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Archives for Economic Growth

10 Ways the U.S. Government is Fighting Global Climate Change (that you’ve never heard about)

Photo Credit: Daniel Byers, SkyShip Films 2011

Nepals Imja Lake / Daniel Byers, SkyShip Films 2011

1. In Nepal, rapidly expanding glacial lakes are often unstable and prone to burst their banks, washing out communities below. USAID is working with high-mountain communities to help measure the impact of melting glaciers on Imja Lake, not far from Mount Everest base camp.

Read about how we’re helping bring Andean expertise to Nepal’s glacial lake region.


Wheat farmers in Kazakhstan are learning about the expected climate change impacts on their crop.

Wheat farmers in Kazakhstan are learning about the expected climate change impacts on their crop. / USAID

2. In Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s breadbasket, USAID is working with the government to ensure wheat farmers get better weather and climate forecasts to make better planting and harvest decisions. A severe drought in 2012 slashed Kazakhstan wheat harvests by half, contributing to a worldwide food shortage that led the World Bank to issue a global hunger warning.

Read more about how we’re helping to preserve “Asia’s breadbasket.”


Ethiopian Sheep

Ethiopian Sheep / Nena Terrell, USAID

3. Cows, camels, goats and sheep are the lifeblood of pastoralist farmers in Kenya and Ethiopia. But these poor farmers live with the constant threat that a severe drought, like the one in 2009, could decimate herds and flocks. USAID is working with locals to develop livestock insurance, new water conservation practices and other measures so pastoralists can survive and bounce back from severe droughts.

Read more about how East Africa’s dryland herders are taking out a policy on survival.


Forest measurement demonstration near Lae by staff of Forest Research Institute, Papua New Guinea.

Forest measurement demonstration near Lae by staff of Forest Research Institute, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Low Emission Asia Forests project / USAID, RDMA

4. Worldwide, forest destruction generates more greenhouse gas emissions each year than do all the trains, planes and cars on the planet. Worldwide, 50 soccer fields of forest are lost every minute of every day, and forests in Southeast Asia are being cleared faster than almost anywhere on earth. In Papua New Guinea, USAID is working to teach forest carbon measurement techniques so that local people and communities can show the progress they are making conserving tropical forest.


multispectral imagery of the Nzoia River basin

The Nzoia River basin lies entirely within the Lake Victoria basin in Kenya. The SERVIR-Africa team captured multispectral imagery of the Nzoia River basin from the NASA’s EO-1 satellite on August 23, 2008 to provide baseline imagery of this frequently flooded area for future analysis. / NASA, EO-1

5. Fighting climate change requires good data. USAID and NASA partner to provide satellite-based Earth observation data and science applications to help developing nations improve their environmental decision-making as well as monitor other issues like famines, floods and disease outbreaks. We are currently working with Tanzania’s weather agency to use satellite data to map climate and weather risks and to create early warning systems, including for malaria outbreaks.

Read more about how USAID uses data to better manage land resources.


The Russian boreal forest

The Russian boreal forest / Vladimir Savchenko

6. What happens when anyone can become a forest ranger? USAID is supporting World Resources Institute with the Global Forest Watch interactive global forest mapping tool. The online tool allows people to access – or upload – near real-time information about what is happening on the ground in forests around the world.


Southern downtown section of Hue. Photo: Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting

Southern downtown section of Hue. / Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting

7. In 2006, the Vietnamese city of Hue was paralyzed for days, submerged under more than six feet of floodwater after a large rain. USAID today helps Hue and other at-risk coastal cities anticipate and address the repeated flooding and other climate impacts on roads and energy systems by helping them plan smarter cities that can weather climate events. In Hue, we are helping urban planners customize and apply a tailored software tool that anticipates the effects of climate change on critical infrastructure.

Read more about how USAID is helping build a climate-smart Vietnam.


Asma Molla with her husband Jalal, their five sons, and their two solar lamps.

Asma Molla with her husband Jalal, their five sons, and their two solar lamps. / Souradeep Ghosh, Arc Finance

8. Worldwide, more than 1.4 billion people lack access to electricity, and 2.8 billion lack access to modern cooking fuels and devices. In Uganda, India and Haiti, USAID is helping low-income people buy devices that improve their incomes and quality of life, and reduce carbon emissions at the same time by expanding the availability of consumer financing for clean energy products. We are also helping 13 companies develop and test business models that will make it easier for tens of thousands of poor people to purchase clean energy products such as solar lanterns and clean cookstoves.

