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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.

The White House (Blog): Supporting Human Rights in Burma

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Yesterday’s announcement that President Obama will become the first U.S. President to visit Burma marks an historic step in the United States’ engagement with Burma. In the past year, since President Obama first noted “flickers of progress” in Burma – and since Secretary Clinton became the most senior U.S. official to visit since 1955 – we have seen continued progress on the road to democracy. Several opposition political parties have been permitted to register legally for the first time and their members – including Aung San Suu Kyi – have been elected to parliament. Restrictions on the press have been eased. Legislation has been enacted to expand the rights of workers to form labor unions, and to outlaw forced labor. The government has signed an action plan aimed at ridding its army of child soldiers; it has pledged to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to help ensure that Burma’s natural wealth is not squandered to corruption, and it has announced fragile ceasefires in several longstanding ethnic conflicts.

Seeing these signs of progress, we have responded in kind, with specific steps to recognize the government’s efforts and encourage further reform. We have eased sanctions, appointed our first ambassador in 22 years, and opened a USAID Mission. At the same time, we have also updated sanctions authorities that allow us to target those who interfere with the peace process or the transition to democracy, and we created a ground-breaking framework for responsible investment from the United States that encourages transparency and oversight.

We are clear-eyed about the challenges that Burma faces. The peril faced by the stateless Rohingya population in Rakhine State is particularly urgent, and we have joined the international community in expressing deep concern about recent violence that has left hundreds dead, displaced over 110,000, and destroyed thousands of homes. There is much work to be done to foster peace and reconciliation in other ethnic conflicts, develop the justice sector, and cultivate the free press and robust civil society that are the checks and balances needed in any stable democracy. But we also see an historic opportunity both to help Burma lock in the progress that it has made so far — so that it becomes irreversible — and to meet the many challenges in front of it. In May 2011, as the Arab Spring took hold, the President noted that America’s interests are served when ordinary people are empowered to chart their own political and economic futures. And to governments, the President made a promise: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States.

Last month, as part of our effort to fulfill that promise, the Obama administration held the first-ever official bilateral dialogue on human rights with the Government of Burma. Led by Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy Human Rights and Labor, the purpose was to initiate a new channel between our two countries to discuss challenges ahead – a high-level exchange on urgent and delicate issues that would have been unthinkable a year ago. Our delegation included not only Posner, Ambassador Derek Mitchell, and other State Department officials, but also senior officials from the White House, the Vice President’s office, USAID, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense, including both civilian officials and uniformed military. The delegation included experts on labor rights and economic development, rule of law and political reform, ethnic conflict and reconciliation, land-mine removal and criminal justice. Our hosts included senior advisors to President Thein Sein and ministers and senior officials from across the Burmese government and military. Aung San Suu Kyi attended in her capacity as a member of parliament and the chair of a new legislative committee on the rule of law.

Before the official dialogue began, the U.S. delegation spent three days in Rangoon meeting with former political prisoners, ethnic minority leaders, labor advocates, LGBT organizations (who said that this was the first time any government had ever invited them to meet together), and other members of Burma’s nascent civil society. When we sat down for our official dialogue in Naypyidaw, we were able to convey the concerns raised in these meetings to our counterparts, and also stress the importance of their building an inclusive reform dialogue that will seek input from Burmese civil society.

The U.S. government engages with many countries around the world in official dialogues on human rights. While these discussions are often a useful forum for diplomacy, it is fair to say that these conversations can sometimes be stilted, characterized by predictable presentations rather than a spontaneous back-and-forth in which uncertainty can be expressed. The U.S.-Burma dialogue was unusually high-energy and candid.

We both recognized the need to empower reformers in and out of government, protect against backsliding, and ensure the broader Burmese public feels the changes afoot. One of the most challenging aspects of reform is enlisting the country’s military, which governed the country through authoritarian rule for five decades. U.S. Army Lieutenant General Francis Wiercinski drew on his own experiences to make a powerful case to senior officials from the Burmese Defense Ministry that national security is helped rather than hindered by transparency and independent monitoring, and by compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law. The discussions, which emphasized areas where commitments to reform are necessary – including on child soldiers, forced labor, and in conflict areas – underscored that the gradual process of normalizing our military-to-military relationship will hinge on progress on human rights.

Many of the issues that we discussed in detail will likely feature in the President’s upcoming trip to Burma. These included:

  • Prisoners of conscience. The release of more than 700 political prisoners in the last year has been unprecedented. But as Secretary Clinton has made clear, for the United States, even one prisoner of conscience is too many, and the State Department has passed along a list of those we are concerned remain imprisoned. In addition, as one ex-prisoner put it, “we have been released, but we are not free.” The released prisoners have a huge amount to offer a democratic Burma, but, as we noted, the government will need to lift outstanding travel and other restrictions in order for them to participate fully in society.
  • Political reforms. Reforms have begun to change the political landscape, particularly as parliament has become more inclusive, and as representatives are increasingly answerable to their constituents. But efforts to build civil society, make government ministries responsive to the public, and create a more inclusive political process have just begun. In particular, the central government needs to tackle the challenge of ensuring that any reforms that are made by the parliament and central government are felt at the local level and especially in Burma’s border areas where the majority of the country’s ethnic minorities reside.
  • Rule of law. The parliament and the executive branch have tackled part of an ambitious agenda for remaking Burma’s law and legal institutions. But the judicial branch remains the least developed of Burma’s political institutions. Judicial reform, repealing outdated and restrictive laws, educating citizens of their rights, creating a vibrant civil society to protect those rights, and remaking the legal system and the legal profession all are required to lay the foundation of rule of law in Burma, and all have a long way to go.
  • Peace and reconciliation. The challenge of ongoing ethnic and sectarian violence – including in Shan State, Kachin State, and Rakhine State – remains an area of deep and ongoing concern. If left unaddressed, it will undermine progress toward national reconciliation, stability, and lasting peace. Serious human rights abuses against civilians in several regions continue, including against women and children. Humanitarian access to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons remains a serious challenge and on-going crisis. The government and the ethnic nationalities need to work together urgently to find a path to lasting peace that addresses minority rights, deals with differences through dialogue not violence, heals the wounds of the past, and carries reforms forward. The situation in Rakhine State and the recent violence against the Rohingya and other Muslims last week only underscores the critical urgency of ensuring the safety and security of all individuals in the area, investigating all reports of violence and bringing those responsible to justice, according citizenship and full rights to the Rohingya, and bringing about economic opportunity for all local populations.

