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Archives for Democracy and Governance

Equal Futures Partnership Advances Global Women’s Opportunities

Sarah Mendelson is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Credit: USAID

I am excited to have just returned from the kick-off of the Equal Futures Partnership to expand women’s opportunities around the world. The event was held in New York City and part of a number of events USAID is participating in during the United Nations General Assembly this week.

The world has made significant strides in expanding opportunity for women and girls; in the U.S., we just celebrated 40 years of Title IX, an act of Congress that changed the lives of many in my generation by enabling girls to have equal access to education playing sports. Equal access to sports in schools, particularly, taught many of us how to be fierce competitors and learn valuable lessons in team building.

Yet more work is needed to tackle the global gender inequality. Last week, I met in London with donors on this very topic where researchers discussed a number of startlingly facts:

  • In 2011, women held only 19 percent of parliamentary seats worldwide, while less than five percent of heads of state and government were women.
  • While in the past 25 years, women have increasingly joined the labor market, the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report describes “pervasive and persistent gender differences” in productivity and earnings across sectors and jobs.
  • Though women are 43 percent of the agriculture labor force and undertake many unpaid activities, they own just a tiny fraction of land worldwide.

These realities demand an urgent response.

Building on President Obama’s challenge a year ago at UNGA, the United States government has partnered in a new international effort to break down barriers to women’s political participation and economic empowerment. The goal of the Equal Futures Partnership is to realize women’s human rights by expanding opportunity for women and girls to fully participate in public life and drive inclusive economic growth in our countries.

Through this partnership, the countries of Senegal, Benin, Jordan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Peru, Denmark, Finland, Australia and the European Union are all making new commitments to action, and will consult with national stakeholders inside and outside government, including civil society, multilateral organizations including UN Women and the World Bank, and the private sector, to identify and overcome key barriers to women’s political and economic participation.  This partnership promises to be groundbreaking not only for the countries involved but also for those who are watching its implementation.

USAID and its Center for Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance stands by to provide assistance to these countries as well as many others throughout the world as they work to advance women’s political participation and economic empowerment.

This is thrilling work that helps make the promise of development real for everyone–not just a privileged few.

USAID Book Club: A Farewell to Alms

Fall semester @USAID banner image

As part of USAID’s Fall Semester, we will host an online book club for our readers this fall. The Impact Blog will post suggestions from our senior experts at USAID to suggest a book on important issues in international development.  We’ll provide you and your book club with the reading suggestions and discussion questions, and you tell us what you think! Our fall reading list will  explore solutions to the most pressing global challenges in international development—mobile solutions, poverty, hunger, health, economic growth, and agriculture.

This week’s choice comes from: USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Book: A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, by Gregory Clark

Synopsis: The source of human progress has long been a subject of debate. What makes rich countries rich, and poor countries poor? In the this book,  University of California, Davis, Economist Gregory Clark offers a provocative take on the age-old question, arguing that it was culture—rather than geography, natural resources or centuries of exploitation—that left some parts of the globe behind.

According to Clark, relative stability and effective workforces enabled certain societies to take better advantage of the Industrial Revolution’s new technologies and opportunities. Those countries with lax systems or undisciplined workers lost ground, and stayed there.

Clark’s book is skeptical of whether the poorest parts of the world will ever achieve real progress. For development professionals, it offers up a challenge to the belief that outside intervention can help bridge the vast economic divide between rich and poor.

Review:  This book impacted me because it shows how for hundreds, or even thousands, of years basic economic progress was largely stagnant. You didn’t have rapid compound increases in living standards until the Industrial Revolution when some countries and some societies got on a pathway towards growth – towards better health, longer life expectancy, higher income per person and more investment in education. Others remained on a slower-moving pathway.

That great divergence, and the study of it, is at the core of development. It is that divergence that we try to learn from and correct for. We define success in development as helping communities and countries get on that pathway towards improved health and education, and greater wealth creation.

I didn’t choose this book because I think it is the definitive story on development, but rather because I share its focus on core economic growth as the driver of divergence.

I disagree where Clark concludes that some societies failed to take advantage of the availability of modern technology because their cultures were antagonistic to development. With the right conditions in place, you can unlock a formidable work ethic from a range of different cultures and communities. The last 50 years have shown us that. By investing in local capacity and local institutions, we can leave a legacy of economic infrastructure, strong and capable leadership, and transparent, effective public and private sector institutions.