Check out how USAID’s Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program is improving the quality of life of low-income populations while at the same time helping USAID partners to reduce carbon emissions.

Read more about how the Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program is bringing clean energy to people who live most of their lives in the dark.


Fish market in Gizo, Solomon Islands

Fish market in Gizo, Solomon Islands / USAID CTSP, Tory Read

9. Ever hear of the Coral Triangle? This  massive swath of ocean in between Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste is not only likely where your seafood dinner came from – it’s reefs also buffer shorelines against waves, storms and floods, helping to prevent loss of life, property damage and land erosion. But today, as much as 90 percent of Coral Triangle reefs (and the 360 million people that depend on them) are threatened by overfishing, population growth, development, pollution and the impacts of climate change. USAID helps protect this “amazon of the seas” by helping the six Coral Triangle nations better manage the most biodiverse and productive ocean region in the world.

Read more about how the Coral Triangle Initiative is helping protect this unique marine wonder and check out this photostory.


A Cofan shaman.

Strengthening their organizations has enabled the indigenous Cofan people to preserve their cultural identity and ancient knowledge / Thomas J. Müller

10. Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change. Several studies show that deforestation and illegal trafficking of species are significantly lower in indigenous territories, even when compared with natural protected areas, such as national parks and reserves. USAID is equipping indigenous populations to become active guardians of the Amazon biome in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, and is investing in youth who will continue the fight to preserve the native culture and territory as future scientists, lawyers, doctors and political leaders.

On the Road to Innovation in the West Bank

Recently I spent two action-packed days visiting the West Bank where I saw the tremendous impact that the USAID West Bank and Gaza Mission’s work has in many sectors and witnessed several innovative projects.

Students at the Al Haffasi Coeducational Elementary School in Kafr Al Labad. USAID recently renovated the school adding three floors and six new classrooms.

Students at the Al Haffasi Coeducational Elementary School in Kafr Al Labad.
USAID recently renovated the school adding three floors and six new classrooms.

The work we are doing in the education sector and with youth is among the most exciting. USAID is currently partnering with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education on a national reading campaign to raise the public’s awareness of the importance of reading and to encourage everyone to read. I told students at the Al Haffasi coeducational elementary school in Kafr Al Labad, in the Tulkarem Governorate what a gift reading is. The slogan for our campaign “Today’s Readers Tomorrow’s Leaders,” rings true and I encouraged all of the students to grab a book and spend time reading, dreaming and learning. At the school we distributed dozens of books to the students, including popular works of American fiction and non-fiction like “Colors in the Desert” and “Mystery at the Museum” translated into Arabic that I am certain the students will enjoy.

A Palestinian entrepreneur taking part in a mini-MBA program offered by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Tel Aviv University’s Recanati School of Management with support from USAID.

A Palestinian entrepreneur taking part in a mini-MBA program offered by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Tel Aviv University’s Recanati School of Management with support from USAID.

The ingenuity and creativity of young Palestinian entrepreneurs I met was very impressive. While these youth face many challenges, ranging from finding jobs to starting businesses, I am certain that they will find and seize opportunities for success. I told them about a USAID initiative that will provide support to early stage businesses to create and sustain jobs, encourage increased equity investment in early stage businesses, and advance and develop the investment environment. The young entrepreneurs I met specialize in fields ranging from software to agribusiness to energy, and so many things in between. They were passionate about their ideas and I am certain that they will help lead the Palestinian economy forward.

During my two-day stay, the USAID West Bank and Gaza Mission reached 100,000 likes on Facebook, an impressive milestone and a testament to the open channel of communication that the Mission has cultivated with its fans, most of whom are based in the West Bank and Gaza.  Check out the site – USAID West Bank/Gaza.  The Mission posts fantastic photos of its highly important activities and loves to hear from its fans.

