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Archives for Economic Growth

Cultivating Entrepreneurial Spirits in Youth to End Extreme Poverty

After attending the World Bank’s Global Youth Summit  and participating in several discussions on young change makers and the post-2015 development agenda, I was left with an impression that the global community is at the precipice of truly elevating the youth platform on major issues in development. This year’s summit theme was on “Youth Entrepreneurship: Cultivating an innovative spirit to alleviate global youth unemployment” and included a case competition in addition to a series of discussion panels.

Dillon Roseen (far left) is an intern in the Legislative and Public Affairs Bureau at USAID. He is pictured here at the World Bank Youth Summit with a few other participants. Photo credit: USAID

Dillon Roseen (far left) is an intern in the Legislative and Public Affairs Bureau at USAID. He is pictured here at the World Bank Youth Summit with a few other participants. Photo credit: USAID

Young professionals at USAID had the chance to engage with our international colleagues on issues facing young entrepreneurs, particularly in developing nations. We actively shared USAID resources relevant to our young colleagues on programs like the Development Innovation Ventures (DIV), Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), Fall Semester, and USAID’s Youth in Development policy which has the goal to “improve the capacities and enable the aspira­tions of youth so that they can contribute to and benefit from more stable, democratic, and prosperous communities and nations.” At the summit, my “brothers and sisters” in development, as one panelist put it, joined us via livestream from Mexico City, Freetown, Addis Ababa, Bucharest, Juba, and many other cities around the world. Perhaps what I was most impressed with the entire day was the enthusiasm and tenacity with which these international change agents engaged the panelists during the Q&A, often jockeying for a turn to ask their potent and thought-provoking questions regarding corruption, political engagement, and technical infrastructure. Seeing their passion to contribute to and enliven the discussion proves that young people are catalyzers for changing the world and ending extreme poverty within our lifetime.

Even still, for my generation, which currently account for almost ¼ of the world’s population, there are many barriers and limitations for youth involvement, especially in developing countries. UN Envoy on Youth, 29 year-old Ahmad Alhendawi, noted that the average age for the general African population is 18 whereas the average age of politicians is over 60. With this discrepancy, it’s no wonder youth concerns appear to go unheeded. Corruption, poor infrastructure, and lack of capital, all major obstacles for young entrepreneurs across the developing world, are unfortunate and unacceptable realities that must be addressed by our leaders.

My major take away from the Summit was this: much is being done to shift conversation towards youth engagement, but there is still much to be done to translate this talk into action. I challenge the leaders in the development world to take the first step by following the example of the UN. Aid agencies and members of the international development world should appoint a designated Youth Coordinator for their respective organizations, someone who can concentrate the organization’s efforts to respond to the needs of young people so they are equipped with the knowledge and resources needed to advance the global community. To do this, he or she must work to arm young leaders not just with resumes and CVs, but with business plans and investment opportunities. Barriers must be reduced for political involvement and entrepreneurial spirits must be encouraged. USAID’s Youth in Development policy commits the Agency to do just that.

As I left the Summit, I mulled over a quote from John F. Kennedy that Global Poverty Project Co-Founder and CEO Hugh Evans shared with us:

“We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask why not.”

What struck me the most about this quote was the realization that my brothers and sisters across the world, despite the limitations we may face, are not only living by this quote but are inspiring others to join them. I hope you’ll join me and other young leaders as our generation fights to end extreme poverty.

Video of the Week: “Artisans in El Salvador Flourish”

USAID Small and Medium Enterprises Development Program, in alliance with SIMAN Stores, recently launched “ARTEC.A.”, a Central America-wide brand to distribute handicraft products by Salvadoran artisans in SIMAN department stores throughout the region. During the months of August and September, 30 artisans will be selling their products at the 12 SIMAN stores in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala. The products include decorative handicrafts, toys, jewelry and clothing items, among others.

The USAID’s program has contributed with technical assistance to help the artisans secure sales with SIMAN, as well as innovating and improving their design, production and distribution processes. Through these initiatives, USAID/El Salvador fulfills some of the commitments made by the governments of the United States and El Salvador in the “Partnership for Growth,” specifically those related to solving the factors that cause lower productivity of tradables.