USAID’s partnerships in Latin America helped country after country develop strong institutions. The same can be said for South Korea. Unfortunately, there have been examples where aid and assistance have been provided in a manner that was not as sensitive to building lasting local capacity and institutions. This is true for all partners, not just our Agency. That’s why we’ve launched a program called USAID Forward, to refocus on working in a way that will create durable and sustained progress.

Administrator Shah is on Twitter at @rajshah. You  can also “Ask the Administrator” your questions on Crowdhall

Discussion Questions

1. Do you agree with Clark that some societies failed to take advantage of the availability of modern technology because their cultures were antagonistic to development?

2. The Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Solow has said Clark does not take into account how institutional factors, such as cronyism, inequitable taxation and ineffectual government cripple development. What role do you think these institutional factors play?

3. Clark challenges how effective outside intervention can be in helping poor nations progress. Do you agree?

4. Regardless of why some nations have fallen behind, how do you think they can bridge that gap today?

5. Has your world view changed after reading this book and how?

Get Involved: Use the comments section of this blog post to share your answers, or tweet them to us at #fallsemester

Timor-Leste Administers Own Elections

On July 7, I went to the polls—along with my fellow citizens of Timor-Leste—to participate in a notable election:  not only did we elect a new parliament for the second time in our young country’s history, but we also voted in general elections that for the first time were managed and run entirely by Timorese institutions. As was widely anticipated, the elections were peaceful and the turnout was high, at about 75 percent.

My country’s independent conduct of free and fair elections demonstrated our government’s commitment to further consolidating our still-young, but vibrant democracy. I am proud that Timor-Leste was able to achieve this milestone just 10 years after the restoration of its independence.

As a Foreign Service National working with USAID, I am also proud about what this election demonstrates about USAID’s efforts to promote sustainability and local ownership in our programs. For the past 10 years, USAID has laid the groundwork for this day by supporting Timor-Leste in developing robust democratic institutions and processes. That work paid off on July 7.

Several Timorese institutions deserve credit for the successful Election Day—namely, the National Electoral Commission and the Technical Secretarial for Elections Administration, which administered the electoral processes. The National Police maintained security and tranquility not only on Election Day, but also during the periods before and after the election.

Although the elections were administered without international assistance, the Timorese government and public did welcome international observers. USAID funded a team of 20 international observers who covered every district throughout the country. Through the International Republican Institute (IRI), we also provided training to 1,700 domestic observers—members of a local non-governmental organization, the Observatorio da Igreja Para Os Assuntos Socials (OIPAS)—who were successfully deployed to every polling station across the country.

Before the election, USAID funded civic and voter education activities that familiarized voters with the elections procedures and processes and helped them to better understand the different platforms and programs proposed by the parties and coalitions competing in the election. And three weeks before the election, USAID deployed a separate team of observers to assess the pre-election atmosphere.

Timor-Leste’s successful elections are indeed a feather in the cap of my country. They are also a great example of what happens when USAID’s development programs work as they should, by strengthening the ability of local actors to carry out important work on their own for the long term.

Video of the Week: “Bosnia Moves Forward”


Bosnia and Herzegovina endured a devastating war from 1992-1995. In the aftermath, the country not only underwent post-war reconstruction, but also launched the transition from a Socialist system to a system of democratic governance. As local governments work to overcome the challenges posed by reconstruction, democracy-building, and the global economic downturn, the Governance Accountability Project, Phase II, has been working with 72 municipalities across Bosnia – comprising nearly 60 percent of the country’s population – to improve the quality of life for members of their communities.

Advancing the Dignity Agenda

One year ago, Administrator Rajiv Shah spoke about expanding human welfare at USAID’s Democracy, Human Rights and Governance 2.0 Forum, recounting the defining story of Mohammed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian fruit seller who set himself on fire, and the inspiring stories of other Tunisians who unwittingly sparked the Arab Spring.

David Yang, Director of USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Photo Credit: USAID

Since that speech in June 2011, the trajectory of the Arab Spring has been filled with bright spots, such as in October 2011 when millions of Tunisians voted in their first-ever free election, but also with uncertainty, as genuine democratic transition in Egypt remains tenuous and violence continues in Syria.  Elsewhere in the world, historical achievements in advancing human dignity and self-determination took place in Africa, where South Sudan became the world’s newest country in July 2011, and in Asia, where Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in Myanmar’s Parliament in April 2012 after spending nearly 20 years under house arrest.

