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Eight Facts About ZunZuneo

On Thursday, April 3, the Associated Press published an article on a social media program in Cuba funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The article contained significant inaccuracies and false conclusions about ZunZuneo, which was part of a broader effort that began in 2009 to facilitate “twitter like” communication among Cubans so they could connect with each other on topics of their choice. Many of the inaccuracies have been re-reported by other news outlets, perpetuating the original narrative, or worse.

Photo credit: Manpreet Romana/AFP

Photo credit: Manpreet Romana/AFP

The article suggested that USAID spent years on a “covert” program to gather personal information to be used for political purposes to “foment” “smart mobs” and start a “Cuban spring” to overthrow the Cuban government.  It makes for an interesting read, but it’s not true.

USAID’s work in Cuba is not unlike what we and other donors do around the world to connect people who have been cut off from the outside world by repressive or authoritarian governments. USAID’s democracy and governance work focuses on strengthening civil society, governance, and promoting human rights.

Here are eight claims made by article, followed by the facts:

1) The story says the “program’s legality is unclear” and implies the program was “covert.”

FACT:  USAID works in places where we are not always welcome. To minimize the risk to our staff and partners and ensure our work can proceed safely, we must take certain precautions and maintain a discreet profile. But discreet does not equal covert.

The programs have long been the subject of Congressional notifications, unclassified briefings, public budget requests, and public hearings. All of the Congressional Budget Justifications published from 2008 through 2013, which are public and online, explicitly state that a key goal of USAID’s Cuba program is to break the “information blockade” or promote “information sharing” amongst Cubans and that assistance will include the use or promotion of new “technologies” and/or “new media” to achieve its goals.

In 2012, the Government Accountability Office—the U.S. government’s investigative arm—spent months looking at every aspect of USAID’s Cuba programs. GAO’s team of analysts had unrestricted access to project documents, extended telephone conversations with Mobile Accord (ZunZuneo) and even traveled to Cuba. The GAO identified no concerns in the report about the legality of USAID’s programs, including ZunZuneo, and offered USAID zero recommendations for improvements.

2) The article implies that the purpose of the program was to foment “Smart Mobs,” funnel political content and thereby trigger unrest in Cuba.

FACT:  The “USAID documents” cited in the article appear to be case study research and brainstorming notes between the grantee and the contractor.  The specific reference to “Smart Mobs” had nothing to do with Cuba nor ZunZuneo. The documents do not represent the U.S. government’s position or reflect the spirit or actions taken as part of the program in Cuba.  The project initially sent news, sports scores, weather, and trivia.  After which, the grantee did not direct content because users were generating it on their own.

3) The story states there was a “shell company” in Spain formed to run the program.

FACT:  No one affiliated with the ZunZuneo program established a private company in Spain as part of this program.  The project sought to do so if it was able to attract private investors to support the effort after USAID funding ended.  Private investment was never identified and thus no company was ever formed.

4) The story implies that the USG tried to recruit executives to run ZunZuneo without telling them about USG involvement.

FACT:  A USAID staff member was present during several of the interviews for candidates to lead ZunZuneo.  The staff member’s affiliation with USAID was disclosed and it was conveyed that the funding for the program was from the U.S. Government.

5) The article states that private data was collected with the hope it would be used for political purposes.

FACT: The ZunZuneo project included a website, as is typical for a social network.  Users could voluntarily submit personal information. Few did, and the program did not use this information for anything.

6) The article says that the funding was “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan,” implying that funds were misappropriated.

FACT: All funds for this project were Congressionally appropriated for democracy programs in Cuba, and that information is publicly available.

7) The story stated, “At its peak, the project drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions.”

FACT: At its peak, the platform had around 68,000 users.

8) The article suggests there was an inappropriate base of operations established in Costa Rica outside of normal U.S. government procedures.

FACT: The Government of Costa Rica was informed of the program on more than one occasion.  The USAID employee overseeing the program served under Chief of Mission Authority with the U.S. Embassy, as is standard practice.

