existing lending facilities in the sectors in which they work, USAID Missions can analyze guaranteed loans across borders for a more complete picture of development impact, and  donors can overlay their guarantee data onto USAID’s to increase future opportunities for collaboration. These are just a few of the immediate impacts of opening up our data.

This event also marked the first time that data.gov was used as a crowdsourcing platform.  And thanks to partnerships with private companies like Socrata and Esri, we were able to customize the event at no additional cost to the Agency. By thinking outside of the box, we were able to put existing tools to use in new and innovative ways.

The complete dataset, associated map, and case study can all be accessed on USAID’s website.  These materials were presented at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars on June 28th and available via livestream.

We invite you to explore the data, draw your own conclusions and add your analysis.

We’ll continue to explore unique ways to engage the public in our work.  Development isn’t something that happens overnight. But with increased transparency, we can start working together to solve development challenges in a more efficient – and fun – way.

Empowering Girls & Women Through Sport Across the Globe

Originally posted at the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition

Since I was seven years old, sports have been a major part of my life. Through training and competing, winning and losing, and World Championships and Olympics, I have had many unique experiences that helped shape who I am today. I treasure not just the joy and fulfillment I received from skating and competing, but the lessons learned from working hard when I was tired, persevering when things didn’t go my way, getting back up when I fell, and learning to trust my team of coaches, trainers and choreographers. I’ve found that the real power of sport is not just the success on the field or the ice, but how it can be used to teach valuable lessons and create healthy habits that last a lifetime.

That is why it is so important that everyone has opportunities like I did to participate in sports. In the United States, so much has changed for female athletes over the past 40 years since the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX has given millions of girls a chance to play sports, with female high school sports participation increasing from 300,000 to 3 million – that’s 10 times more girls who are experiencing the valuable life lessons that sports teaches us, both on and off on the playing field.

Since I retired in from competitive skating, I have been able to see the positive impact that sports has on individuals and communities. As a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, I travel all over the country to engage, educate, and empower Americans of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to adopt a healthy lifestyle. This includes participation in sports and physical activity, which have been paramount in the development of my career and the success of many women in America. My fellow female Council members, including Title IX trailblazer Billie Jean King, Dominique Dawes, Allyson Felix, Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, Dr. Jayne Greenberg, and Donna Richardson Joyner all used sports to develop leadership and teamwork skills that help them in their professional and personal lives.

Even though great progress has been made to provide equal access to education and sports opportunities for girls and women across the country, there is still so much work to be done. Today there are 1.3 million fewer opportunities for girls than boys to participate in high school athletics and girls often still receive inferior equipment, facilities and scheduling. The President’s Council understands the importance of everyone having access to sports and physical activity and supports the many organizations around the country that are working to further opportunities for young girls, promoting and investing in the next generation leaders.

This issue is not limited to the United States. I have seen this first hand through my work as a Public Diplomacy Envoy for the U.S. Department of State. In many countries, women and girls do not have the same opportunities that we have here in America. If fact, there are some countries where cultural or political mandates for females, including specific attire and access to fitness facilities and programs, make it unsafe or impossible for them to participate in sports. I have traveled around the world, using my experience in sports as a tool for diplomacy to strengthen international relationships and impact change by offering solutions to cultural barriers that affect female participation in sports. It is important for me as an envoy and Council member to help women and girls discover how athletics can help them develop life skills and achieve success in the classroom.

The State Department recently launched an initiative called “Empowering Women and Girls through Sports,” with a goal to increase the number of females worldwide who are involved in sports. A component of this initiative called the Global Sports Mentoring Program was created to connect international and American women and girls and to create sustainable sports opportunities for underserved women and girls worldwide. As a member of the Council to Empower Women and Girls through Sports, I am proud to be part of this program, alongside current and retired athletes, coaches, executives, journalists, and social activists. Together, we will engage audiences at home and abroad to elevate the conversation about sports participation opportunities for women and girls.

Title IX’s th Anniversary allows us to reflect on and celebrate the important role that sport plays in communities all around the world. I am proud that, in the United States, sport has become an increasingly important catalyst for international engagement and development. Notably, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is using sport as a tool for girls’ development all over the world, from Kenya to Egypt, Afghanistan to Colombia, and South Africa. Across all cultures, sport is a compelling leadership platform for young women in their families, communities and society. Sports are even more important when vital life resources are scarce, as they are in developing countries. From the reduction of chronic disease, increased self-esteem and improved academic performance, participation in sport has helped pave the way for future successes. As sports opportunities rise, communities and societies will reap the benefits.

It is clear that sports and physical activity are valuable tools for growth both in the US and abroad. All boys and girls, men and women, regardless of their ethnicity, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, or educational background, should have equal access to sport and play. The President’s Council, Department of State, and USAID are committed to ensuring that all communities and societies provide sports opportunities for women and girls across the globe, and we will continue to bring those stories of triumph to the forefront to help inspire others.