While in the West Bank I also visited an innovative pilot project where wastewater is treated and then reused to irrigate crops. This initiative is extremely resourceful and I look forward to seeing the data on crop yields and freshwater resources saved. I hope that the success of this pilot program can be emulated at other locations in the West Bank. I also got a glimpse of the challenges that the mission faces, particularly with environmental issues. Visiting a polluted stream, a tannery, and a landfill, I saw the complexities of the proper disposal of waste and sewage.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Romanowski briefed at Beit Fajjar in the West Bank on environmental issues and proper disposal of waste and sewage.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Romanowski briefed at Beit Fajjar in the West Bank
on environmental issues and proper disposal of waste and sewage.

I was pleased to see that the mission’s implementation of the High Impact Micro Infrastructure Initiative, a $100 million initiative announced by Secretary of State John Kerry in November 2013, is advancing according to schedule, with more than 40 infrastructure activities underway, and more scheduled to begin in the near future. These infrastructure projects are coordinated with the Palestinian Authority and municipal authorities to support Palestinian national priorities and include construction or renovation of health clinics, road repairs, construction of community centers and school, and other similar projects.  This initiative aims to provide Palestinians with quick, tangible infrastructure improvements in dozens of communities throughout the West Bank.

The range of people and projects that I saw over the course of two days was impressive.  While the challenges that numerous people and communities face are serious, their innovation and ingenuity are incredible and inspiring.

Improving Agriculture to Help Lift Nigerian Families Out of Poverty

Alex Thier (far left) looks on as a Nigerian farmer checks the starch level of his cassava crop. (Photo Credit: USAID)

Alex Thier (far left) looks on as a Nigerian farmer checks the starch level of his cassava crop. (Photo Credit: USAID)

Standing at the gates to the Nigerian cassava processing plant, Thai Farms, we held our breath while watching a local farmer anxiously weigh a sack of his latest cassava crop. Cassava, a starchy local staple crop, takes 12 to 24 months to grow, but begins to rot after only 48 hours out of the ground.  So for this local farmer, transporting and being able to quickly sell his crop is essential to getting a good price.

To determine purchase prices, cassava is weighed and then tested for starch content through a simple, yet ingenious method of submersing the cassava tubers in water to test buoyancy. The higher the starch content, the more cassava flour is produced and the more money the farmer earns per kilo. The farmer breathed a sigh of relief when the starch content turned out to be high enough for the factory to buy his produce, but not high enough to fetch the best price.  The farmer left relieved, but somewhat disappointed and hopefully inspired to plant improved varieties next season.

In Nigeria, more than 70 percent of the population earns their livelihood from agriculture and 70 percent of the MARKETS II farmers live on less than $1.25 each day. By giving these farmers the tools to improve their harvest and connecting them with buyers, USAID is helping the farmers earn a higher selling price that is essential to increasing their household income and lifting their families out of extreme poverty.

a fish pond

Fish swim in one of many fish ponds at the USAID supported Timmod Farms in Nigeria. (Photo Credit: USAID)

Thai Farms exemplifies the MARKETS II model of connecting local farmers to new markets and technologies. However, there are several other local agri-business enterprises boosting the economy in Nigeria. Timmod Farms, for example, is a Nigerian success story. The farm was established in November 2004 with just four ponds of fish and is now one of the leading fish processors in Nigeria. Timmod Farms produces a smoked catfish that is well-known in the local Nigerian market and has been recognized by the Federal Department of Fisheries in Nigeria. The extremely entrepreneurial owner, Rotimi Omodehin, keeps adding new parts to the business, but is also concerned about the potential for further growth. Every step on the value chain suffers from some fundamental constraints, especially reliable access to energy and credit. These producers pay three to five times the price of energy from the grid to power their enterprises with expensive diesel generators. This is necessary as the power supply from the utility is unreliable and surges can damage expensive equipment. Credit, meanwhile, is hard to get at all and often costs 20 to 25 percent annual interest making loans hard to get, very expensive and very risky. To really enable small famers and small enterprises to drive inclusive economic growth, these problems will have to be addressed.

USAID has the opportunity to pull farmers out of poverty by sharing best practices in agriculture activities and focusing on value chains as a whole. Let us know what programs have been most successful for you or share your local stories of success.