We welcome tough journalism – and we embrace it.  It makes our programs better.  But we also believe it’s important that the good work of USAID not be falsely characterized.

The Cost of Corruption

Many consider corruption to be an unavoidable cost of doing business around the Middle East and North Africa. The costs of corruption are obvious, and widely acknowledged. It is commonly accepted that corruption limits development, siphons off critical development resources, causes citizens to lose confidence in their governments, and undermines the region’s progress toward democratic reform. In spite of this, many just assume that corruption is here to stay, and that there’s little ordinary citizens can do to push back.

USAID-supported youth CSO coalitions share perspectives on constitutional reform, youth representation in parliament, and other government initiatives affecting youth.

Credit: USAID/K. Rhanem

In recent years, USAID has played a key role in supporting regional anti-corruption efforts. In partnership with Transparency International, we launched the ACTION program – Addressing Corruption Through Information and Organized Networking – in order to study corruption in the region and develop a roadmap for addressing it. The project examined corruption in Yemen, Morocco, Egypt and West Bank/Gaza. Last fall, activists from around the region gathered to present a series of case studies detailing examples of corruption, the costs corruption imposes, and potential solutions.

A critical first step in addressing corruption is ensuring that regional legislation protects citizen access to information. As Palestinian journalist Ahed Abu Teima observed, “access to information, and the provision of information to journalists, reporters and the media, is one of the most important factors in the success of anti-corruption efforts.”

The project documented how existing legislation in all four countries limits access to information critical to identifying corruption, for example through secrecy laws in Egypt and Morocco. As a result, citizens and citizen groups are unequal partners in their relationship with government institutions, undermining a country’s democratic development. Adequate legislation is a necessary first step in the battle against corruption. “The only way, the best way, to end corruption is to establish transparency on a broad scale. That isn’t going to happen without the passing of a law,” said Egyptian professor Khaled Fahmy.

ACTION launched an anti-corruption portal that for the first time provides Middle East and North Africa-region activists, academics and media professionals with research and action-oriented tools and resources. The project also developed a series of video case studies profiling anti-corruption activists in each of the four countries.

Initiatives such as ACTION are making a difference. In 2011 Morocco included language ensuring access to information in its constitution, and in 2013 drafted a corresponding law. In 2012 Yemen enacted an access to information law and may include it as a constitutional right. Prior to the change in Egypt’s government in July 2013, the government had drafted an access to information law and included the right in the 2012 constitution. Egyptians are now waiting to see how these commitments are carried forward by the transitional administration.

Disclosure of governmental activities and access to information are core principles of open government and democratic reform. They are essential tools in battling corruption, and promoting accountability, transparency and integrity. Through efforts such as our partnership with Transparency International, we are helping to lay the long-term foundations for a successful transition to democracy around the Middle East.

Registering for Democracy in Yemen

Yemen is poised to launch a high-tech Biometric Voter Registry (BVR) system representing a significant step forward in the development of a credible voter registry in that country. During my recent visit to Yemen, I met with the chairman of Yemen’s Supreme Commission of Elections and the Referendums (SCER) Judge Mohammed Hussein Al-Hakimi to learn first-hand about the opportunities and challenges that exist for Yemen’s upcoming electoral processes.

During her recent visit, USAID DAA Elisabeth Kvitashvili practices registering with Yemen's new biometric voter registration system.   Photo credit: USAID

During her recent visit, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Elisabeth Kvitashvili practices registering with Yemen’s new biometric voter registration system.
Photo credit: USAID

For a country with previous voter registries acknowledged to contain duplicate and under-age voters, as well as “ghost” voters, the use of the new registry will generate a list of voters that is far more rigorous and less susceptible to fraud. Past voter registries were compiled manually and took upwards of two years to complete.

Funded by international donors, including USAID, the registry is a public sector IT project with software procured in Yemen and ranks among the most sophisticated in the world.  I was eager to try it out and so I was fingerprinted–both hands–on a screen that “captured” my fingerprints and then photographed with special eye recognition technology.

