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Archives for Economic Growth

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.

Additional resources:

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.

 

How USAID’s Partners are Transitioning to E-payments

This originally appeared on Devex

This spring I had the opportunity to speak to 170 participants around the world in an interactive webinar the USAID/IDEA Mobile Solutions team organized, called “Demystifying Electronic Payments: Lessons Learned from Pathfinder on Transitioning Away From Cash.” I’m excited about this, because I think it’s a great example of the next step we’re taking towards transforming our Agency.

Our Mobile Solutions at USAID team is young – we started two years ago with no budget and 1.5 people. What we set out to do is really a change-management program within our agency. We’re working to make mobile technology a core part of how we do our work, including transitioning our programs from cash to e-payments.

A neighborhood shopkeeper writes down transaction details after processing a mobile money transfer. Photo: Manpreet Romana/AFP, USAID.

A neighborhood shopkeeper writes down transaction details after processing a mobile money transfer. Photo: Manpreet Romana/AFP, USAID.

With colleagues at organizations like CGAP, the Gates Foundation, and Mercy Corps, we’ve done a lot of work to help people understand what mobile money is and why it’s worth working on. It has been such a rich experience because we’ve had both grassroots support as well as that of our leadership. There’s no way we could have gotten where we are without our CFO, General Council, procurement team, and especially our field staff.

While working with these incredible champions, we’ve received many requests for tools, resources, and trainings. As our team and our experience grow, we’re helping them move from supporting the idea of mobile money to the nitty gritty of implementation. A strong demand for real world examples was the inspiration for the webinar, almost a “Mobile Money 201″ course. We wanted to take a deep look at how an organization that’s committed to going from cash to almost all electronic payments gets there.

We also really wanted to hear from the field, so we were lucky to have Mustafa Kudrati and Peter Mihayo of Pathfinder Tanzania speak to their lessons learned, challenges, and successes in transitioning from cash to electronic payments.

They answered questions such as: What are recommended standard operating procedures for payment disbursement and reconciliation? What are key considerations for others exploring the transition? Some of the things they shared really got me thinking about how all this works in the field, including:

  • Reducing cash payments: Pathfinder Tanzania went from making 30-50 percent of payments in cash to writing only 3-5 checks per month. This statistic is just stunning to me.
  • Increasing transparency and efficiency: Pathfinder could ensure that all funding for training participants went to registered accounts they could trace, making the program more transparent. This is a recurring theme we hear from our partners.
  • Reaching scale: Mustafa reminds me there was no way the program would have reached so many participants without transitioning to e-payments. Between June and December  Pathfinder trained more than 4,000 people scattered throughout 40 districts. Without mobile money, they estimate it would have taken 18 months to do this. And now, they have a vision for serving even more people with these new payment tools.

That’s amazing, and that’s what we want to see – successful projects at USAID quickly scale approaches that they’ve seen enhance people’s lives. It’s a powerful story, and it shows that mobile payments change our work in a very fundamental way.

Explore related content: 

Learn more about USAID’s mobile solutions

Belarus Community Connections Program Celebrates 15 Years of Success

As USAID’s Belarus Country Director for the last four years, one of my great pleasures has been working closely on the Community Connections Exchange Program. Today that program, which so effectively helps Belarusian professionals to understand and adopt best practices to strengthen and develop the country, is celebrating its 15th year in Belarus.

Since 1998, Belarusian participants – professionals and specialists across a broad spectrum of fields that are crucial to the country’s development – have visited the United States on three-week exchange programs tailored to addressing their professional needs. The programs that USAID offers these visitors focus on several sectors, including civil society, local economic development, business education, finance, agriculture, social services, environment, health, culture and journalism. The exchange programs demonstrate how these sectors work in the States and allow participants to draw on lessons learned and tailor applicable approaches for use in the Belarusian environment.

Participants of the Community Connection Program on arts discuss challenges in the area. Photo credit: USAID

Participants of the Community Connection Program on arts discuss challenges in the area. Photo credit: USAID

In these last four years, I have met hundreds of the almost 900 Community Connection participants. What has impressed me most is how effective these dedicated people are in bringing best practices and modern solutions to the challenges that face Belarus.  I have seen firsthand the positive impact that Belarusian professionals have had on their local communities by working for change and utilizing the knowledge and experience they gained while in the U.S. Our Сommunity Connections alumni have taken the lead in advocacy efforts, contributed to public policy formulation, and conducted awareness campaigns in Belarus.