Communities in Cote d’Ivoire Benefit from USAID’s Investments

USAID is helping communities in rural Cote d’Ivoire develop economic resiliency. Through our partners SAVE the Children and AVSI, we are supporting several types of economic strengthening activities, all of which increase the productive resources available for families. Through this work, we target the families and caregivers of children orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.

As they gathered for their savings group meeting, group members met us with a traditional welcome. Andrea Halverson. Photo credit: Andrea Halverson, USAID

As they gathered for their savings group meeting, group members met us with a traditional welcome. Photo credit: Andrea Halverson, USAID

In the mountainous, western city of Man, near Cote d’Ivoire’s border with Liberia, we met women gathering for their regular community savings group meeting. This region was one of the hardest hit during Cote d’Ivoire’s civil unrest. With poverty rates increasing over the past decade, savings groups combat a common problem in developing countries: lack of access to credit. Through these self-selected groups, members (usually all-women) will share a small portion of their money at each bi-monthly meeting, and are eligible to take loans, with interest, from this shared pool. At the end of the group sharing cycle, the amount saved is paid out to the group members. The additional money is making a difference in their lives and the lives of their children. Almost every woman uses her savings for school fees and school uniforms for her children.

Children watch as the community members cook the Attiéké, the final step in its production. Photo credit: Andrea Halverson, USAID

Children watch as the community members cook the Attiéké, the final step in its production. Photo credit: Andrea Halverson, USAID

In addition to savings groups, we also visited a community who had received start-up capital to fund a small business activity, producing a local delicacy called attiéké. Similar to couscous, attiéké is a fermented Ivoiran side dish, highly sought after in the region. Through the donation of a mill and a creative cassava partnership, the women had what they needed to start their small business. They are now making and selling attiéké. With pride, women told us of their informal distribution channels that stretched all the way to Mali. These and other investments are helping shape the future of Cote d’Ivoire, and reducing the vulnerability of Ivorian children by using profits to ensure they can enroll in school.

Meeting the President: How the United States is Helping Women Farmers in Senegal

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog

When I learned that I had been chosen to present my work with women farmers in Senegal to the president of the United States, the first thing I did was cry.

A minute later my thoughts cleared.

I have important things to tell President Obama, I said to myself, about how women farmers have benefited enormously from partnership with the United States.

Since 2002, I have been a member of a farmer organization of some 600 members—two thirds of whom are women—that works in 52 villages in the rural community of Mampatim, Senegal. I also work for a nongovernmental organization, supported by USAID through the Feed the Future initiative, that helps the group’s members succeed.

Anna Gaye prepares to demonstrate rice milling to President Obama in Senegal in June 2013. Photo credit: Stephane Tourné

Anna Gaye prepares to demonstrate rice milling to President Obama in Senegal in June 2013. Photo credit: Stephane Tourné

Farming in the valley

Since upland farming areas are traditionally farmed by men, our women members are obliged to work in the valleys, often under difficult conditions due to flooding. With little organization, many of these women worked very hard with negligible results.

Membership in our organization, known as an economic interest group, affords members like me legal recognition through which we can obtain credit. Historically, our group, called Kissal Patim, enabled us to cultivate small garden patches near village wells that provide off-season vegetables for market, as well as larger half-acre rice plots that yielded perhaps 200 kilograms during the rainy season.

But our partnership with Feed the Future got us to think much bigger. Feed the Future introduced members of Kissal Patim to several recently developed strains of seed that can produce yields as much as three times greater while using less water!

Meeting the president

On the big day, my mouth was dry as President Obama approached the booth we had set up to exhibit our activities, but he put me at ease right away. First, I demonstrated a traditional method of rice processing. I tried not to smile as he took the heavy ram from my hands and started pounding the pestle himself. “That’s painful!” the president said through his translator, examining his hands a minute later.

“That’s what women lived with every day before our partnership with Feed the Future,” I said.

That partnership brought, among other benefits, a portable, electric rice mill, which was also on display. The mill takes only 20 minutes to separate 40 kilograms of rice, which previously would take an entire day. The president was curious as to who actually owned the machine, and I explained our group manages it for our common use.

The mill, I explained, was very important to our progress. My fellow farmers and I were initially reluctant to grow more rice since the task of having to pound so much more would be huge. Our acquisition of the milling machines changed all that. We were free from the drudgery of the pestle.