The new biometric registration process will generate a far more accurate voters list. It will also provide the government, in particular the Civil Status and Registration Authority, with the basis to complete their civil register and assist in the issuance of a national identity card.  To our knowledge, this is the first biometric voter registration project undertaken in the Middle East and North Africa region and is on par with recent, high-quality projects, such as one developed in Kenya last year.

The registry is housed with the SCER which is charged with carrying out the registry in advance of national elections scheduled in the next year. The elections will follow a constitutional drafting process and referendum, both of which will receive major technical support from USAID.

As an essential foundation for a modern civil Yemeni state, the country’s upcoming constitutional referendum is an important process of giving citizens an opportunity to register their opinion on the outcomes of the recently completed National Dialogue Conference.

Building Skills and Promoting Collaboration among the Middle East and North Africa’s Budding Journalists

I have a rule of thumb when looking at the democratic transitions underway around the Middle East and North Africa. When the press is open and objective, I am optimistic. When it’s muzzled and biased, I am concerned. At its best, an objective and professional media can hold accountable government and business leaders, and educate and inform citizens. At its worst, poor journalism can mislead, minimize growing problems, and even provide cover for incompetence and corruption.

Around the Middle East and North Africa, USAID is partnering with The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) to empower the region’s professional journalists, as well as  citizen journalists, to report on public-service issues that affect citizens’ everyday lives. The Building a Digital Gateway to Better Lives Program, administered by USAID’s Office of Middle East Programs, provides online instruction, in-person training and peer learning, and mentoring to participating journalists. Particular emphasis during the training is placed on the  use of digital media tools. The program also provides seed funding for promising investigative projects.

Journalists from Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco discuss a collaborative research project at a regional training program organized by USAID and ICFJ in Rabat, Morocco. (Photo: Frank Folwell, ICFJ)

Journalists from Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco discuss a collaborative research project at a regional training program organized by USAID and ICFJ in Rabat, Morocco. (Photo: Frank Folwell, ICFJ)

So far, over 250 journalists from Morocco to Yemen have participated in the training programs. ICFJ and USAID recently brought together 30 of the most talented participants, 11 of them women, to Morocco to work on cross-border investigative projects tackling regional topics that transcend national boundaries. The quality of their work is astounding. Research topics covered hard-hitting and challenging topics including trafficking of women, the black market for pharmaceuticals, and targeted recruitment of the region’s youth by extremist organizations.

Experience sharing is critical to the success of the program. I enjoyed watching how valuable the broader regional perspective was to individual participants. Group work was filled with moments of inspiration where participants realized that issues they encounter are also experienced elsewhere, or where participants from one country shared an experience which deepened the thinking of participants from another. A tight network has formed among participants, allowing them to share experiences, challenges and successes. USAID/Morocco Mission Director Dana Mansuri, who met with the group, relayed that her mother worked as a journalist and newspaper librarian, and how her comprehensive knowledge inspired her own curiosity and love of learning. As I watched this peer-to-peer learning and support develop, I understood better why developing the skills and capacity of local partners and participants sits at the heart of USAID Forward.

The success of the democratic transitions underway around the Middle East and North Africa will depend on well-informed voters educated by a professional and objective media. Ismail Azzam, journalism graduate from Morocco, confirmed that, “I learned more in these USAID-ICFJ workshops than I did in four years of university studies. This program teaches us the journalism skills we need in the real world.” Through our collaboration with ICFJ, USAID is helping regional journalists report with objectivity and impact. As Mission Director Mansuri recalled at the event, quoting Oscar Wilde, “In America, the President reigns for four years. Journalism governs forever and ever.”

Wafaa El Adawy is a Cairo-based Program Management Specialist with USAID’s Office of Middle East Programs.

Defending Civil Society Organizations in Egypt

While Egypt’s civil society plays an important role in defending civilian rights and promoting development, civil society organizations frequently find themselves under criticism. Our contributions are belittled. Our work is obstructed. Our motivations are called into question.