In this momentous year, we at USAID have responded to Administrator Shah’s call to elevate the importance of self-determination and human dignity in our Agency’s development approach. We helped bring together over 60 Tunisian organizations to form the country’s first civil society network, assisted the referendum on Southern Sudan’s independence, and launched the Agency’s new Counter-Trafficking in Persons Policy, among other highlights. In February 2012, USAID launched the Center of Excellence in Democracy, Human Rights and Governance to become a global resource for evidence-based research, aspiring to closely measure and evaluate what works best in democracy, human rights and governance.

We continue to be inspired by those at the frontlines in the fight for human dignity, such as Tawakkol Karman who became the international public face of the 2011 uprising in Yemen. She won the Nobel Peace Prize that year in recognition of her work in nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work, becoming the first Arab woman and youngest Nobel Peace Laureate to date.  We are delighted to have her give the keynote speech at this year’s Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG) Forum from June 21-22.

I hope you will share in USAID’s renewed commitment to advancing the dignity agenda by viewing and participating virtually in our DRG Forum. The event will bring together government officials, international experts and innovative thinkers and will focus on innovative approaches to promoting human dignity in the wake of the Arab Spring. The Obama administration and USAID have been at the forefront of this change, by expanding political participation of women and girls, making governments more transparent, and promoting civil society, among other initiatives.

View a livestream of the event at www.usaid.gov/drg.

Drop in on the conversation and ask our panelists questions by following #DRGForum on Twitter.

Building Learning Communities at USAID

John David Smith of Learning Alliances and Nancy White of Full Circle are experts in institutionalizing learning at organizations and authors of Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities.

Earlier this year, Administrator Shah launched USAID’s new Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance within the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. The Center is designed to become a global resource for evidence-based research, closely measuring and evaluating what works best in advancing democracy, human rights and governance and sharing best practices with the international development community.  This learning agenda will be a focus of USAID’s upcoming Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Forum (June 21-22) and Workshop (June 25-27).

Institutionalizing learning in its activities means that USAID is making learning an everyday activity that permeates the organization. It is a way for the Agency to respond to change and learn quickly, leveraging staff and their knowledge. More mobile and more distributed staff using new technologies give us strikingly new opportunities to gather, interact and learn from each other in novel ways. Traditional organizational structures need to be augmented by more informal and fluid structures, which is why USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance is focusing on building a learning agenda.  A critical component of this agenda includes building “communities of practice” and leveraging technology in our work.

Read the rest of this entry »

Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Forum

This week, USAID will be holding our third annual Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Forum at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. The two-day event, June 21-22, will bring together government officials and international experts in the field of democracy, human rights and governance.

People gather on December 17, 2011 in Sidi Bouzid's Mohamed Bouazizi square, named after the fruitseller whose self-immolation sparked the revolution that ousted a dictator and ignited the Arab Spring. Photo Credit: AFP/Fethi Belaid

The theme of this year’s forum is Advancing the Dignity Agenda: New Approaches to Protecting Human Rights and Expanding Democratic Participation.

Discussion will focus on the innovative approaches to promoting human dignity advanced by the Obama administration and USAID in the wake of the Arab Spring. Issues will include expanding the political participation of women and girls, making governments more transparent, and promoting civil society.

The forum will be livestreamed on our event page. We encourage you join the conversation and submit your questions to our panelists by adding your comments below or using the hashtag #DRGForum on Twitter.

Also, be sure to visit our newly redesigned website for more information about our work in the field of Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.

Democracy and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, and Carol Lancaster, Dean of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Affairs spoke today at USAID’s Frontiers in Development Forum. Below is an excerpt from their contribution to the Frontiers in Development essays.

Twenty-five years ago, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was a region of despair. Outside of Botswana and Mauritius, democracy was but a distant dream. Unelected and unaccountable governments held power across the subcontinent. Dictators treated their countries as personal fiefdoms, ruling by force and intimidation, taking what they wanted, doling out riches to a favored few, and sprinkling a handful of crumbs to the rest. The terrible scar of apartheid made a mockery of justice and plunged the entire southern region into conflict and crisis. And the politics of the Cold War made a bad situation worse, as East and West propped up unsavory rulers for their own purposes with little regard for the effect on Africans themselves.

