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Archives for Democracy and Governance

Free Press: The Cornerstone of Democracy

Today marks two decades since the United Nations General Assembly designated May 3 as World Press Freedom Day to celebrate press freedom and raise awareness about threats to media independence around the world.  A free press plays a vital role in democratic societies, enabling the open exchange of information and opinions among ordinary citizens, businesses, citizen associations, political parties, and governments. Free and open media systems give voice to citizens, truth test candidates and political parties during elections, inform policy debates in legislatures, investigate corruption, hold public officials accountable, enable democratic governance and facilitate more effective development.

Yet the global struggle for press freedoms remains a work in progress. According to the latest Freedom House reports, the sobering reality is that more than one-third of all global citizens live under highly state-controlled media and information environments classified as “not free”.

In Mozambique, USAID supports the five-year, $10 million Media Strengthening Program to promote a free, open, diverse, and self-sustaining media sector. Photo Credit: IREX

In nearly 35 countries, USAID provides media development assistance, tailoring initiatives to local conditions and prevalent challenges. Using a multi-pronged strategy, USAID aims to strengthen journalists’ skills, build economic self-sustainability of media outlets, and legally protect press independence.

Since 2002, USAID has been instrumental in building a freer, more professional media in Afghanistan. Once very isolated, the Afghan people now enjoy unprecedented access to quality local newscasts (such as the national radio news program Salam Watandar) and international education and entertainment media. With USAID support, a national network of nearly 50 Afghan-owned and operated radio stations has emerged, reaching virtually all corners of the country. USAID also provided the initial seed capital for the highly successful independent television network Tolo TV, which now reaches over two-thirds of the population.

In Burma, USAID has worked for over a decade with more than 1,000 Burmese journalists, starting with support on the Thai-Burmese border in 2001 and extending inside Burma since 2003. Journalists trained in the program’s early years have now gone on to become leaders of the media industry, as part of both the local print media and the media in exile. USAID’s media program responded to almost every major development in the country: it equipped Burmese journalists with training and key support to cover the Saffron Revolution in 2007, Cyclone Nargis in 2008, the constitutional referendum in 2008, and the elections of 2010-2012.

In Eastern Europe, the USAID-funded Regional Investigative Journalism Network helps connect practicing investigative journalists across borders who seek to uncover corruption, organized crime, and others engaged in the criminal services industry.

In eight countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the “Building a Digital Gateway to Better Lives“ program empowers professional and citizen journalists, giving them hands-on experience with digital tools to design and implement multimedia projects that report on public service issues affecting citizens’ everyday lives. Almost 300 journalists have participated in the program so far, with results felt throughout the region. Gripping stories of the abuse of children with disabilities in Jordan, human rights violations in Lebanese prisons, corruption in the West Bank/Gaza, polluted drinking water in Iraq, and detecting unexploded landmines in Morocco have attracted significant public interest and response.

Today and every day, USAID applauds the brave work of journalists, editors, and the increasing millions of “citizen reporters” throughout the world in their common pursuit to freely gather, report, analyze, and share news. We also commend the media activists who advocate for media development and freedom despite challenging and sometimes dangerous conditions. We salute you.

Light Above Darkness – The Global Struggle for Democracy & Human Rights

Sarah Mendelson serves as deputy assistant administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

Two years ago at the Community of Democracies (CD) in Vilnius, Aung San Suu Kyi appeared via video message, addressing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, foreign ministers, presidents, and human rights activists from under house arrest in Burma. While she wasn’t physically present, her grace and strength were felt even from thousands of miles away. I remember she said she was “full of hope and full of anticipation for what the not too distant future will bring us.”

Those were telling words. This week, in Ulaanbaatar, at the seventh ministerial of the CD, Aung San Suu Kyi once again addressed the audience – this time in person. Back straight, regal, and elegant with flowers adorning her hair, Dau Suu said she never lost faith that humans “desire light above darkness.” She walked among the other dignitaries and yet always stood apart. As one official noted, she seemed like “the next Mandela.” Her moral force reminded all of us that we have a duty to remember those who do not live free and to work tirelessly to ensure that one day they can.

Dau Suu’s remarks were followed by Tawakkol Karman, a brave young Yemeni woman who won the Nobel Prize for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and women’s rights in peacebuilding work in Yemen. Her emotional appeal to “stop the killing in Syria and the killing of Muslims in Burma” was blunt, forceful, and a sharp contrast to the more diplomatic speeches that such gatherings inevitably generate.