To counter these ongoing distortions, my organization, the Egyptian Center for Public Policy Studies, launched a community advocacy campaign, in cooperation with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and its implementing partner The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) to raise awareness about the need to defend freedom of association and lift the restrictions on civil society.

Still from ICNL's video on funding for civil society organizations. Click to view video (in Arabic)

Still from ICNL’s video on funding for civil society organizations. Click to view video (in Arabic)

Specifically, we developed two short films about the role of civil society and the benefits it provides to regular citizens. The first film addresses the question of “What is Civil Society?” by summarizing the role civil society organizations play in modern day Egypt, and highlighting several examples of our impact in education, health, and promoting civic freedoms and rights.

The second film addresses funding for civil society organizations, particularly contributions from international donors. This issue has generated a heated debate over the past few years, and many have tried to cast doubt on our work by highlighting our partnership with international donors. We tackled this issue by discussing the reasons why international donors provide funding for Egyptian civil society, what types of activities and services they provide, and how these activities contribute to the development of society and the economy.

To supplement these films, we produced two research papers: the first provided answers to questions about the funding of civil society, and the second pointed out several flaws in an Egyptian law which, which regulates our activities and constrains our ability to effectively serve our communities.

As a result of this campaign, the general public and the media began to pay attention. A dialogue was launched about the role of civil society and the campaign against our work. In particular, Dream TV, an Egyptian TV station, aired portions of our videos and provided a platform for two of our representatives to explain the purpose of civil society and the concept of foreign funding to the Egyptian public. In addition, several newspapers and online websites reported on our campaign and films.

While many challenges remain for organizations like mine in Egypt and around the region, we are hopeful that our efforts help expand the role that civil society can play in the democratic transitions underway and increase the role for citizen voices. Our work to promote freedom of association in Egypt and lift the restrictions imposed on Egyptian civil society will continue. Over the past few years we have learned that the united voice of citizens cannot be ignored. By making citizens more aware of the important role civil society plays, we are helping our democratic transitions succeed.

A U.S.-African Union

Every year, heads of state and cabinet officials from across Africa gather in Addis Ababa to meet with political, civil society, and business leaders at the annual African Union Summit.  Last week, I was honored to lead the USAID delegation to my first AU Summit. The AU’s role is critical to the future of Africa.

Mark Feierstein, Associate Administrator, USAID

Mark Feierstein, Associate Administrator, USAID

Established in 2001, the African Union’s vision is to support “an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa, driven by its own people and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”  As President Obama’s Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa indicates, the United States is committed to achieving that same goal, which is why our decade of partnership with the African Union has been indispensable to USAID’s work.

The African Union named 2014 the Year of Agriculture and Food Security—a pillar of USAID’s strategy on the continent because of its enormous potential to lift communities out of extreme poverty. Through our Feed the Future initiative, we provide support to the AU’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, an African-owned and -led initiative to boost agricultural productivity.  CAADP turns 10 this year, and so far more than 20 countries have developed collaborative investment plans.  While these plans are country-specific, they have been created through the African Union’s regional leadership, and their shared principles allow for the peer review, cooperation, and shared experiences that improve the quality of the individual plans—and their results.

But agriculture is the focus of just one of USAID’s collaborations with the African Union.  Together, we’ve strengthened democracy and governance by training electoral observers.  We’ve joined with the African Union Commission to reduce maternal mortality and increase youth employment and volunteerism.  We are also partners in supporting the UN Climate for Development in Africa program, providing data, adaptation planning, analysis, policy planning, and strategy development for climate change in Africa.

A highlight of my visit was sitting down at the AU headquarters with 50 young women from 15 African countries who were participating in the 2014 Young Women Forum.  These young leaders led a high-level discussion that included topics like how to create more agribusiness, land ownership and financing opportunities for women in their countries.  They also advocated for increased access to sexual and reproductive health and opportunities for higher education.  Talking with these young women, I was inspired by their deep knowledge and dedication to improving their communities, their countries and their continent.  Hearing about the gains we’ve made in our partnership with the AU and listening to the ideas of these young African leaders, I left the Summit with great optimism for the future of Africa.