The leadership crisis translated into an economic crisis that left the region effectively bankrupt. Authoritarian leaders used the state to try to control the economic commanding heights, in part to finance their patronage systems. In the end, their control only destroyed economic assets and personal livelihoods. For 20 years starting in the mid-1970s, nearly all of the countries of SSA saw zero or negative economic growth in per capita incomes. Promising businesses were ruined, and new investment virtually stopped, except for the grab for natural resources. Unemployment soared, and working men and women could no longer provide for their families. Schools and health facilities deteriorated badly. The only things that seemed to thrive were poverty, graft, and conflict.

But that was then. Today, all of that has begun to change—not across all of SSA, but across much of the region. Dictators are being replaced by democracy. Authoritarianism is giving way to accountability. Economic stagnation is turning to resurgence, with SSA today one of the fastest-growing regions in the world. Poverty rates are falling. Investors who never would have considered Africa a decade ago are lining up to look at new opportunities. Political conflict has subsided, and governments are strengthening the protection of civil liberties and political freedoms.

About half of the countries in the region have embraced democracy, fragile and imperfect, to be sure, but a far cry from the dictatorships of old. And most important, despair is being replaced by hope—hope that people can live in peace with their neighbors, that parents can provide for their families, that children can go to school and receive decent health care, and that people can speak their minds without fear.

What happened in SSA? How did authoritarianism begin to give way to democracy? How has the economic resurgence affected the move toward democracy, and how has democracy affected the economic turnaround? How is democracy likely to evolve in the future in SSA?

Read the full article on page 32 of USAID’s Frontiers in Development publication.

If Development Were Soccer

Rakesh Rajani is the founder and head of Twaweza and a civil society leader in Tanzania.

Rakesh Rajani is the founder and head of Twaweza and a civil society leader in Tanzania.

Rakesh Rajani spoke at the Frontiers in Development Forum. Below is his contribution to the Frontiers in Development essays.

If there were a prize for global organizations  most tainted with corruption, FIFA, the International Federation of Football (Soccer) Associations, would be a strong contender.

For years, its board members are said to have demanded, received, and dished out bribes for purposes such as vote buying and selling rights to host the World Cup. The “crony culture” inside  FIFA has reportedly caused huge losses—about  $100 million in one instance alone when an exclusive deal with a marketing company went belly-up. These acts have spawned investigations, books, and blogs seeking to expose the organization, but FIFA appears to have warded off serious reform. Its current boss has been in charge for 14 years and part of FIFA for 38. He ran unopposed in the last election, in part because his two rivals were disqualified for foul play. His predecessor had been at the helm for 24 years.

Several boys play on a soccer field at Tabarre Issa Emergency Relocation Camp on June 7, 2010.  Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

Several boys play on a soccer field at Tabarre Issa Emergency Relocation Camp on June 7, 2010. / Kendra Helmer, USAID

Precise numbers are difficult to establish, but soccer has well over a billion supporters worldwide. Many of these tune in every week on radio, TV, and, increasingly, the Internet. More than 700 million are estimated to have watched the final games of the World Cup in 2006 and 2010, across all six continents. It is easily the world’s biggest sport.

While growing up in Mwanza, Tanzania, listening to commentary of English league games on a crackly BBC shortwave transmission was the highlight of my week. Today, walk through East Africa’s bustling neighborhoods or rural communities on weekends, and you will likely see animated men and (increasingly) women listening to a duel between national rivals or watching Chelsea play Arsenal or Barcelona take on Real Madrid. You will see much of the same across large parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. In many cases, these are communities that have no electricity and low incomes, but some entrepreneur will have rigged up a generator and an improvised satellite dish, and be turning a tidy profit charging entrance fees.

It’s not only about relaxing in front of the TV. Soccer is among the most common topics on social media, radio call-in shows, and street corners. Crotchety pundits, hip pre-teens, and nerdy economists alike pore over team statistics to discern patterns, debate choices, and predict outcomes. It is public engagement interspersed with politics, business, and local drama, but soccer remains at the core. And soccer evokes great emotion. When there is a crucial goal or save, observe the poetry of celebration rituals or the slow-motion implosions of defeat among both players
and fans. It’s quite an experience.

