USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Economic Growth

Announcing the National Impact Initiative at the UK’s G8 Social Impact Investing Forum

This originally appeared on the White House Blog.

Yesterday, at the UK’s G8 Social Impact Investing Forum in London, the Administration launched the National Impact Initiative (NII) to expand the use of impact investing as an element of the Administration’s strategies for economic growth and global development. In London, 150 top government officials, business executives, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists and academics who have been leaders in the burgeoning field of impact investing will discuss how to increase impact investing in order to both accelerate economic growth and job creation in G8 nations as well as leverage new capital flows toward the Millennium Development Goals. The U.S. has been at the forefront of this field.

Impact Investing is the practice of channeling capital toward businesses that intentionally generate economic return and public benefit. Such businesses openly track and measure social, environmental, and governance (ESG) considerations alongside their financial returns. These firms often are described as creating models of shared value or sometimes referred to as social enterprises. Impact investing often encompasses support for firms operating in target geographies, specific sectors, or employing specific populations.

Over the past four years, President Obama has worked to support impact investing with a series of domestic and international policies and programs including:

  • The Regional Innovation Clusters funded by the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to spur innovation and job creation. In addition, as part of Start-Up America, the SBA also launched a $1 billion Impact Investment Fund and a $1 billion Early Stage Fund through its Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Program;
  • The Freshworks Fund invested in by the Treasury Department in 2011 as part of a strategy to invest in market-based models to tackle food deserts;
  • The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has a long history of transforming private capital into solutions for common social and environmental challenges around the world and today is a leading impact investor in the U.S. Government, with $333 million committed to impact investing in 2012 in sectors including healthcare, education, renewable resources and water; and
  • The Accelerating Market-Driven Partnerships initiative launched by the State Department in 2012, a public-private partnership that mobilizes innovation and investment around critical global challenges.

These efforts and dozens of others are part of the NII and will help the government to partner with business and to drive better results for citizens in the U.S. and around the world. Such a coordinated approach will create good jobs, drive sound financial returns and support positive societal outcomes.

As part of the NII, we announced important new initiatives at this week’s meeting in London:

  • Global Development Innovation Ventures (GDIV): A joint initiative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the UK’s Department for International Development that will strengthen the impact investment pipeline by piloting, rigorously testing, and scaling cost-effective development solutions with the potential to reach millions of people without long-term donor support. GDIV builds on the cutting-edge Development Innovation Ventures program launched by USAID in 2010, adding even greater funding, flexibility, and reach.  You can learn more here.
  • Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Early Stage Fund: Today, the SBA announced a new round of solicitation for the SBIC Early Stage Investment Fund that will increase the amount available for investment from $150 million to $200 million annually. In addition, the SBA announced that it has raised the amount of SBIC leverage from $80 million to $150 million that Impact Investing Funds can receive and recently expanded the definition of impact investing to include rural communities. You can learn more here.

Looking ahead, the Obama Administration will continue to expand the NII by advocating policies that support the continued growth of impact investment and social enterprises. Such efforts will be guided by a clear set of principles that combine a market-oriented approach with a strong focus on the public interest:

  • Align incentives to catalyze impact investing;
  • Create enabling regulatory frameworks for impact investing;
  • Engage private institutions and stakeholders in active dialog around impact investing issues;
  • Promote impact investing standards, transparency, and learning; and
  • Allow impact investing to complement policy objectives.

Elizabeth Littlefield is President and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC); Karen G. Mills is the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA); and Rajiv Shah is the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Advancing Food Security by Opening Markets

This originally appeared on the UnitedStates Trade Representative Blog.

Ambassador Isi Siddiqui attended The Chicago Council’s Global Agricultural Development Initiative’s fourth annual Global Security Symposium yesterday in Washington, D.C. The symposium was on “Capitalizing on the Power of Science, Trade, and Business to End Hunger and Poverty: A New Agenda for Food Security.” As chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Siddiqui is responsible for bilateral and multilateral negotiations and policy coordination regarding food and agricultural trade.

We face dual challenges in food security: We need to get food to the people who need it today and grow more for the people who will need it tomorrow. Open, well-functioning markets can help.

Global markets are an essential element of food security. Open markets for agricultural commodities, agricultural inputs, and food products help to efficiently move these goods from those who develop and produce them to those who need them, benefiting both producers and consumers.

Markets that allow businesses and countries to share technologies help producers increase yields and output, reduce post-harvest losses, and adapt to climate change, while preserving the incentives for future innovation and transfer that are critically important to improving food security.

Rural chicken farmers like Sagnol Salimata, pictured here, have received technical training and barn-construction support through agricultural development projects. Photo credit: Jake Lyell.