Critical Mass? How the Mobile Revolution Could Help End Gender-Based Violence

This is an excerpt from a blog post that originally appeared on New Security Beat.

The past three years – and more pointedly the past 12 months – have laid witness to monumental, if not heartbreaking, incidents of gender-based violence. The gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi last December; the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl left for dead in a pit latrine in Western Kenya last June; the mass sexual assault of women in Tahrir Square during the 2011 revolution in Egypt and since; all were high profile atrocities that ignited outrage around the world.

Photo credit: Adek Berry / AFP

Photo credit: Adek Berry / AFP

In the aftermath of each of these, mobile technology solutions and internet-based advocacy campaigns surged. It’s almost like clockwork: violence happens, a technology response follows. And 2013 has seen an explosion of new efforts.

This isn’t by coincidence. These web- and mobile-based technological retorts, from applications that make it easy to report and view information about attacks to “panic buttons,” are made possible by the mobile revolution and increased internet adoption, which bring stories of gender-based violence to more people than ever before and give us the ability to fulfill our visceral need to react, to do something, to drive change.

Much has been written about the power mobile phones wield for interacting with people from every corner of the world, at a magnitude never before experienced and perhaps even imagined. Mobile handsets are on pace to surpass the global population sometime in the next few months. Quite simply, the mobile phone is the single most common denominator for sharing information and for connecting individuals at scale.

When it comes to gender-based violence, this mobile explosion has particularly great potential. Mobile phones offer a level of autonomy and emancipation never before enjoyed by many women, leading to greater empowerment for those who possess them. And they give voice to victims, survivors, and bystanders, permitting healthy dialogue around what is sometimes an extremely taboo subject.

From Mapping Attacks to Safety Circles

One of the most immediate ways that NGOs and other organizations are helping women avoid danger is through new mobile applications. Most follow a similar format; they offer users multiple options for alerting family and friends in times of danger via SMS (“short message service,” or texting), automated phone calls, e-mail, and/or social media platforms, like Facebook. They use online forms for submitting reports, pinpointing locations of attacks, and uploading photographic evidence where feasible and appropriate. They enable GPS functionality to aggregate and map real-time locations of violence. And many of them employ the free and open source visualization and information collection platform, Ushahidi.

SafeCity India is a leading example. Its 1,600 reports, collected in under a year, have helped identify hotspots and “no go” zones around Mumbai and Delhi. “Panic button” and self-populated smartphone apps Circle of 6 and FightBack have also seen mass appeal in the country. India is clearly a front-runner in the adoption of these applications, speaking both to its tech savviness and unfortunate widespread need for such tools.

HarassMap also rises to the top, designed as a means of reversing the tide of pervasive sexual harassment of women in Egypt. Through SMS, online and e-mail reporting, its efforts center around the visualization of crowd-sourced maps showing areas for women to avoid and, in theory, for authorities to increase security measures. HarassMap has since expanded to 8 other countries, with another 11 in the works. Similar crowd-mapping has also been employed by the Open Institute in Cambodia and by Women Under Siege in Syria.

The magnitude of incidents over the past year has also sparked an uptick in sponsored, domestic violence-themed competitions and “hackathons,” in Nepal, Central America, and the United States. The winning entrants each possessed many of the same features discussed above, though they are tailored to local geographies, demographics, and conditions.

These mobile- and internet-based tools are but a mere sampling. Yet they beg the question, have we hit a critical mass? Yes and no.

To continue, please see the full blog post at New Security Beat.