Many of our program alumni have been innovators of extraordinary initiatives and accomplishments. Sergey Drozdovsky, a lawyer and a prominent activist, launched several nationwide campaigns to promote the rights of people with disabilities. Yury Zisser founded the most popular and largest internet portal and information resource in Belarus – TUT.By. Natalya Kobrynets, an activist of the NGO, Healthy Choice, brought a model for a drug prevention program known as “Snowball” from the U.S.  and launched it in several city schools. Natalia Novitskaya and Anna Pugach opened a resource center for children and young people with disabilities and their families while also designing needed educational materials.

Other Community Connections alumni contributed to the promotion of legislation that improved the business environment and implemented projects encouraging entrepreneurship. They engaged community members in volunteering activities, assisted disadvantaged populations, and initiated new services by non-governmental organizations.

One of USAID’s more successful contributions to Belarus’s development – brought to Belarus by the 2012 Community Connections participants – helped generate entrepreneurial enthusiasm by developing and transforming green tourism routes into ecotourism clusters. Going forward, this will be especially beneficial for rural development as it ensures job creation, revenue generation, and economic growth. The efforts of these green tourism visionaries have laid the foundation for the first organized and truly functional tourist routes and resulted in the creation of the country’s biggest ecotourism association, the launch of a website, and a dramatic increase in the number of private bed and breakfast sites in Belarus. Their initiatives coalesced around a separate USAID/Belarus project that is supporting local eco-tourism initiatives as a way to strengthen the private sector in local economies.

Through 15 years of focused and sustained effort, the Community Connections program has planted strong seeds for Belarus’s development in civil society, economic growth, and social services. I am happy to have had the opportunity to help guide the work of the Community Connections program as it has begun to reap the benefits of our long-term investments. As my time at this Mission draws to a close, I can say that the Community Connections alumni who have so earnestly implemented the ideas they picked up during study tours to the U.S. represent a special Belarusian resource that will continue to support the country’s development for years to come.

Photos of the Week: AID in Action: Delivering on Results

Driving human progress is at the core of USAID’s mission, but what do development results look like?

USAID is measuring our leadership in results — not dollars spent — implementing innovative, cost-effective strategies to save lives. Through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing new partners and young minds to transform more lives than ever before. Our new model for development embraces game-changing partnerships that leverage resources, expertise, and science and technology to maximize our impact and deliver real results.

Take a look at the Agency’s top recent and historical achievements in promoting better health; food security; democracy and good governance; education; economic growth, and in providing a helping hand to communities in need around the globe.

Read the stories behind the results in the special edition of FrontLines: Aid in Action: Delivering on Results.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDpubs for ongoing updates on the best of our results!

The AGOA Forum: Promoting Sustainable Growth in Africa through Trade and Technology

This originally appeared on the White House Blog.

This week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman and senior members of the President’s economic team joined trade ministers, civil society, and business leaders from across sub-Saharan Africa to focus on “Sustainable Growth through Trade and Technology” at the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum. The Forum also kicked off the process leading to AGOA’s renewal in 2015.

As the President highlighted on his trip to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania this summer, Africa is experiencing historic growth. Six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. The continent has enormous economic potential, and it’s in our interest to help African countries expand trade and investment to fuel their development.

AGOA has transformed the way the United States and Africa interact on trade and economic issues. Since 2001 – the first full year of AGOA trade — U.S. total trade with sub-Saharan Africa has more than doubled, from $28.2 billion to $72.3 billion in 2012. AGOA enabled U.S. exports to the region to more than triple from $6.9 billion in 2001 to $22.6 billion in 2012. At the same time, AGOA imports (including GSP) to the United States have climbed to $34.9 billion in 2012, more than four times the amount in 2001. That increase in trade has created thousands of new jobs in Africa.

By providing new market opportunities for African exports, especially for non-traditional and value-added products, AGOA has helped African firms become more competitive both in the United States and internationally. Many African businesses that had never previously considered the U.S. market are attending trade shows and getting orders – for Ugandan organic cotton T-shirts, Mauritian seafood, Ghanaian cocoa powder, Ethiopian shoes, and a whole range of products.

AGOA has also been good for the United States. U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa have more than tripled as Africa’s growing middle class is increasingly able to buy high-quality products Made in America. African businesses have sought more U.S. inputs, expertise, and joint partnerships, and U.S. investment in Africa is creating good jobs and higher incomes for workers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The challenge now is to expand AGOA’s impact even further. At this week’s Forum, our team focused on further expanding our economic engagement with Africa, paving the way for AGOA’s renewal in 2015, and building a stepladder that furthers Africa’s growth, development and global economic integration. This is the vision we and our partners share, and this week’s discussions at the AGOA Forum will help chart our way forward.