Deputy Secretary Burns delivered a powerful message from President Obama about generating the “new technologies and tools for activism.” It is our hope that the information technology revolution means we will continue to open governments and transform the global struggle for democracy and human rights. For innovation not only makes hiding corruption even harder, it can help governments listen and respond to their citizens.

And we are already seeing results. One of the most interesting and informative presentations was from an Indonesian leader proudly showing how her government is using technology to empower citizens to hold governments accountable in ways that even the world’s oldest, most established, democracies would do well to replicate. Mongolian officials, our hosts, were talking of transparency, open societies, shared lessons on democratic transition and cooperation with emerging democracies.

At USAID, we are embracing this virtuous cycle through Making All Voices Count, the Open Government Partnership, and by supporting game-changing innovations from governments, partners, organizations, and change agents around the world. We believe these efforts will help new democracies deliver to their citizens, empower civil society activists, and challenge authoritarians everywhere. We have seen a lot of progress since the last CD in 2011 but we have also seen a backlash in many places. Governments attempt to rule by laws designed to close space around civil society and activists. While many of us have hope that such efforts do not have a bright future in the hyper-connected 21st century, we met many activists that live daily with security services trailing and jailing them. I must remind myself that change is possible and hope that when I see them at the next CD, their lives are transformed by freedom.

The Moment is Now: Modernizing Food Assistance

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. 

I just came back from hearing Administrator Shah’s speech at  Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where he outlined the bold vision for Food Aid Reform that was included in President Obama’s 2014 Budget Proposal. I sat  next to the Director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, Dina Esposito. We were both seized by the historic opportunity this proposal presents to upgrade, streamline, and recommit to our global food assistance programs—a goal that that has dangled before many of us for the last decade.

As noted by Senator Lugar, who opened today’s event, the current food aid system was created at a time of significant food surplus; at a time when shipping food around the globe made sense as a means of manifesting American generosity. But that was 60 years ago. Since then, surplus has turned to shortages, and the costs of shipping have risen exponentially. The time has come to shift our practices so we can reach four million additional children in need of food and eliminate the inefficient workaround of monetization that is currently used to convert our agricultural commodities into cash for development programs.

In President Barack Obama’s Budget, the food aid reform proposal envisions a more efficient, effective, and timely program that will reach 4 million more hungry people each year. Photo Credit: USAID

Having spent many years as part of the NGO community, I am keenly aware of the challenges presented by the monetization of Food for Peace commodities and am particularly energized by the potential to eliminate this practice.

Currently, it works like this: USAID purchases and ships Title II in-kind food aid commodities to our NGO partners overseas, who then sell them in local markets to earn the cash needed to support some of our most important development and resilience programs. Unfortunately, as Government Accountability Office studies have shown, this process on average results in a loss of 25 cents to the dollar. Moreover, it requires NGO partners to spend precious time and energy on navigating local commodity markets and negotiating sales, often in very tough environments like the DRC or Mozambique. Too often, market uncertainty leads to diminished returns, requiring additional resources to meet program goals.

The new budget reform will create a dedicated Community Development and Resilience Fund (PDF) within our Development Assistance account that will provide cash directly to our PVO/NGO partners, so they can focus instead on doing the multi-year, multi-sector development programs that are so critical to reaching and helping the most vulnerable.

In the last two years I have had a chance to visit a number of these programs, implemented by partners such as CRS, World Vision, ADRA, and Mercy Corps. In fact I visited one of these programs by CRS two years after the funding ended. In an affirming validation of the power of Food for Peace programs to transform lives, I saw firsthand how it enabled Safieta, a widow in Burkina Faso with seven children, to thrive during yet another tough dry season in the Sahel.

Above all, the Food Aid Reform proposal (PDF) is a re-commitment to USAID food assistance with greater efficiency and effectiveness. In addition to eliminating monetization, the proposal also moves Title II emergency food aid funds into the United States’ International Disaster Assistance cash account. While this change still includes an initial 55% floor for purchasing U.S. commodities, it also gives us the flexibility we need to use the right tools for the emergency at hand, whether cash, vouchers, or critically needed American food.

For full details on the U.S. government’s food aid reform, visit http://www.usaid.gov/foodaidreform.