Christopher Burns is the senior advisor and team lead for mobile access in the Office of Innovation and Development Alliances/Mobile Solutions at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

From the Field in Montenegro: Rebuilding Trust Is No Fiction for the Country’s Biggest Court

A judge is preparing for a trial scheduled for the next day, and he needs the case file. His office is tiny, crammed with binders and documents, so he first looks on the floor behind him. He thinks he remembers the color of the file — yes, he remembers putting a yellow sticker it on it — but somehow he cannot find it. He goes into the corridor, where he can hardly walk among the piles of files. He spends some time scanning the cases, but in vain. Then he sees his assistant. “Can you please help me find the case file? You know, the 11-year-old girl’s case? I put a sticker on it, remember?”

“Oh, judge, you forgot again,”the assistant says. “I told you to keep the most urgent case files in our kitchenette!”

Although this story is fiction, it could have been a typical day in the Basic Court in Podgorica before USAID’s Rule of Law project knocked on the door of this court, the largest in Montenegro.

And the situation was not fiction for citizens coming to the court; they didn’t know where to go, whom to ask, or where to find the courtrooms. They only seemed to meet angry court staff in the corridors, and none seemed willing to help them. The judges were usually cranky, lugging huge case files into their offices because there were no proper archives. Actually, the “archives” were the corridor floors.

The Basic Court in Podgorica—receiving more than half of the country’s cases—deserved better. To begin with, USAID helped it look like a real court. Working with the court’s staff, USAID refurbished the main reception area, where citizens are now welcomed by knowledgeable staff stationed at information desks. New LCD screens display the schedule of hearings, along with courtroom numbers and assigned judges. The entire courthouse was renovated, from registry offices to the public restrooms. The building now looks more respectable, but even more important, the effort has led to increased public trust in the justice dispensed by the court.

When I met Basic Court judge and spokesperson Ibrahim Smailovic in the renovated reception area, the element he emphasized most was not immediately visible to an outsider. “Through this project,” he told me, “a lot has been done about the quality of the relationship between the court and citizens. Being better informed and being able to get things done quickly, I think citizens now have more trust in what we do here, and I hope they have more trust in the whole judicial system of Montenegro.”

Judge Smailovic would probably laugh about my fictional story at the beginning of this blog, and rightfully so, because he is aware how close it was to reality and how it illustrates the strides the Basic Court of Podgorica has made with USAID support.

Renovations to the courthouse and its archives were completed shortly before Montenegro graduated from USAID assistance in late 2013. Weeks before the Mission closed, Judge Smailovic stepped before a film crew’s cameras to speak about the strides the Basic Court had made. “Through USAID assistance, Montenegro now has a more transparent, responsive judiciary and government,” he said with pride.

USAID’s Good Governance Activity streamlined operations at the Basic Court of Podgorica and the Municipality of Cetinje as part of its efforts to develop transparent, responsive government institutions. The video below shows how USAID improved government services in the country’s largest court and made doing business easier in Montenegro’s old royal capital.

Empowering Africa’s Next Generation Through Education

Education, equal opportunity, empowering women and youth, these ideas form the foundation of our program in the Office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad. In a recent trip with two of my colleagues to South Africa, we experienced firsthand how powerful a marriage of American and African ideas and values can be in propelling not only South Africa, but the entire continent forward.

The American writer and historian, James Truslow Adams described the American dream as one where, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone,” and while that is part of the American dream, is it part of the African dream as well? Half an hour outside the bustling city of Johannesburg, the African Leadership Academy (ALA) is instilling American values by providing its students the base for becoming entrepreneurial leaders. Each year, 100 gifted students between the ages of 15 to 19, from over 40 African countries, are accepted into ALA where they are empowered and given the tools to become the next generation of African leaders.

Bonga, a recent graduate, discusses his time at the Academy. Photo credit: Caitlin Callahan, USAID

Bonga, a recent graduate, discusses his time at the Academy. Photo credit: Caitlin Callahan, USAID

My colleagues and I were lucky to spend part of our morning with Bonga, a recent ALA graduate. It was evident in the way Bonga spoke how central the African Leadership Academy was in motivating him to continue his education, innovate, and bring economic prosperity to his community. Bonga, like most of his peers, plans to attend a four-year university and dreams of an integrated and affluent Africa. USAID assistance helps improve campus security, purchase learning resources for its library, and upgrade dormitories for student housing to prepare students like Bonga for success.