Cooking With Green Charcoal Helps to Reduce Deforestation in Haiti

An organization in northern Haiti is promoting a cooking fuel made from agricultural waste that can save trees, help farmers increase their yields and generate additional income.

“Our aim is to try to stop deforestation in Haiti by teaching people to switch from cooking with charcoal to using cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste,” said Anderson Pierre, the Supply Chain Manager for Carbon Roots International (CRI), a USAID-supported non-profit organization operating in Quartier Morin.

Workers create cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste, in northern Haiti on Dec. 12, 2013. Photo copyright Kendra Helmer/USAID

Workers create cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste, in northern Haiti on Dec. 12, 2013.
Photo © Kendra Helmer/USAID

Despite the fact that only about 2 percent of Haiti’s forests remain, it is difficult to shift habits of cooking with wood charcoal to methods that are environmentally friendly.  According to Pierre, other alternative fuels are still not well-known – or accepted.

“We work little by little, changing perceptions and providing information on the benefits of using briquettes,” Pierre said.

CRI employs smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs to produce carbon-rich char from agricultural waste such as sugarcane bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice. CRI uses this waste to create two innovative products: renewable charcoal cooking briquettes called “green charcoal,” and “biochar,” a potent natural soil additive that increases soil fertility and removes carbon from the atmosphere. CRI sells the briquettes as an alternative to traditional wood charcoal through a network of women retailers, and disburses biochar back to farmers to increase crop yields and further raise incomes.

As a result, the project contributes to the sustainability of Haitian agriculture and provides income opportunities for women entrepreneurs. It offers a comparably priced, locally appropriate green cooking fuel to the Haitian marketplace, as well as encourages the adoption of biochar as a viable tool for increasing agricultural productivity and soil resiliency.

CRI’s efforts to promote green charcoal are gradually gaining ground in northern Haiti. While they’ve been focusing on market research and production, they plan to expand to bulk sales and more roadside kiosks this spring. In December, CRI ran a public awareness campaign in Quartier Morin under the slogan “Green Charcoal is Your Charcoal”, using demonstration stands and offering free samples of briquettes.

“The Haitian consumer likes the fact that this comes from a source other than wood. People have heard about a Haiti that used to be green. They understand that deforestation is not good. If they have an alternative, they will go for it,” said Ryan Delaney, co-founder of CRI. The briquettes are 5 to 10 percent cheaper to buy than wood-based charcoal and they can be burned in a traditional cook stove, making it an attractive fuel alternative.

USAID is supporting CRI through a $100,000 Development Innovation Ventures award. The USAID award has helped CRI prove itself — it developed a network of producers, started production and created viable markets for biomass products.

“We want this to be a self-sufficient project,” Delaney said. “We have just purchased a machine that can increase the briquette production from 3,000 briquettes a day to 3 tons an hour. There is a lot of sugarcane production in Haiti providing the needed sugarcane waste…. Right now we sell small-scale, but we have ambitious expansion goals.”

Delaney estimates the charcoal market in Haiti to be valued at about $700 million a year (approximately $90 million in northern Haiti).  “The potential to scale in Haiti and beyond is enormous, as there is little centralized production of charcoal,” he said.

This month, the U.S.-based CRI expects formal operations to begin for their for-profit entity in Haiti, called Carbon Roots Haiti, S.A.  Eventually CRI wants to hand over green charcoal production to Haitians, Delaney said. ”Ultimately, we envision this as a Haitian company run by Haitians.”

Launched in October 2010, USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) holds a quarterly grant competition for innovative ideas, pilots and tests them using cutting-edge analytical methods, and scales those that demonstrate cost-effectiveness and widespread development impact. DIV uses a staged-funding model inspired by venture capital to invest comparatively small amounts in relatively unproven ideas, and continues to support only those that prove effective.

For more information on DIV and how to apply, go to http://www.usaid.gov/div. For more information on CRI visit http://www.carbonrootsinternational.org/ and see photos of CRI in Haiti on Flickr.

Read another story about how USAID is fighting deforestation through an improved cooking technology program.

Anna-Maija Mattila Litvak is the Senior Development Outreach and Communications Officer for USAID/Haiti.