Q&A with the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte

U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte. Photo credit: State Department

This afternoon, USAID and five Salvadorian foundations today announced a partnership to combat citizen insecurity and strengthen municipal responses to crime and violence in 50 dangerous communities in El Salvador. This public-private partnership is the largest in USAID history with local partners and ever in Latin America. The Impact Blog Team interviewed U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte, for more information about the partnership and what it means for both American and Latin American citizens. 

Madame Ambassador, we know you are very passionate about crime prevention. How will the new program SolucionES(Solutions) help raise the profile of this issue in El Salvador?

Like people everywhere, Salvadorans want peace and security in their lives and a better future for their children.  I have had the privilege of meeting hundreds of Salvadorans who are working hard to make their country safer and more prosperous, and opening up new economic opportunities for everyone.

I am very proud to see the government, civil society organizations, and the private business sector come together to form the SolucionES alliance to help prevent crime in El Salvador. This new project brings together five leading Salvadoran non-profit organizations and foundations to share their expertise in education, health, research, and community and economic development in order to help prevent crime and violence in El Salvador. These organizations, supported by USAID and the Salvadoran private sector, will implement $42 million dollars in crime and violence prevention programs throughout the country.

Do citizens in El Salvador have an active voice at the crime prevention table?

This project would not possible without the expertise from Salvadoran civil society.  Salvadorans play a vital role in crime prevention and it is in fact their contributions, knowledge, willingness, and most importantly their commitment to crime prevention that give this project its oxygen. The five partners who have formed this alliance have signed up to help implement an ambitious five-year program because they believe it will make a real change in the lives of Salvadoran citizens.

Working closely with municipal councils and local residents, SolucionES will provide assistance for crime prevention plans and activities that include: training for youth and families on conflict prevention, leadership programs for youth, job training and entrepreneurship, after school clubs, and the provision of psychological counseling in schools traumatized by violence.

How does crime and violence in El Salvador affect both Salvadorans and Americans?

Salvadoran citizens are obviously the ones most directly impacted by El Salvador’s crime and insecurity, which is why every Salvadoran citizen has a vested interest in making sure that youth do not join gangs or become involved in criminal activities. The United States recognizes that El Salvador’s gangs and criminal activities have had a negative impact on the country’s ability to grow, while also supporting the growth of gangs in the United States. By implementing crime prevention programs that eliminate the ability for gangs to recruit young people, we not only help El Salvador become a more secure and prosperous country for its own citizens, but we reduce the footprint of transnational gangs in the United States.

As Ambassador to El Salvador, what are your top priorities?

My priorities in El Salvador are laid out in the Partnership for Growth (PfG) Joint Country Action Plan, which was signed by both governments in 2011. PfG is our joint, five-year strategy for expanding broad-based economic growth in El Salvador under an overarching commitment to democracy, sustainable development, and human rights. The Action Plan identifies insecurity as one of the binding constraints to El Salvador’s productivity and competitiveness. Crime and insecurity have had an incalculable effect on the potential growth of El Salvador’s business sector. They have also negatively affected the legitimacy of El Salvador’s institutions of government. The limitations of the state to combat and prevent crime can erode the confidence of the people and can undermine good governance. Crime and insecurity pose a threat to institutional and development advances and the Government of El Salvador and the Unites States are committed to advancing joint efforts under Partnership for Growth.

We know you constantly praise USAID’s work; do you have a favorite USAID project in El Salvador?

The work USAID does in El Salvador is exceptional. They have a great team of talented individuals who work every day to help countries such as El Salvador become stronger societies. They work hard at making sure every project achieves expected results and they represent the United States so well. All of their programs are incredible—from empowering women, to increasing education and economic opportunities, and preventing crime, they are achieving positive and sustainable results. I recently visited a USAID-sponsored initiative called “Youth Committed—I make a difference,” which is a strategic alliance between employers and is designed to enhance employment opportunities for youth in at-risk communities. The program, so far has 4,498 graduates from all over the country who now have the job skills they need for productive employment. Projects such as these and many others are what we as the United States Government try to achieve through the fantastic work that USAID does here.