Encouraging hands on experience and service to the community, the Academy provides students with the tools and knowledge base to work towards transforming the African continent.  ALA harnesses the entrepreneurial spirit and encourages its students to create and manage their own business ventures in a safe and comfortable environment. Since its inception in 2008, graduates of ALA have started 38 non-profit and for profit enterprises, addressing community challenges while furthering Africa’s long term stability and economic prosperity.  In support of USAID goals to promote inclusive development, this fall, the majority of students enrolled at ALA will be female. Educating a girl means that as a woman, she is empowered and more likely to participate in development efforts in political and economic decision-making.  It has also been shown that with each ten percent increase in the number of girls who attend school, a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) increases on average by 3 percent.

Through its innovative approach and integration of American ideas, the African Leadership Academy is well on its way to making a difference in Africa and USAID is proud to be a supporter. Watch the video below to learn more.

Retooling Ukraine’s Court Management through Partnership

Some of us are fortunate enough to have a transformational experience that changes us forever. I had such an experience while participating in designing and implementing the pilot Judicial Administration Certificate Program in Ukraine. Working with the USAID FAIR Justice Project in partnership with Ukraine’s State Judicial Administration and the National School of Judges of Ukraine, we delivered the first academic-based court administration program in Ukraine. It is a great example of how partnerships between governments, academia and development can lead to real change.

The first graduating class of court administrators in Ukraine. Photo credit: USAID Ukraine

The first graduating class of court administrators in Ukraine. Photo credit: USAID Ukraine

With the 2010 adoption of Ukraine’s Law on the Judiciary and the Status of Judges, court administrators were given broader responsibilities and more autonomy to manage courts. Much confusion over who was responsible for what in court operations accompanied the change.  The newly defined court administrators found themselves stymied by a lack of clear professional qualification requirements, incomplete understanding of the parameters of court administration, conflicting definitions of responsibilities and authorities, and limited professional development opportunities. USAID recognized these issues and saw them as opportunities to facilitate court reform utilizing best practices in contemporary court administration, thus improving access to justice for Ukrainians.

Michigan State University (MSU) faculty members joined with Ukrainian faculty members to develop the subject matter and teaching materials. The program consisted of 10 courses from the MSU Judicial Administration Certificate Program with ample adaptations and additions to ensure that the Ukrainian context was represented.  Program participants were competitively selected from among court administrators across Ukraine. Together the newly formed MSU-Ukrainian faculty engaged in team teaching all 10 courses, which covered the internationally-recognized core competencies developed by the National Association for Court Management. The recent result of these efforts was the June 12, 2013, graduation ceremony for 40 graduates of the Ukraine Pilot Court Administration Certificate Program. Many of the students reported at the graduation that they had already achieved noticeable results back in their home courts, with more expected.

In 2014 we expect to graduate another class of court managers. Ukraine’s National School of Judges has agreed to continue the classes after that, which makes me certain that the country is on its way to a new generation of court administrators skilled in the most current management methods.

From the moment I met the USAID FAIR team and discussed the possibility of bringing the MSU Judicial Administration Program to Ukraine, I sensed there was something qualitatively different about this experience. It wasn’t just about education. It wasn’t just about systems improvement. It wasn’t just about overcoming the challenges and doing the work at break-neck speed. It was also about whether a partnership as unusual as the one we were to form could succeed. It surpassed my expectations.

Through the months that we – the entire USAID FAIR Justice Project family, the students, and the instructors spent together, our mission and desires coalesced in a way that made our collective human spirit soar. The Ukrainian judiciary and people are better for it. We have created true leaders for the present and the future. It doesn’t get any better than that. I look forward to continuing our relationship.

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