Ultimately, Burma’s reforms will succeed or fail based on the efforts of the Burmese people themselves. President Obama’s policy approach has been to support reform and those championing it – an investment in Burma’s future that the President will personally reinforce later this month in Rangoon. Behind this investment is a commitment to helping the Burmese people see the promise that lasting reform holds for their country. As they take charge of their destiny, the American people stand ready to help.

Samantha Power is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council

Applying New and Existing Technologies to Atrocity Prevention

Over the past year, I’ve had the honor to be part of the team at USAID implementing the President’s vision of preventing and responding to mass atrocities, including through my service on the White House’s Atrocity Prevention Board.  I have deep personal connections to the issue of atrocity prevention, having worked throughout my career on countries in the midst of conflict where such atrocities have occurred, from Rwanda to Angola to Libya.

Knowing all too well the challenges – internal and external – that a government faces as it attempts to prevent or disrupt these horrific events, I have steered our team at USAID toward expanding the tools available to us and training and equipping our staff to improve our vigilance and response.  In this regard, much more can be done to take advantage of developments in technology.  So many more technologies are available to us today than existed during the Rwanda genocide, and we must harness them to build new capabilities in early warning, remote sensing, safe evidence collection, and elsewhere.

This awareness prompted a conversation that culminates with the contest launch of the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention on October 31.  This exciting effort, co-sponsored by USAID and Humanity United, builds on our new commitment to open source development.  Instead of just drawing on the skill and imagination of our staff, we are engaging a broader community and posing fundamental questions and challenges to new problem-solvers, including students, coders, tech firms, and other innovative thinkers.

The challenges we seek to address through the Tech Challenges are at the heart of barriers we face in ending the cycle of violence in fragile countries.  What new tools or mobile apps can help activists safely document the physical evidence needed to hold abusers accountable and/or support transitional justice processes long after the violence abates?  How can new social media platforms and other tools build pressure on governments to respond, and on the private sector to address the enabling role served by resources generated from conflict minerals and other products?  How can we better monitor hate speech that is often a precursor and instigator of violence?  These are tough questions, but we need answers, fresh perspectives and new ideas.

Please visit the site, share the trailer via social media and forward this to friends, colleagues, or classmates who might help.  Our partner Humanity United will be hosting a Twitter Q&A on Thursday, November 1st at 2 p.m. EST via @HUTweets and #genprevtech to answer your questions about the Tech Challenge.

We look forward to seeing the new ideas you identify in this Tech Challenge, and we’re excited about the broader range of possibilities that open source development will yield.

 

*Updated to reflect change in event date*

Got Milk? 300,000 Kenyan Dairy Farmers Do

Kenya dairy farmers participating in USAID program. Photo credit: Robin Johnson/USAID

As a Dairy Value Chain Coordinator, I help Kenyan farmers apply innovative ideas and technologies to increase milk production by changing the way they manage their dairy cows.  I’m able to do this through the USAID-supported Kenya Dairy Sector Competitiveness Program, which aims to increase the quantity and quality of milk produced by smallholder farmers, and to link them to the growing market for dairy products. By teaching the dairy farmers more efficient techniques, production has increased, raising incomes and helping them adapt to unforeseen environmental shocks and stresses.

The dairy sector in Kenya contributes 14 percent of agricultural GDP and four percent of overall GDP, and is growing by five percent or more each year. We’ve worked with the Government of Kenya to help produce a National Dairy Master Plan with the objective of achieving a seven percent annual rate of growth in the sector.

Sara Maiya is a Kenyan farmer who, wanting to learn how to better allocate her resources and get the most out of her herd, attended one of our workshops.  As a result, Sara began to grow her own fodder, manually cutting and storing it to preserve it for the dry season. She dug a shallow well to have water for her cows year round. She adopted a zero-grazing approach, which we recommend as a best practice for farmers with small plots of land.

As a result, Sara has seen her milk production increase from 5 liters to 15 liters per day per cow. As her yields increased, Sara went from selling her milk to a local milk café to joining a dairy farmers’ cooperative that bulk sells her milk with other farmers who in turn sells to a commercial dairy processor. Along with the other farmers in the cooperative, Sara has instituted new techniques to adapt to Kenya’s changing cycles of rain and drought. By adapting and using these new techniques, they are producing a larger and more reliable quantity and quality of milk, creating a reliable source of income in the commercial dairy market.

I’m proud to have helped bring this knowledge and technology to 300,000 smallholder dairy farmers, like Sara, across Kenya. Through farmer-to-farmer outreach and through thousands of private sector service providers that have emerged as the Kenya dairy sector grows, our goal is to ensure these transformational approaches to small holder dairy farming continue to grow and expand to all 1.5 million rural Kenyan families that keep and maintain dairy cows.  We hope that long after this program has ended, Kenyan farmers will continue to increase their economic resilience despite recurring droughts and the subsequent spikes in staple food prices that result.

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