Bringing Hope to Women in Sri Lanka’s Former Conflict Zones

Like most places that have experienced conflict throughout the world, women were deeply affected by Sri Lanka’s 26-year conflict.  For most women who lived in the Indian Ocean island’s conflict zones, displacement, destruction, violence, harassment and loss were part of their everyday life.  The conflict ended in 2009, leaving many women traumatized and in need of psychosocial care, without belongings or livelihoods, and after the loss of their spouses, as heads of households.  Several USAID initiatives continue to support these women by integrating them into society and bringing normalcy back into their lives.

Thaminy Vedaasingham* is one of the BIZ+ program’s beneficiariesOne such initiative is USAID’s BIZ+ program which helps to increase and enhance equitable economic growth in the former northern and eastern conflict zones.  BIZ+ is partnering with small and medium-sized local businesses to create 5,000 new livelihoods and increase household incomes. The program primarily targets women; including war widows, disabled women and female-headed households.

Thaminy Vedaasingham* is one of the program’s beneficiaries. She is 25 years old and lives in one of the worst conflict-affected northern districts of Sri Lanka.  Having lost a limb during the conflict, Thaminy faced many hardships.  This is when Thaminy heard about the vocational training and production center in her district that provides livelihood assistance to war widows, women abandoned or women separated from their spouses or families. USAID is supporting the center to expand production and marketing of rice flour and spices and provide vulnerable women like Thaminy with new skills and sustainable livelihoods.

“The profit of the business belongs to the vulnerable women who work so diligently in the center. USAID’s assistance and support – in the way of building new hostel and storage facilities, and providing new equipment and transportation – have helped us to overcome any challenges and be successful businesswomen.” says Thaminy.

Thaminy is now economically independent and has the confidence to socialize with others.  “Thaminy is now enjoying life without worrying about the leg she lost. She is happy to work and earn for her family and for herself. As a mother, I am very proud of it”, quips Thaminy’s mother.

The Managing Director of the Vocational Training and Production Centre is happy to see the socio-economic business enterprise model with a vision of improving livelihood of vulnerable women come this far.  But above all, he is happy to see how the project has increased hope in the minds of women who seek empowerment through employment opportunities.

* Name has been changed to protect identity 

A “Whole” Lot of Success for Ghanaian Pineapples

If you live in the Southeast region of the United States, next time you walk into a Whole Foods Market and pick out the perfect pineapple, your purchase could support a Ghanaian-based small business.

Ghanaian pineapples on display at a Whole Foods Market. Credit: Michael Griffin, Sardis Enterprises

Ghanaian pineapples on display at a Whole Foods Market. Credit: Michael Griffin, Sardis Enterprises

Beginning in January, a number of Whole Foods Markets in the United States began stocking Ashanti pineapple grown on the central coast of Ghana. A unique partnership between Sardis Enterprises L.T.D, a Ghana-based small business; the African Diaspora Marketplace, a program of the United States Agency for International Development; and Western Union made the export of this delicious tropical fruit to Whole Foods Market possible.

Recognizing the opportunity, Sardis Enterprises is now pursuing a certification process to acquire a national account with Whole Foods Market and expand its distribution chain to the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Southeast and eventually all regions of the United States. The farmers and cooperatives that sell to Sardis differentiate themselves by using natural fertilizing methods and not using chemicals before, during, or after harvest. The company is currently certifying its suppliers’ farms and cooperatives as organic. “African Diaspora Marketplace gave us the support we needed to lay the groundwork for our company’s current growth trajectory and we are very excited for the opportunity to link Ghanaian farmers with Whole Foods’ network in the U.S.” said Michael Griffin, CEO of Sardis Enterprises.

But the success doesn’t end with Sardis. This partnership is just 1 of 17 awardees of the Second African Diaspora Marketplace, an initiative that encourages sustainable economic growth and employment by supporting U.S.-based African Diaspora and other entrepreneurs through grant funding and technical assistance. These entrepreneurs are individuals with demonstrable connections to or experience in Africa, and who have innovative and high-impact start-ups or established businesses on the continent. The African Diaspora Marketplace selects the most promising small and medium sized businesses across Africa and provides them with capital and managerial support to help grow.