The time saved also gives us more time to engage in commercial activities, such as the production and sale of palm oil and nutritious rice porridge made ​​with peanuts, not to mention time to prepare for the next growing season.

President Obama congratulated and encouraged us.

The visit was like a dream. The president of the United States! As soon as it was over, I was eager to get back to Mampatim and tell the story to my fellow women producers.

The visit had a positive impact on all our work: I feel more courageous and ambitious, and the photos I showed my colleagues inspired them to redouble their efforts in their production plots. It has created a spirit of competition among them all!

Begun in 2010, this partnership with Feed the Future through USAID’s Economic Growth Project has helped women access several new varieties of high-yielding rice, as well as introduce fertilizers that have further increased yields. Some of the plots have grown fourfold, up to an entire hectare, each of which yields and average of four-and-a-half tons. In the future, we hope to manage even larger plots.

(Translated from French by Zack Taylor)

This post is part of a series of posts by marketplace participants who met Obama in June 2013.

Additional Resources: 

The Bright Side of Taxes: More than Just a Headache

Many people equate taxes with confusing forms, incomprehensible rules, and general feelings of frustration. Others fear potential audits or vent about the ways in which their governments spend tax revenues. People pay less attention to the positive side of taxation; namely, that the resulting revenues allow a government to provide critical goods and services to citizens.

Tax revenues support both large-scale investments in areas such as health, education, citizen security, and roads, as well as community-level goods and services, like public lighting and garbage collection. Of course, efforts to improve tax collection should go hand-in-hand with advancements in public financial management more broadly. That is, beyond simply collecting more taxes, governments should improve the way they handle and invest public resources. Low revenue collection and sub-par public financial management practices have serious implications for the everyday lives and operations of citizens and businesses.

Click to read USAID's Detailed Guidelines for Improved Tax Administration in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Click to read USAID’s Detailed Guidelines for Improved Tax Administration in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For example, countries like El Salvador are facing crumbling public school infrastructure, a lack of basic medicines in public hospitals, and delayed tax refunds to businesses. Even in Brazil, a country with tax collection levels on par with the most developed countries in the world, recent protests have highlighted citizens’ discontent with the government’s management of public resources.

Along with promoting private investment, the ability of governments to collect and manage tax revenues is fundamental to reducing their reliance on foreign aid over the long term. As the Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mark Feierstein, noted in testimony earlier this year:

“The most important source of development funding for nearly any country is not USAID, or any other donor, but internally generated revenue. Absent sufficient host country funding, donors alone will not produce sustained prosperity and opportunity. That is why we are initiating new programs to help national and local governments raise revenue.”

Many readers may be surprised to find that, despite recent economic and social advances in the region, many Latin American and Caribbean countries seriously struggle to collect and manage public revenues.

Last year, two researchers from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) found that tax collection rates in Latin America averaged 18.4% of GDP, or roughly half the average of 34.8% for countries (including the United States) that belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and 39.2% in the European Union. More shocking is that collection rates in Latin America are significantly lower than the 24.5% average that the researchers found in Sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, the World Bank has noted that Latin American countries lag behind international standards in various aspects of public financial management, such as procurement, budget execution, and independent oversight of public expenditures.

Increasingly in recent years, the international community has emphasized the need for countries to improve the collection and management of tax revenues. USAID is providing leadership on these issues throughout the Americas. Our programs are working with national governments in countries like El Salvador and Jamaica to strengthen tax administration and public financial management.

USAID is a key contributor to the U.S. Government’s Domestic Finance for Development (DF4D) policy initiative that encourages countries throughout the world to increase revenue collection, improve budget transparency, and fight corruption. For example, we are challenging local governments at the municipal level in El Salvador and Honduras to increase revenue collection and improve the management of those resources. We will reward the highest performers with additional resources for key investments related to citizen security in their communities.

Today, USAID released a new publication entitled “Detailed Guidelines for Improved Tax Administration in Latin America and the Caribbean” that will enable tax administrations (i.e., the IRS equivalent in each country) to assess their own performance against leading practices in a variety of areas, including taxpayer registration, filing and payments, collections, and audit, among others. This tool will also help USAID staff and other donors engage with tax administrations on potential areas of technical assistance and prioritize interventions.

At USAID, we want to see all countries reach a level of development where they no longer require development assistance. Helping ensure that governments can mobilize domestic resources and invest them in their own development is a key step toward reaching that goal.