Why does soccer work? Why, unlike so many badly governed public agencies, NGOs, and projects, is soccer so powerful, lively, and engaging? Could it be that soccer has got something so  right, that it doesn’t much matter that its state of supra governance is somewhat shambolic? And if that is indeed the case, might it provide useful insights for how we think about development in countries where the intractable problems of supra governance will not be sorted out soon?

Children First.  An orphan herself, Fortune helps other children learn about HIV through the Grassroot Soccer program. Photographer: Heather Quinn

An orphan herself, Fortune helps other children learn about HIV through the Grassroot Soccer program. / Heather Quinn


Soccer and development, while very different, have several features in common. I’ll highlight four. Both have purposes or goals to score. Both  have rules and conventions of how things are to  be done. Both have someone deciding whether  conduct is right, imposing sanctions for foul behavior, and judging the final outcome. And  both have actors who need to be motivated and focused to deliver. But each handles these features very differently.

In Soccer, Success Is Clear and Simple

Soccer isn’t called the “beautiful game” for nothing. Players display enormous skill when dribbling, passing, and making daring dives and gravity-defying turns. Fans love these moves, and TV screens replay some of the best ones over and over, so that viewers can study the skill and savor the moment. Papers speak of the teams that play the most entertaining football. But all this skill is aligned toward a very simple and very clear purpose: to score more goals than the other team. Sure, a lot of other statistics are collected, such as the number of passes, number of fouls, percentage of possession, ages of the players, and so forth. The artistry is fun and appreciated, but what matters is how it contributes toward the purpose. What counts is the final score.

The incentives are well aligned too, in the short and long term. You win the game, you celebrate, your team gets three points. Everyone involved—the players, the managers, the owners, the spectators—understand this. In the long term, those points and goals add up, and you move up the league table or on to the next round of the competition, until you win the cup. The better you perform, the more likely you are to earn a better salary.

Read the complete essay on page 18 of USAID’s Frontiers in Development publication.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rakesh Rajani is the Head of Twaweza (meaning ‘we can make it happen’ in Swahili), a 10-year initiative to enhance access to information, citizen agency, and public accountability in East Africa.

Building Peaceful States Against All Odds: The g7+ Leads the Way

Minister of Finance of Timor-Leste on August 8, 2007 inthe first coalition Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

Minister of Finance of Timor-Leste on August 8, 2007 inthe first coalition Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

Emilia Pires, Finance Minister of Timor-Leste, Chair of g7+, and Co-Chair of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding will speak this afternoon at the Frontiers in Development Forum. Below is her contribution to the Frontiers in Development essays.

Every morning I am greeted by the local gardener, Guilherme, who busily tends half-broken trees and overgrown bushes, planting seeds in the modicum of soil available in the suburbs of Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, in hopes of springing new life to a city that had been almost wholly destroyed in 1999, devastated by war and cyclical instability. Salutations are brief. Guilherme considers himself my de facto advisor.

Each day he offers a brief but new insight into the health, well-being, and livelihood of the collective “we” that is his village—one of 442 sucos in TimorLeste. In early 2008, Guilherme said, “Minister, we are not producing; bellies will not be full come rainy season.” Guilherme knew what I knew: Food security and peace go hand in hand.

As I entered the office, I asked my chief economist to look up the price of rice. He returned ashen-faced bearing the bad news: The price of rice had risen 218%. With a reduction in domestic production and rice imports rising, our budget was now in shambles. This is what the international community calls an “external shock.” As Minister of Finance, I call it “being in shock,” a state I have become well versed to since coming into ofice on August 8, 2007.

On day one of my mandate as Minister, I walked into the Ministry of Finance with no handover, no functioning computers that could spit out the kind of standard information ministers of other nations would expect, and a highly politicized public service that was deeply loyal to the previous ruling party. I admit I was never trained in how to “rule”; I am a technocrat with a background in public service. We were a govern­ment formed to serve. A major mentality shift was about to be introduced.

The final crisis of 2006 resulted in 150,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs)—almost 15% of our population—and adding to our burden, we had more than 700 rebels in the mountains threat­ ening stability. Economic growth was negative 5%; consumption had declined 26%. If the engine room of any government is a well-oiled public finance management system, my engine relected that of a 1967 Chevy that had never been serviced.

Read the complete essay.

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