The success of Sardis and other awardees demonstrates the value in supporting promising start-ups in Africa. The company has big plans for the future. They are building the Ashanti Pineapples brand and pursuing partnerships to develop their distribution channels in large export markets such as the US. “Our aim is to build a strong brand for the Ashanti line of produce and thereby help farmers in our cooperatives access valuable export opportunities that can help increase their income and have an overall positive impact on their livelihoods”, said Griffin.

Crafting Economic Empowerment for Women in North Lebanon

On a sunny October morning, I was blinking back tears of pride as 39 women, hailing from poor families, some with Down syndrome, gathered on a terrace to receive certificates celebrating their completion of a handicraft and soap making training workshop supported by USAID. Atayeb el Rif (Rural Delights), a cooperative that specializes in local gourmet foods and delicacies, organized the training as part of a grant it received under the USAID Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development (LIVCD) project to enhance the economic status of women in North Lebanon.

The USAID LIVCD project is a five-year project that provides income-generating opportunities for small businesses while creating jobs for rural populations, in particular women and youth.

The USAID LIVCD project is a five-year project that provides income-generating opportunities for small businesses while creating jobs for rural populations, in particular women and youth. Photo Credit: DAI

North Lebanon, an area that has seen a large influx of Syrian refugees, had already been facing many economic challenges, most notably loss of income due to scarce employment opportunities. USAID has intensified efforts in this region to help Lebanese communities hosting Syrian refugees through targeted assistance. The grant, launched in May 2012, helps provide economic opportunities for women and youth in rural areas, and thereby decrease migration to already over populated urban areas and improve Lebanon’s economic stability. As part of the grant, a six-day training workshop, related to accessories, needle work, soap making, and soap decoration skills, was provided to 120 women in three areas in North Lebanon, Batroun, Koura, and Donnieh. In addition to the training, each woman also received a tool kit containing $150 worth of supplies, tools, beads, molds, and threads to enable them to start their own small production home-based enterprises.

I was impressed by the array of handicrafts on display, ranging from beautifully decorated soaps to beaded fabrics, done with meticulous attention to detail and most of all passion. In fact, it was easy to sense that passion as the women enthusiastically shared their stories with us. “This training opened new opportunities. I will start producing accessories soon, and I hope to be able to open my own little shop to sell them. I also plan to benefit from the project’s assistance in marketing and to attend exhibitions and fairs to display my handicrafts,” commented one of the participants. But it was a 23-year old participant with Down syndrome, whose testimonial touched all attendees as she spoke with courage and pride about the prospects of this opportunity in ensuring a better income for her family.

The USAID Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development continued support to the women after their training graduation by providing ongoing coaching. USAID also facilitated the women’s access to markets by helping them to rent space at holiday events and fairs to sell their products to generate additional income. The USAID LIVCD project is a five-year project that provides income-generating opportunities for small businesses while creating jobs for rural populations, in particular women and youth.

I walked away with a basket of beautiful soap accessories that I can hang around the house for a profusion of scents. But most of all, I walked away inspired by the determination of these women to go beyond their potential in order to be the catalysts for change and growth in their community and country.

Participants receiving their certificate of attendance. Photo Credit: DAI

Participants receiving their certificate of attendance. Photo Credit: DAI

Doing Business in Mozambique Just Got Easier

USAID supports the Government of Mozambique with streamlining construction permitting process

Mozambique has historically struggled with the process of issuing construction permits. The slow issuing process was identified by the private sector as a major obstacle impeding businesses. However, things are starting to change for the better. The latest World Bank Doing Business 2014 report shows a substantial improvement in the country’s construction permit indicator, jumping 46 places to 77th from 123rd in the most recent rankings. The country overall improved in rank by 7 places, from 146th last year to 139th this year, out of the 189 economies in the overall Doing Business country ranking. The World Bank Doing Business report is comprised of 11 indicators that measure a country’s business regulations, property rights, tax burdens, access to credit, and the cost of exporting and importing.

U.S. Ambassador Douglas Griffiths delivers IT equipment to Maputo Mayor, David Simango; this equipment will enable the Municipality to further streamline construction permits

U.S. Ambassador Douglas Griffiths delivers IT equipment to Maputo Mayor, David Simango; this equipment will enable the Municipality to further streamline construction permits. Credit: C. Miranda/USAID Mozambique

The USAID Support Program for Economic and Enterprise Development played an important role in this recent success. The program began working with the municipality of Maputo in October 2011 to simplify the process of obtaining construction permits.

