USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Democracy and Governance

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.

International Day of Democracy: Strengthening Citizen Voices

International Day of Democracy was September 15, 2013.

In the past 40 years, the world has seen extraordinary shifts in how countries are governed: authoritarian governments fell in Latin America, Africa, East/Central Europe, and Eurasia. The Berlin Wall was torn down, and the Arab world awoke. Today, electoral democracies make up 61 percent of the world’s governments, according to Freedom House.

The theme of this year’s International Day of Democracy—Strengthening Voices for Democracy—reminds us of the importance of people’s voices, both expressed directly and through their elected representatives, in today’s political, economic, social, and technological debates. The ability of all citizens to decide how they are governed and participate meaningfully in political processes is at the core of democracy.

A group of Kenyan youth marching for peace before the general elections in March 2013. Photo credit: USAID/Kenya

A group of Kenyan youth marching for peace before the general elections in March 2013. Photo credit: USAID/Kenya

At USAID, we have placed this theme at the center of our new Strategy on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance. The Strategy is based on the premise that support for the establishment and consolidation of inclusive and accountable democracies is fundamental to sustainable development. The new Strategy refocuses our work on the key principles of participation and accountability, and on empowering reformers and citizens from the bottom up.

In transitioning countries such as Libya, we are supporting elections, access for persons with disabilities, elected congress and councils, women’s leadership, civil society, and capacity-building for leaders who will shape the debate on the country’s first democratic constitution.

To build on the global movement for transparency and accountability, our Grand Challenge for Development Making All Voices Count is supporting the use of technology and innovation to amplify the voices of citizens in emerging democracies and to enable governments to listen and respond.

For the first time in USAID’s history, our new Strategy also elevates human rights as a key development objective, ensuring that development is truly inclusive. This builds on the work that our field missions are already doing—such as in Malawi, where USAID is working to protect vulnerable groups such as women, persons with disabilities and LGBT persons and advocating for their fair treatment by law and in practice, and integrating these concerns across our programs.

As USAID continues to adapt our democracy, human rights and governance programs to the changing global context, we remain steadfast in our support for the aspirations of individuals to shape their own futures.

Photos of the Week: AID in Action: Delivering on Results

Driving human progress is at the core of USAID’s mission, but what do development results look like?

USAID is measuring our leadership in results — not dollars spent — implementing innovative, cost-effective strategies to save lives. Through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing new partners and young minds to transform more lives than ever before. Our new model for development embraces game-changing partnerships that leverage resources, expertise, and science and technology to maximize our impact and deliver real results.

Take a look at the Agency’s top recent and historical achievements in promoting better health; food security; democracy and good governance; education; economic growth, and in providing a helping hand to communities in need around the globe.

Read the stories behind the results in the special edition of FrontLines: Aid in Action: Delivering on Results.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDpubs for ongoing updates on the best of our results!

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