National Freedom Day: A Commitment to End Modern Slavery

Sarah Mendelson serves as deputy assistant administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

This originally appeared on the White House Blog

Today is National Freedom Day, commemorating President Lincoln’s signing of the joint resolution that led to the Constitution’s 13th Amendment banning slavery in the United States. It is a day when freedom for all Americans is celebrated. Yet, almost 150 years later, while one form of slavery has been abolished in our country, another has quietly flourished around the world.

From forced labor to sex trafficking to child soldiers, modern slavery entails the use of force, fraud, or coercion of another for the purposes of exploitation. An estimated 20 million men, women and children around the world, including thousands in the United States, are living in bondage, confirming that the fight to end slavery is far from over. Today we reflect on what we’ve accomplished and recommit ourselves to what President Obama called “one of the great human rights causes of our time.”

USAID has been committed to combating human trafficking for over a decade, programming more than $180 million in nearly 70 countries since 2001. Our efforts are part of a larger government-wide approach that has involved nearly every federal department and agency. Today, we are expanding our commitment, answering President Obama’s call to end this barbaric human rights offense.

A year ago at the White House, we launched a new Counter-Trafficking in Persons Policy (C-TIP) (PDF), focusing on concrete, measurable principles and objectives that include increasing institutional accountability within USAID and leveraging innovation, 21st century technology, and partnerships to combat trafficking.

With procurement specialists and legal advisors, we have created a Standard Operating Procedure to bolster compliance with USAID’s Code of Conduct (PDF), holding our employees, contractors, and grantees to the highest standards of behavior. We’re training our workforce to recognize and report human trafficking incidents; all USAID employees must report suspected violations. We’re increasing protections against abuses prior to awarding contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements, and we’re responding to allegations of abuse swiftly and decisively.

Our team was also proud to play an active role in the whole-of-government effort, led by the White House, to put in place the President’s Executive Order 13627 on Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts.

The U.S. Government recognizes that no country or government alone can end modern slavery. It will take people and organizations outside of government. That’s why we are especially eager to engage young people and students who are uniquely qualified and positioned to help stimulate change through 21st century technology. Traffickers are using technology, like online classified ads, social networking sites, and SMS texting, to lure victims. We want to harness technology to combat these criminals.

In October 2012, a few short weeks after President Obama’s moving speech on human trafficking at the Clinton Global Initiative, USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah launched Challenge Slavery, a Campus Challenge, at Pepperdine University. The Campus Challenge invited students and scholars on campuses across the United States and around the world to submit innovative, forward-looking solutions to prevent trafficking, rescue victims, and provide support to survivors.

We cannot wait to announce the winners this March, though perhaps most exciting is the opportunity to grow a global network of C-TIP champions.

2012 was truly an incredible year for USAID and the world-wide counter-trafficking movement. We trained hundreds of government and social workers on protecting the rights of trafficking victims in Cambodia; we watched as 70,000 young people gathered in the People’s Square in Burma for a historic MTV EXIT counter-trafficking concert; and we were there when ten South Eastern European countries adopted a shared Standard Operating Procedure to care for trafficking victims.

While there will be obstacles, I believe 2013 will yield even more progress. We still need more data to better tailor our C-TIP programs and establish concrete baselines so we can measure progress and results. We need to better understand the combination of variables that enable certain actors to engage in C-TIP activities, and the impact of our interventions, so we can replicate what works and learn from what doesn’t.

But the momentum is truly building. Someday soon I hope February 1st will be known as “International Freedom Day,” celebrating the end of modern slavery around the world.

Sarah Mendelson is Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict & Humanitarian Assistance at USAID.

Ten Things You Should Know About the State Department and USAID

This originally appeared in a fact sheet from the U.S. Department of State.

What do the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) do for the American people? With just over one percent of the entire federal budget, we have a huge impact on how Americans live and how the rest of the world engages with America. For example:

1. We create American jobs. We directly support 20 million U.S. jobs by promoting new and open markets for U.S. firms, protecting intellectual property, negotiating new U.S. airline routes worldwide, and competing for foreign government and private contracts.

2. We support American citizens abroad. In 2011, we provided emergency assistance to U.S. citizens in countries experiencing natural disasters or civil unrest. We assisted in 9,393 international adoptions and worked on more than 1,700 child abduction cases — resulting in the return of over 660 American children.

3. We promote democracy and foster stability around the world. Stable democracies are less likely to pose a threat to their neighbors or to the United States. In South Sudan, Libya and many other countries we worked through various means to foster democracy and peace.