The program provided extensive technical assistance to map out the improved processes. This was followed by in-kind grant support comprised of technology equipment to the Department of Urbanization and Construction and two consultants to design a working business process management system and a database that supports a file tracking system. A statistics consultant was also hired to analyze the amount of time required to get a license before and after the technology was introduced.

According to the latest Doing Business estimates, these efforts contributed to a savings of approximately 247 days in the process for obtaining a license, resulting in substantial savings to the private sector, increased investment, and employment. The program estimates indicate that the private sector saved approximately $3.7 million and created nearly 2,600 jobs over the course of the year as more licenses were processed, allowing construction projects to start sooner.

“This effort shows that a dynamic, committed partner can make real change happen over a short period of time, even in a difficult environment,” said Brigit Helms, the Program’s Chief of Party. The World Bank’s recognition of Mozambique offers further encouragement to continue work with the municipality on monitoring the implementation of other recommended reforms.

Open Data and Entrepreneurship – The Best of Both Worlds

The benefits of open data and transparency are uniquely visible within the entrepreneurial world. Data is what fuels innovators’ work; the more data available for them to use, the easier it is for them to create new tools, apps, projects, and programs, all of which can be geared towards boosting entrepreneurship. With this in mind, it is important for us to promote the idea that fusing the two – open data and entrepreneurship – will result in more positive, impactful results, and right now, the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program is doing a great job combining the best of both worlds.

The White House PIF program pairs top innovators from non-profits, academia, and the private sector with top innovators in government to develop solutions that can save lives, increase effectiveness, and drive job creation. Each fellow is a part of the program for 6-13 months, working with the government on specific projects ranging from disaster response and recovery to cyber-physical systems to open data for development, and more.

USAID's Presidential Innovation Fellow Robert Baker presents on Open Data at Tech Camp. London, October 2013. Photo Credit: TechCamp Global

USAID’s Presidential Innovation Fellow Robert Baker presents on Open Data at Tech Camp. London, October 2013. Photo Credit: TechCamp Global

This year, fourteen fellows are working on open data initiatives across the federal government with three focusing on global development. Erin Maneri Akred, working with the Department of Agriculture (USDA), is a data and analytics specialist who most recently worked at Accenture Technology Labs where she led efforts to build analytical capabilities used in healthcare applications. Vidya Spandana, working with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), is a paradigm example of an entrepreneur who made her business enterprise successful with open data; as a college undergraduate she co-founded the govtech startup DMV.org, a web platform that provides about 110 million Americans with government data and information. And USAID’s Rob Baker, on leave from his role as Operations Manager at Ushahidi and before that a developer at Oxfam, has founded and configured a free and open source platform to host and share data that can be used by any federal agency, and others.

The fellows work with innovators in government to lead open data initiatives to get government open and host challenges and events to engage other entrepreneurs.  These include the Food Security Open Data Challenge, Global Development Data Jam, and most recently, the Open Data TechCamp held in London and organized in partnership with Department of State, USAID, Ernst&Young, USDA, and MCC. The TechCamp connected civil society organizations from around the world with new and emerging technology resources, and provided a forum for the PIFs to connect with entrepreneurs and government officials passionate about using open data for global development.

USDA and MCC’s Presidential Innovation Fellows Erin Maneri Akred and Vidya Spandana consult with Eric Nelson, Director of the Department of State's Office of eDiplomacy. London, October 2013 Photo Credit: TechCamp Global

USDA and MCC’s Presidential Innovation Fellows Erin Maneri Akred and Vidya Spandana consult with Eric Nelson, Director of the Department of State’s Office of eDiplomacy.
London, October 2013
Photo Credit: TechCamp Global

The question that USAID and other development agencies are asking is how can open data relevant to development be made more accessible, useable, and knowable to entrepreneurs that can build out their organizations for their own development solutions?  Spandana provides the example of one project in Botswana that uses a mobile SMS tracking system to keep track of Rhino poachers. Because Botswana’s economy is so dependent on tourism and natural resources, poaching has become a huge problem, especially for those entrepreneurs and people whose businesses rely on those sectors in order to thrive. Thus, those involved in the project were inspired to use open data to map out where poachers might be in an attempt to reduce poaching from occurring.

