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Archives for Democracy and Governance

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!

Addressing the Crisis in South Sudan’s Jonglei State

This originally appeared on The White House Blog

In response to the political crisis in South Sudan and the deeply troubling violence in Jonglei state, today the White House hosted NGOs and advocacy groups to discuss the situation and confer on how the United States – in concert with partners and allies around the world – can help end the violence and support South Sudan’s democratic development.

At the meeting, National Security Staff Senior Director for Development and Democracy Gayle Smith, Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Steve Pomper, and I invited advocates and humanitarian workers to exchange information on the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Jonglei, and explore ways we can work together to raise awareness and address it.

National Security Staff Senior Director for Development and Democracy Gayle Smith, Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Steve Pomper, and Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs Grant T. Harris discuss the situation in South Sudan at the White House, July 24, 2013. Photo credit: White House

A significant portion of the conversation focused on what the United States and its partners can do to address disturbing reports of human rights abuses, attacks on civilians, and ethnically motivated violence taking place in Jonglei, including reports that elements of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army have been complicit in the abuses.

We also discussed a looming humanitarian crisis. USAID experts estimate that over 100,000 civilians, predominantly from the Murle ethnic group, have been displaced since May with little access to needed emergency aid.  In the coming weeks, we’ll be working with partner countries, humanitarian organizations, advocacy groups, and others to shine a light on the crisis, press for an immediate end to the violence, and meet the urgent humanitarian needs of those affected by the conflict.

The United States remains strongly committed to promoting peace and prosperity in Sudan and South Sudan, and will continue to encourage South Sudan to stay true to the vision it laid out for itself two years ago at its independence: of democracy and good governance, justice and accountability, and respect for rule of law and the human rights of all of South Sudan’s people.

Grant T. Harris is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs

Behind the Scenes: Interview with Jeff Borns on Democracy-Building in Southern Africa

This blog is part of a new interview blog series called “Behind the Scenes.” It includes interviews with USAID leaders, program implementers, Mission Directors, and development issue experts who help fulfill USAID’s mission. They are a casual behind-the-scenes look into USAID’s daily effort to deliver economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world — and the results we’ve seen.

Recently, we chatted with Jeff Borns, Mission Director of USAID South Africa to learn more about our democracy-building initiatives in the region and how they impact governance at local levels. 

Can you tell us more about what is needed to build up a democracy? Is it just about voting?

What happens on election day is just one piece of democracy. The voting process must take place in an environment that respects the rule of law and has strong institutions like parliaments and independent judiciaries. This is not only necessary to a democratic government, but also necessary to development. And when you have the assurance that comes with these elements of good governance, it is easier for companies to invest and for economies to take off.

Southern Africa elections professionals on a USAID-financed program learn from members of the Independent Electoral Court in Pretoria, South Africa. Photo credit: UNISA

What is USAID doing to support democracy-building in Southern Africa? Can you give us an example?

USAID supports regional democracy-building and governance efforts by encouraging improvements to regional election management. This includes providing technical assistance and training to electoral management bodies in the region, as well as providing training and support to election professionals. These election professionals often toil in the shadows, and are rarely given development opportunities or the time and place to build professional networks. Through a five-year grant to the University of South Africa (UNISA), in partnership with the the South Africa Independent Electoral Commission, USAID is training and connecting election professionals with one another and helping them improve their technical skills to support free, fair and open elections around Africa. UNISA is the largest distance-learning university in Africa–a third of all higher education students in South Africa are enrolled there. With this grant, USAID and UNISA hope to support the training and connecting of over 375 elections professionals from across Africa.

What does this mean, in practical terms?

By teaching new skills, and by creating a web of dedicated, trained professionals, USAID is supporting a connected cadre of election experts.

Midway through the grant, results are already streaming in. It’s very exciting! Elections management officials are now clamoring to send their technical staff to the training, and UNISA has observed significant changes in the professionalization of elections bodies in participating countries. This year USAID will support two trainings of 75 officials at UNISA’s campus in Pretoria, South Africa. The selected elections professionals spent three weeks in classroom learning followed by a week of fieldwork at the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa.

The intangible benefits of the program are huge, and we anticipate that this trend of fantastic results will continue. USAID is providing the building blocks to a grassroots network of highly qualified, highly motivated election professionals – which will be tremendously beneficial to the region and population as a whole.

Learn more about our work in Southern Africa.

Follow @USAIDAfrica and @USAID_SAfrica on Twitter!

USAID’s Investment in Africa

As President Obama embarks on his trip to Africa, USAID is proud to take this opportunity to highlight the important work we are doing to partner with Africans in new and innovative ways to build a peaceful and prosperous future. For the first time in over a generation, sub-Saharan Africa is seeing steady progress toward ending extreme poverty, fueled by robust economic growth and better governance and service delivery in many countries. These gains have been supported by USAID’s investments in improved agriculture, health care, and democratic institutions, and our increased focus on women and a new generation of African thinkers, entrepreneurs, and innovators, each of which are delivering transformational results. In concert with partners throughout Africa, we are working toward ending poverty and providing millions a foothold in the global economy—and helping to realize the promise of the world’s most youthful region.

Women in Senegal. Photo credit: USAID

The President will visit Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania–some of USAID’s most important development partners–but his messages are relevant for the entire continent. USAID with thousands of grassroots organizations, communities and local businesses in 42 African countries to achieve these shared goals. Some examples of these partnerships are featured in this collection of stories about our work in Africa.

Throughout the President’s trip, our teams on the ground will provide regular social media updates. Be sure to follow Administrator Shah on Twitter (@rajshah) as he accompanies the President and join the conversation using #USAIDAfrica! Follow us also on Facebook and our Impact Blog for real-time stories from our missions in Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania. We look forward to continuing the conversation with you throughout this trip and beyond.

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