4. We help to make the world a safer place. Together with Russia, under the New START Treaty, we are reducing the number of deployed nuclear weapons to levels not seen since the 1950s. Our nonproliferation programs have destroyed stockpiles of missiles, munitions and material that can be used to make a nuclear weapon. The State Department has helped more than 40 countries clear millions of square meters of landmines.

5. We save lives. Strong bipartisan support for U.S. global health investments has led to worldwide progress against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, smallpox and polio. Better health abroad reduces the risk of instability and enhances our national security.

6. We help countries feed themselves. We help other countries plant the right seeds in the right way and get crops to markets to feed more people. Strong agricultural sectors lead to more stable countries.

7. We help in times of crisis. From earthquakes in Haiti, Japan and Chile to famine in the Horn of Africa, our dedicated emergency professionals deliver assistance to those who need it most.

8. We promote the rule of law and protect human dignity. We help people in other countries find freedom and shape their own destinies. Reflecting U.S. values, we advocate for the release of prisoners of conscience, prevent political activists from suffering abuse, train police officers to combat sex trafficking and equip journalists to hold their governments accountable.

9. We help Americans see the world. In 2011, we issued 12.6 million passports and passport cards for Americans to travel abroad. We facilitate the lawful travel of international students, tourists and business people to the U.S., adding greatly to our economy. We keep Americans apprised of dangers or difficulties abroad through our travel warnings.

10. We are the face of America overseas. Our diplomats, development experts, and the programs they implement are the source of American leadership around the world. They are the embodiments of our American values abroad. They are a force for good in the world.

For a very small investment the State Department and USAID yield a large return by advancing U.S. national security, promoting our economic interests, and reaffirming our country’s exceptional role in the world.

FrontLines Year in Review: Fighting Modern Day Slavery

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines January/February 2012 issue.

The opportunity was too good to pass up. Shantos was 20 years old when a group of men came to his village in Bangladesh. They promised him a job in India, a little less than $100 for 50 days of work as a mason. He believed them. It was only after leaving home that he realized what was going on. He came back scared and desperate, but wiser, after 28 months in an Indian jail, arrested after he could not produce his passport to a local police officer.

For Sonaly, who was only 16 when she was sold to a brothel, there was no place to come home to.

Fatema, at 22, was locked up in a room and tortured for 14 days before she found the courage to escape.

With USAID’s help, Shantos, Sonaly, and Fatema, three victims of human trafficking, have found new lives.

Human trafficking is today the third most profitable crime in the world after illicit drug and arms trafficking, resulting in an estimated $30 billion to $32 billion in profits worldwide each year.

USAID’s Actions to Combat Trafficking-in-Persons program works closely with the Government of Bangladesh to help survivors of human trafficking through counseling and life skills training. Photo credit: Winrock International

Since 2005, USAID and the Government of Bangladesh have collaborated to address human trafficking on two fronts: by preventing it and by alleviating the suffering of its victims.

Bangladesh is a major source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to both forced labor and sex trafficking. Men typically are fraudulently recruited to work overseas, especially to the Middle East and Gulf countries, and are subsequently exploited under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Bangladeshi children and women are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and forced labor.

For the past three years, Bangladesh has been included on the Tier 2 Watch List in the Department of State’s Annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. Under State’s tier placement system, rankings are determined based on the extent of a government’s actions to combat trafficking: Tier 1 signifies the highest degree of government action, and Tier 3 is the lowest ranking. Countries on the Tier 2 Watch List, like Bangladesh, are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards of the U.S. Government’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but are making significant efforts to comply.

Protection and Prosecution

In Bangladesh, USAID’s anti-trafficking program is implemented by Winrock International under the Actions to Combat Trafficking-in-Persons program (ACT), a four-year initiative that began in 2009 to reduce trafficking in men, women, and children in that country.

“The ACT program’s prevention efforts focus on protection and prosecution. The program works with government institutions to identify and prosecute perpetrators, empower survivors of trafficking and those at risk, provide viable economic alternatives to unsafe internal and cross-border migration, and expand public awareness and prevention efforts to include labor migration abuses and victimization of men,” said Habiba Akter, USAID/Bangladesh’s human rights and rule of law adviser, who manages the ACT program.