President Obama delivered a video message to the Forum. Check it out below:

Gayle Smith is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director at the National Security Council and Grant Harris is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs

La Idea Initiative Seeks Entrepreneurs with Business Partnerships in Latin America

Last month, I sat in front of a crowd of over 240 aspiring entrepreneurs in Bogota, Colombia, to help facilitate a three-hour session on how to apply to start and scale up innovative businesses with the support of La Idea and the La Idea Business Competition. I was thrilled to be joined by our La Idea partners Susan Amat, Founder and CEO of Venture Hive; Arnoldo Reyes, Head of Market Development for Ebay/PayPal for Latin America and the Caribbean region and Paula Cortes of Accion International. We were blown away by the participants’ excitement about La Idea and their spirit of entrepreneurship.

La Idea connects entrepreneurs within the Latin American diaspora throughout the Americas to each other and to local and regional small business support centers, to provide resources and connections to help entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level. It promotes partnerships between businesses throughout the Americas and launched the La Idea Business Competition, an opportunity for innovative social entrepreneurs with breakthrough ideas to turn their business visions into reality.

Bogota, Colombia is not the only place where La Idea has convened eager entrepreneurs to learn more about its Business Competition. At business advising events it organized throughout the U.S. and Latin America, entrepreneurs have learned about a variety of ways to grow their businesses and partner across borders. Photo credit: La Idea

Entrepreneurs convene in Bogota, Colombia to learn more about its Business Competition and ways to grow their businesses and partner across borders. Photo credit: La Idea

Through the competition, ten businesses—which must represent a collaboration between a U.S.-based entrepreneur and a Latin America-based entrepreneur—will receive a coveted spot in the Finalist Showcase televised by Univision Media, where they will pitch their business ideas live in front of a panel of celebrity judges. Winners will receive a prize of $50,000 and tailored support services to help get their businesses off the ground.

In order to attract even more great business ideas, La Idea recently extended the deadline for applications to 5:00 pm EDT on September 20, 2013. More details on the application process and eligibility are available at www.laidea.co.

In the United States there are over 2.3 million Latino entrepreneurs opening businesses at twice the national rate—making them the fastest growing entrepreneurial segment in the country. Moreover, many countries in Latin America are on the rise. La Idea hopes to unleash the potential of Latino entrepreneurs to promote economic development that transcends borders. By supporting Latino entrepreneurs in the U.S. and throughout the Americas, La Idea aims to translate their knowledge and capital into tangible improvements in Latin America, as well as build on the emerging strength of networks and markets in Latin America.

La Idea is a public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Boom Financial, Inter-American Development Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Small Business Administration, Univision News, WellSpace, Accion, and FHI 360. It builds on the unique strength of each of the partners, including the U.S. Department of State and USAID’s experience coordinating similar business competition plans focused around diaspora communities.

These business plan competitions have included the African Diaspora Marketplace (ADM), Caribbean Idea Marketplace, and Libya Diaspora Marketplace (LDM). Each of which tapped the power of diaspora communities in the United States—and their strong ties to their countries of origin or heritage—to develop innovative enterprises that support USAID’s development objectives and grow small and medium-size businesses as drivers of economic growth.

Already, the winners of these competitions are making good on their businesses’ potential for development impact. Sproxil, a winner of the 2011 African Diaspora Marketplace, was recognized by Fast Company earlier this year as the seventh most innovative company of 2013 for its product that fights prescription drug counterfeiting in Africa. I cannot wait to see who wins the La Idea Business Competition and the innovative businesses they will bring us for 2014 and beyond.

To learn more about application and eligibility requirements for the La Idea Business Competition, visit www.laidea.co and join the La Idea community on Facebook

From the Field in Georgia: Collaboration Bears Fruit for Georgian Farmers

I love a sweet, juicy mandarin and I’m lucky to live in a country where these near-perfect citrus fruits are grown. Farmers here in Georgia grow some of the best mandarins in the world. But getting these delicious fruits to market and eventually into the mouths of other mandarin-lovers can be a challenge.

Revaz Kokobinadze is a mandarin grower from the Adjara region in western Georgia. On his own, he only has cash on hand to purchase 60 percent of the materials he needs to grow mandarins on his quarter-hectare orchard. But now that he is part of a farmers’ group established through USAID’s Economic Prosperity Initiative, he and farmers like him are able to obtain interest-free loans to get what they need for successful mandarin production.