Picture of the Week

Closeup photo of a cow's nose.  Photo credit: Jyldyz Niyazalieva, Kyrgyz Agro-Input Enterprise Development Project

Through the USAID-funded Kyrgyz Agro-Input Enterprise Development Project, production of biofertilizer out of organic waste was organized on a dairy farm in northern Kyrgyzstan. Natural biofertilizer, rich in biologically active substances and microelements, is derived in the process of anaerobic fermentation. This initiative helps to implement environmentally-friendly techniques and promotes organic farming in Kyrgyzstan.

From June 19-June 22, 2012, USAID joins delegations from around the world at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, to mark the 20th anniversary of the historic Earth Summit.

Photo credit: Jyldyz Niyazalieva, Kyrgyz Agro-Input Enterprise Development Project

Family Planning Accelerates Improvements in Child Survival

This blog post is published in conjunction with the Child Survival Call to Action, which was convened June 14-15 by the Governments of the United States, India, and Ethiopia, and organized in close collaboration with UNICEF.

On a recent visit to northeast Bangladesh, I had the opportunity to visit rural postpartum women in their homes. My colleagues and I were undertaking site visits to a USAID program that provided integrated newborn, maternal and family planning services at the community level.  After we entered the home of our first visit, we congratulated the new mother, who was holding her newborn wrapped in a blanket in her arms. We asked her how many children she had.  She replied quietly, “This was my twelfth pregnancy — it is my fifth living child.”  She explained that three children died as newborns, two were stillborn, and she had two miscarriages. The woman was only 32 years old. We heard similar stories from other women whom we interviewed.

The first step to ensure that a child reaches their 5th birthday starts even before they are born. USAID promotes Healthy Timing and Spacing of Pregnancy as a vital family planning intervention that helps ensure that pregnancies occur at the healthiest times in a woman’s life.  Mothers and children are then more likely to survive and stay healthy.

A USAID analysis found that, by preventing closely spaced births, family planning could save the lives of more than 1.6 million children under five annually.

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Video of the Week

You’re invited to join Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development, which is a multi-year initiative focused on promoting affordable, clean energy solutions for farmers and agribusinesses throughout the developing world. Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development supports market-driven approaches that link modern energy service providers with farmers, processors, input suppliers, and traders. These approaches aim to further integrate clean energy technologies in the agricultural sector to increase production, employ new value-added processing techniques, and reduce post-harvest loss. This Energy Grand Challenge for Development was launched last week at the Frontiers in Development conference and includes an online ideation community that you’re encouraged to join through www.PoweringAg.org– find it by clicking on “Join the Community.”

Powering Agriculture: A Grand Challenge for Development is implemented under the Grand Challenge for Development program that invites innovators everywhere to apply science, technology, and creative business models to address obstacles in the path of human development. USAID and its partners – the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Duke Energy, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) – seek to catalyze a movement of solvers to identify clean energy solutions to intensify the agriculture sector, enhance food security, and decouple food production from the use of fossil fuels. For more information on how to join the community now, share ideas, review the pre-solicitation notice, and apply for a grant starting July 12th, please visit: www.PoweringAg.org.

USAID in the News

Still can’t get enough USAID? Here’s a lot more. We were in the news quite a bit this week. National Journal and Politico both reported on our new mobile money partnership with Citi. We spoke to the Global Pulse blog about the need to focus efforts on the five countries that have 50 percent of all preventable child deaths.USA Today reported on the newly released report about global childhood deaths in the Health Policy and Planning medical journal.

And don’t Ben Affleck and Administrator Shah make a great team? We think so, read their joint op-ed in Politicoon ending child mortality and more about Ben Affleck and Secretary Clinton’s commitment in Foreign Policy Magazine. Finally, Administrator Shah chatted with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC about child survival.

Strategic Help for Global Health Care

This post originally appeared in Politico

People often ask me what the global health community can do to have more impact. The answer is easy: We could be more like Tsion Berhanu.

I met Berhanu the last time I visited Ethiopia. My colleagues and I drove to the end of the road, then kept going for 15 more minutes, until we reached the Wuye Gosee Community Health Post, a tiny, three-room, concrete structure with an outhouse.

Berhanu lived in one room and worked in the other two — caring for 1,500 people in her kebele. Women came to her for contraceptives. When they stopped using birth control and got pregnant, they came for pre-natal care. When their babies were born, she gave advice about proper nutrition. When children got a little older, she immunized them. When people were sick, she treated them if she could and referred them to the district hospital if it was serious. She also advised families on how to store clean water and build sanitary pit latrines.

This is how health care is experienced and addressed on the ground. The community of donors, agencies and NGOs dedicated to better health for the poorest— including our foundation— has access to many more resources than Berhanu. What we don’t always do is drive conversation and innovation that can reflect her experience and perspective.

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