Still, the legal and justice systems need updating. Cases of human trafficking are seldom filed, and perpetrators are rarely sentenced for their crimes. In addition, the existing legal framework on trafficking ignores labor and internal trafficking, and acknowledges only women and children as potential victims. Sometimes law enforcement agencies prefer not to file a trafficking case due to mandated investigation timelines. Out-of-court settlements between perpetrators and victims’ families also hinder prosecution.

Since 2009, USAID’s ACT program has been working closely with the Government of Bangladesh to develop a comprehensive gender-sensitive, national anti-trafficking law and action plan on trafficking. The draft version of the law, with expected parliamentary passage in January 2012, is endorsed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her cabinet, an indication that the government is committed to preventing trafficking and punishing those convicted of the crime. An action plan for 2012-2014 is under development, and will guide monitoring to combat human trafficking in the country. [continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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Judicial Reform and Economic Growth in the Philippines

Nisha Biswal is USAID’s assistant administrator for Asia. Photo Credit: USAID.

“[The judiciary] should be considered as a key element in the promotion of inclusive, sustainable and equitable economic growth, especially for those who are poor and marginalized in developing countries,” Philippines Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said during a recent event that I participated in at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on the interconnections between a strong judiciary and predictable economic investment and growth.  Chief Justice Sereno—the first woman to serve as Chief Justice of the Philippines Supreme Court—is a key voice calling for the development of a strong and stable judiciary in the Philippines that creates a platform for continued investment and confidence in the country’s economy.

Chief Justice Sereno’s story is powerful – and one I wish we could tell more often. Appointed to the highest seat in the Philippine judiciary following the impeachment of her predecessor, she symbolized a meaningful call for change and a new face in the judiciary, with a fresh perspective. She also has a long track record on the issue of judicial reform: in 2007, she co-authored a survey-based paper that found that 84 percent of corporations surveyed stated that judicial inefficiency would cause firms to decide not to invest in the country.

Chief Justice Sereno spoke with conviction and determination about how an economy can only prosper if judicial reform is responsive, adequate, and sufficient in minimizing transaction risks and providing reasonable protection of business interests. The role of the courts is to honor bargains, settle controversies and interpret the rules of the market which allow for investors to place their trust in economic dealings.

This perspective aligns well with our own development efforts in the Philippines; judicial reform was raised as an issue in the constraints analysis conducted under the U.S.-Philippines Partnership for Growth (PFG), a pathbreaking partnership that began over a year ago. The PFG constraints analysis amplifies the Chief Justice’s analysis that the quality of court services is a key determinant of inclusive and sustainable growth.

In concert with the PFG, our Judicial Strengthening to Increase Court Effectiveness (JUSTICE) Project will assist in accomplishing many of the goals Chief Justice Sereno has set in her judicial reform agenda. JUSTICE, which just recently began in October 2012 and is being implemented by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, will improve court efficiency, primarily through docket decongestion and reduction of trial delays; strengthen contract and intellectual property enforcement to help ensure the predictability of market rules; and build confidence in the integrity of courts. The JUSTICE Project will work to improve intellectual property rights and contract enforcement by building capacity of courts to resolve priority commercial cases. USAID will also support organizations outside the government to address rule of law issues. More important, USAID will continue to engage leaders like Chief Justice Sereno to search for innovative ways of improving justice delivery.

Chief Justice Sereno remarked that, “There is a kind of renaissance going on in the Philippines, with a focus on judicial reform.” Seeing a vital issue like judicial reform in the Philippines get prioritized at the highest levels of government is exciting, and bodes well for the country’s economic development. We hope that Chief Justice Sereno’s efforts are successful and that USAID can contribute to this success through our own activities in the Philippines.

For more information on USAID’s work to support judicial reform in the Philippines, please visit our website.

Video of the Week: Making All Voices Count, A Grand Challenge for Development

Today we launched Making All Voices Count: A Grand Challenge for Development (MAVC) which brings together Sweden, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Omidyar Network (ON). This public-private partnership will create a $45 million fund to support innovation, scaling-up, and research that will deepen existing innovations and help harness new technologies to enable citizen engagement and government responsiveness.

This fourth Grand Challenge will seek inclusive ways to empower all citizens to voice their concerns and demands, and to improve governments’ responsiveness and accountability to those citizens. In order to build trusting relationships between citizens and government, MAVC will aim to fund collaborative efforts rather than one-sided approaches.

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