Learn more about USAID’s work in improving tax administration in Latin America and the Caribbean

From the Field in Pakistan: The Cattle Whisperer

With six children to feed and not enough money to make ends meet, each day was a trial for Bushra Yasmeen. On some days she didn’t have enough money to take her children to the doctor, on others there wasn’t enough money to support their education. Being a seamstress in a remote village in the Punjab was not taking her anywhere.

To seek advice and help, Bushra frequently turned to community elders who gathered in the evenings to talk about the day and what was happening in the small village they all shared.

Livestock extension worker Bushra Yasmeen poses in her clinic in Pir Mahal in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Bushra received training and basic supplies from USAID’s Dairy Project  Photo credit: USAID Dairy Project

Livestock extension worker Bushra Yasmeen poses in her clinic in Pir Mahal in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Bushra received training and basic supplies from USAID’s Dairy Project
Photo credit: USAID Dairy Project

It was at one such meeting that she heard that some people from the city — from USAID’s Dairy Project —  were coming to the village the next day to talk about training women to take better care of cattle. In rural areas of Pakistan, this work is done mostly by women. Through this project, USAID is improving animal health-care services in 1,500 villages in the Punjab by providing support and guidance to women like Bushra.

Always on the lookout for an opportunity to better support her family and help her husband, Bushra was eager to see what the training was all about. Based on her enthusiasm and energy, and the knowledge she displayed during the selection process, the USAID Dairy Project team selected her for training as a livestock extension worker.

During the month-long training program, Bushra learned about animal disease prevention and basic livestock management, including the need for timely vaccinations against mastitis (inflammation of the udders, one of the most common diseases among dairy cattle) and hoof-and-mouth disease.

With the training and a medical support kit provided by USAID, Bushra started providing basic treatment to the cattle in her village, earning more than she had as a seamstress.

“I have earned 10,000 rupees in two months by attending to 180 cattle cases in my village,” says a beaming Bushra.  She no longer has to think twice about money when her children need school supplies or medical care. In addition, Bushra has set up a clinic providing preventive and basic medical care to the animals owned by the dairy farmers in her village. The steady income means that she can reinvest in her clinic as well.

Learn more about USAID’s work in Pakistan. Like USAID Pakistan on Facebook and follow them on Twitter (@UsAidPakistan) for ongoing updates in the region!

Vocational Courses Give Economic Empowerment to Women of Georgia

From our Mission of the Month: Georgia, learn how a USAID-supported project empowers women to acquire training that allows them to contribute to their family incomes. 

Christina Blurtsian is a 22-year old ethnic Armenian student passionate about the arts. She paints, sings, plays guitar and even makes costumes for one of the local theaters in Tbilisi.

“When I was a kid, I would spend nights painting. It was my true passion. I would draw on a piece of paper, cardboard, asphalt, even on a wall-paper. Soon sewing became my passion. It first started when my mom gave me a doll and I decided to make her a dress.”

Christina Blurtsian. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

Christina Blurtsian. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

Since then Christina has made several dresses for her friends and actors as well.  She will turn this passion into a profession soon. After completing a USAID-supported vocational training course in sewing machine skills, Christina will start working at an apparel factory.

In partnership with the apparel industry, the USAID Economic Prosperity Initiative (EPI) developed a short-term training program that connects vocational colleges and the apparel industry.  The partnership allows the apparel sector access to a qualified workforce that will increase the industry’s productivity while women like Christina gain skills, empowerment, and employment.

Sewing machine operator training students in Georgia. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

Sewing machine operator training students in Georgia. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

“I prefer to start working at an apparel plant. After I gain enough experience, I am going to teach others. I’m trying to find a permanent job not just because I need to earn money, although I have to support my parents. I’m striving to achieve my goals.”

Christina is very clear about her plans and goals. In a large family of seven, she is now the only one living with her parents. Christina’s mother works at a grocery store, her father is a pensioner, and their income barely covers utility bills. Christina knows her earnings will be an important contribution to the family income. Still, Christina believes hard work, a sense of purpose and diligence are qualities that matter just as much as a better living of her family. “Realizing my interests and aptitude in life is a key drive for me. Everything I do, I do for this reason.”