The goal of the PIF program’s open data initiatives is to show why data is impactful – not only for entrepreneurs but for others as well – and make sure users are aware of its benefits.

“We want to evangelize open data globally,” said Akred, “and we are stronger and more effective when we work together across fields and disciplines.”

Click here to learn more the PIFs program, and if you’d like more information about the PIFs program and future rounds, feel free to send your inquiries here.

Follow @WhiteHouseOSTP to get the latest news and updates.

Building the Foundation for a Two-State Solution

Last month I visited USAID’s West Bank and Gaza Mission and witnessed how our diverse programs bring tangible benefits to the lives of Palestinians. I came away from another whirlwind visit certain that USAID’s work helps build the foundation for peace.

The Palestinian hi-tech industry, for example, now consists of more than 250 mostly small-sized companies, where few existed only a couple of years ago. USAID helped spur this growth by holding competitions, seeking prototype solutions, and awarding subcontracts to help innovative entrepreneurs develop their startups and products. The “Hi-Tech Hub” event I attended in Ramallah showcased newly developed gaming and tourism apps under a USAID competition. The innovative spirit on display during that event was electrifying, and I look forward to seeing which final products will go forward to be developed. I also met with Palestinian students enrolled in a mini-MBA program offered jointly by Northwestern and Tel Aviv Universities. Not only does the program impart the exceptionally bright students with tools that will help them build their businesses and the Palestinian economy, it also builds bridges between Israeli and Palestinian academics and future entrepreneurs.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Romanowski and Administrator Rajiv Shah play soccer with a student at the Az Zeer school in Harmala.  Click to view more photos from their visit to the Middle East

Deputy Assistant Administrator Romanowski and Administrator Rajiv Shah play soccer with a student at the Az Zeer school in Harmala.

During my visit, I also met with a range of businesspeople, including Palestinian business leaders. We discussed the Palestinian economy, focusing on which sectors are ready for expansion and investment. They stressed the need for a business enabling environment with proper regulations. I also met with representatives from global hi-tech companies, including Cisco, Qualcomm, iMesh and Amital. I encouraged them to develop and expand partnerships with Palestinian tech firms to take advantage of the untapped potential within that sector, thus increasing employment, exports and revenues.

One of the highlights of my trip was accompanying Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Bethlehem, which reminded everyone that the city has tremendous potential as a tourism center. We toured a USAID road renovation project that will not only enhance driver and pedestrian safety, but will also link Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity to the city of Bethlehem itself. It was during our visit to Manger Square that Secretary Kerry announced an additional $75 million in support to the Palestinian Authority’s High Impact Micro-Infrastructure Initiative (HIMII), bringing the total U.S. Government commitment to $100 million. USAID’s role in implementing HIMII will be critical, as we continue to create jobs, upgrade basic infrastructure, and deliver tangible improvements in the lives of Palestinians.

While at Manger Square, I also saw the positive outcomes of USAID’s engagement with youth. I spoke with representatives from USAID-sponsored Youth Shadow Local Councils and learned about their experiences working in their local communities on projects ranging from job fairs to providing food assistance and beautifying parks and roads. I also visited students at the Az Zeer Elementary School in Harmala, near Bethlehem. There, I saw how hundreds of students are benefiting from a USAID school renovation project that provided students with access to more facilities and classrooms.

My visit also reconfirmed the importance of agriculture to Palestinian society. During a meeting with Palestinian agribusiness representatives, I learned about the challenges they face and the ways in which USAID is helping them overcome obstacles to export their products. If the olive oil, dates and vegetables I sampled were an indication of excellent food products, we would all stand to benefit from greater access to these products in our own grocery stores and markets.

My interactions highlighted the importance of our activities in building the future for the Palestinian people. With all our partners and government counterparts working together, we continue to move forward to implement sustainable development projects that benefit the Palestinian people and promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

View photos from Deputy Assistant Administrator Alina Romanowski’s recent visit to the Middle East on USAID’s Flickr site

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