Revaz Kokobinadze in his orchard. Kokobinadze is one of the more than 1,000 farmers who will benefit from USAID supported interest-free loans. Photo credit: Deloitte/USAID Economic Prosperity Initiative

Revaz Kokobinadze in his orchard. Kokobinadze is one of the more than 1,000 farmers who will benefit from USAID supported interest-free loans. Photo credit: Deloitte/USAID Economic Prosperity Initiative

USAID has helped establish 50 farmer groups for Georgia’s two leading agricultural exports — mandarins and hazelnuts. Farmers were reluctant to come together at first, but they soon realized the commercial incentives of working together. As the saying goes, sometimes it takes a village. Now, these farmers make decisions together on everything from production and management practices, to the types of treatments to use.

To help these farmer groups succeed, in June 2013 USAID’s Economic Prosperity Initiative developed an interest-free financing scheme, which allows smallholder farmers to buy the agricultural materials they need and conduct soil testing. When farmers join together to make purchases, they can buy in greater volume and get a better price.

USAID then linked the farmer groups to a microfinance organization to provide credit for agricultural materials and laboratory services. The arrangement allows farmers to purchase what they need at rates they could otherwise not afford. The microfinance organization pays the suppliers and the farmers pay back the interest-free loans after the harvest.

More than 1,000 mandarin and hazelnut growers will benefit from these interest-free loans.

Belonging to a farmer group not only enables farmers to afford necessary materials, but also empowers them to improve management practices through consultations with extension specialists as part of USAID’s Economic Prosperity Initiative.

These same groups will see additional benefits of farmer groups during harvests later this year. USAID is helping to establish partnerships with hazelnut processors and mandarin packaging houses. Farmers now have what they need to produce better quality products on a larger scale, and they are more likely to receive a better price for their products.

Because of the loan he received, Revaz anticipates a greater harvest of high-quality fruit this year. “It was a simple procedure,” Revaz says. “A representative of the microfinance organization came to my plot and interviewed me about my farm’s production.” Once he submitted his application, the approval took less than 20 minutes.

By working together, Georgia’s farmers are finding it easier to get their delicious produce to market, and that’s good news for mandarin consumers like me in Georgia and the entire region.

Learn more about the Economic Prosperity Initative.

Fixing A Broken System: A Conversation With Nobel Peace Prize Winner Professor Muhammad Yunus

“Whatever banks did, I did the opposite. If banks lent to the rich I lent to the poor. If banks lent to men, I lent to women. If you had to go to the bank, my bank went to the village.” Maybe these sound like the words of a man who doesn’t know business. But they are in fact the words of one of the world’s greatest social businessmen, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Congressional Gold Medal winner, and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Muhammad Yunus.

Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize visited with USAID staff on July 22, 2013 to discuss how to ‪end extreme poverty‬. Photo credit: Pat Adams, USAID

On July 22, 2013, the USAID community had the privilege of hearing Mr. Yunus speak. He spoke about starting his various businesses, the Grameen Bank in particular, and about the difficulties faced when trying to help those in need. Grameen bank is a microcredit lending bank, founded in 1983 but with origins dating back to 1976.

That year, Yunus went into the poorest rural communities in Bangladesh and saw what he calls “a desperation”; to escape poverty, to escape the violent loan sharks who ruled the areas, a desperation for a better way of life.

Without a thought to the positive global impact that Grameen bank would one day have, he decided he could fix the problem or at least he could make a difference here in this small area. He began using his own money for microcredit loans in these rural regions, taking the place of the loan sharks. He believed that if you used business as a tool to produce more money, not for profit but to continue the cycle of lending then it would help the greatest number of people possible.

Today Grameen bank has branches all over the world, including several in the United States. He has been dubbed one of the greatest global thinkers of our time and there is a lot that can be learned from him and his style of aid.

At the end of the day, said Yunus, the real issue is the system in its entirety, as it produces poverty and unemployment: “Should the system condemn the people and put the people in the trash, or should the people condemn the system and put the system in the trash?”

To remedy this, Yunus believes USAID should invest more in local civil society and less in foreign governments when it comes to aiding native populations. In fact, as Administrator Shah noted, this is one of the many initiatives USAID Forward is taking on.

In addition, Yunus said that although the Agency is dedicated to the betterment of humankind it is still a part of the U.S. government and therefore like most governments, not as adept at innovation as it could be. The more lithe and adaptable the organization, and the less restricted by protocol and procedure, the more effective it will be at producing the necessary change.

 

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