Iveta Tskhovrebashvili. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

Iveta Tskhovrebashvili. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

Iveta Tskhovrebashvili is a dedicated mother who completed the same course. At 40 years old Iveta saw the course as a second chance to finally have a real profession. She’s always had a knack for sewing. “I would often make myself a dress. It was during the particularly difficult times when not many people could afford fancy clothes, especially my acquaintances. My dresses did draw attention; none of them would miss a compliment. People really liked them,” Iveta recalls.

The sewing courses showed Iveta new techniques and helped her improve. “Speed, meticulousness, the ability to work with complex garments – these are the skills I’ve acquired through the courses,” Iveta says.

Iveta believes the courses will help her find a job and support her family. “My husband is without work and there are so many things my daughter needs that we cannot afford. Once I start working in an apparel factory the situation will become better,” she says.

Both Christina and Iveta are interns at a local apparel manufacturing company and, if successful, will secure a job.

Learn more about our Mission of the Month: Georgia. For ongoing updates in the region, like USAID Georgia on Facebook and follow them on Twitter (@USAIDGeorgia)!

Celebrating the Richness of Uzbekistan’s Harvest

I recently experienced the richness of Uzbek fruit at a USAID-sponsored local Peach Variety Contest in the Andijan Province of Uzbekistan. It was an unforgettable opportunity for me to witness the rich abundance of Uzbekistan’s land. Farmers came and presented their own samples from six provinces: Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, Namangan, Fergana and Andijan. It was difficult to believe that there were so many different varieties of peaches and nectarines! After a round of objective judging, the farmers with the best ones were awarded various farm tools as prizes. The event also served as an opportunity for farmers to learn new approaches for harvesting and post-harvest management of their produce, and female participants learned new techniques for processing their homemade jams and preserves.

Rural children enjoy prize-winning fruits of the Ferghana Valley at a USAID-sponsored agricultural contest. Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Rural children enjoy prize-winning fruits of the Ferghana Valley at a USAID-sponsored agricultural contest. Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

In rural and farming communities, word of mouth is the most meaningful means of information dissemination. Farmers are as curious and competitive as they are cautious; they are always interested in what crops their neighbors are growing, what approaches they use, and, most importantly, what results they achieve. These fruit contests are an important opportunity for local technical experts to share their knowledge with other farmers. For example, the household-level peach processing training conducted for Uzbek women during the Andijan peach contest will help them improve their family’s nutrition in the winter time. With over two-thirds of Uzbekistan’s population residing in rural areas, agricultural development is crucial to increasing local economic opportunity and addressing rural poverty and food security.

The history of private farming in Uzbekistan is very new; it has been only seven years since the production cooperative farm organizations (shirkats) were disbanded and all farm production responsibilities were transferred to private farmers. Since then, USAID agricultural projects have been at the cutting edge of providing Uzbekistan’s new private farmers with a strong production-based set of technology transfer activities that positively impact farm level quality and productivity. During our first year of this project, USAID introduced 3,000 farmers to new production techniques that, at a minimum, doubled crop yields and resulted in up to six-fold increases in sales. This agricultural assistance in Uzbekistan has increased some farm incomes by up to 80 percent through improved agricultural techniques.

Although prizes were given to farmers with the best varieties of peaches presented at the contest, one could see that there was not only competition among farmers, but collaboration among them as well. It was inspiring to see them discussing the characteristics of different samples that were presented; their advantages and their weaknesses; sharing their own experiences and knowledge; and offering tips to each other. A majority of farmers and their families attend variety contests because they learn something new that will help to improve their family’s nutrition, decrease spoilage and increase their profits. After most variety contests, farmers arrange for visits to each other’s farms to continue exchanging information and learning from each other. Winning farmers are inundated with requests for transplants and grafting material from their prized plants. For me, this is a classic example of how USAID fosters events with lasting results. The connections that farmers make with each other and the skills they transfer will continue beyond the life of any one project.

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Podcast of the Week: Changing the World One Property Right at a Time

Land tenure, or helping people in developing countries establish clear rights to their property, is a little-known issue that is nonetheless essential to the global fight on poverty. This podcast, based on an interview with USAID’s land tenure division chief Gregory Myers, explains the issue and how the U.S. Government is helping secure property rights around the globe. Follow our work on land tenure this month on Twitter by following #landmatters.

 

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