The U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, is driving a new model for development that, among other activities, integrates trade. Trade policies that promote open markets enable job creation, and can sustain and accelerate economic growth around the world.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) lends our expertise and broader global work—increasing the transparency, predictability, and openness of agricultural trade through bilateral and multilateral exchanges—to the initiative’s goals of reducing global hunger, poverty, and undernutrition.

At the World Trade Organization (WTO), for example, we’ve put forth proposals in the area of trade facilitation that would go a long way toward removing barriers to agricultural trade by cutting and reducing border delays. Reducing delays for import clearances is particularly important for perishable food and agricultural products to help ensure that quality products reach consumers.

We’re also working closely with our partners at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) on the APEC action plan on food security to continue progress toward our shared goal of free and open trade by 2020. Trade agreements, such as the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), and ongoing negotiations like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are also important tools to facilitate trade, provide reliable market access, and establish dependable distribution systems and supply chains.

Recognizing that agricultural production needs to substantially increase to meet growing global demand for food, USTR promotes science-based, transparent, and predictable regulatory approaches that foster innovation, including in agricultural biotechnologies. These types of approaches contribute significantly to a safe and reliable global food supply as the world’s population grows, and they help producers adapt to climate change.

Through Trade and Investment Framework Agreements (TIFAs), we engage countries in discussions on trade and investment policy reform. We have TIFAs with Feed the Future focus countries like Ghana, Rwanda, Liberia, and key regional economic organizations like the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), to name just a few.

In East Africa in particular, there is great opportunity for spurring growth by ensuring Feed the Future and the U.S.-East African Community (EAC) Trade and Investment Partnership (TIP) synergies. The EAC and the United States have taken important steps to advance the TIP, which supports regional integration of the EAC and recognizes the importance that trade and investment play in economic and social development, including in agriculture. Through this partnership, we’re focusing on trade facilitation, a regional investment agreement, stronger private sector linkages, and capacity building.

USTR, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development work collaboratively to help countries move from aid to trade.

Together, our efforts to create transparent, efficient global markets help advance global food security.

Follow USTR on Twitter @USTradeRep and read more on the USTR blog. Join USTR and other U.S. Government trade agencies on Twitter every Thursday this May for #TradeChat

Optimized Lending Procedures Improve Access to Agricultural Loans

Banks in Azerbaijan in general have cumbersome lending process. Lengthy application forms often require information that is not crucial or needed for granting small or medium-sized loans. Collateral requirements are also onerous requiring additional forms and information. Banks grant loans based on collateral, applicant’s and co-signer’s income rather than taking lending risk. For agricultural lending this means that the time may not be worth the hassle to even apply for a loan. USAID worked with DemirBank to change their lending practices and improve farmers’ access to loans.

DemirBank is one of the leading banks in Azerbaijan with 23 years of operation. The bank has been one of the most active beneficiaries of the USAID assistance. Through its Azerbaijan Competitiveness and Trade (ACT) project, USAID has trained 212 loan officers and managers throughout the bank’s network on a variety of topics including risk-based agricultural lending, sales techniques, early fraud alert systems, etc. The trainings also built the skills and knowledge of the bank’s in-house trainers so that they can provide training from time to time.

An international expert trains the bank officers on new loan approval templates. Photo credit: Vasif Badalov, USAID ACT project

In addition to the intensive training, USAID experts also worked with the bank’s management to improve the bank’s agricultural lending approach by revising and simplifying the credit application forms, lending policies and procedures. The revised consolidated loan application forms have several advantages. They a) link a client’s credit history with the loan value, for which the customer is eligible to borrow; b) include credit scores, a memorandum and committee decision; c) save time by offering “check the right answer” options; d) provide color coding that flag risks; and e) facilitate decisions based on scores. This shortens the time it takes to approve a loan and provides a better evaluation of the borrower in terms of risk.

DemirBank’s management deemed the pilot testing of the consolidated application form in Guba and Gusar branches to be very successful. These branches issued 141 micro-loans between May and November of 2012 using the new forms.

“We are very satisfied with the new approach and its contribution to simplifying the loan application process and improving client outreach,” said Mr. Seymour Imanov, Manager of the Gusar Branch.

Following the success of the pilot test, DemirBank introduced new procedures at all their branches and consolidated all lending operations below 3,000 AZN (3,825 USD) under one system, that will use simplified loan procedures developed with USAID support. To ensure that all branches adopt the new forms in their lending operations, USAID is assisting the bank to train all credit managers in implementing the new procedures.

As part of this effort to streamline the credit application process, DemirBank intends to buy new software, so that it can track all loan approval procedures and processes as well as expand its outreach, facilitate collection of information in the field, accelerate disbursements, and increase productivity.

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Money & Microfinance

What does having access to savings and credit have to do with disaster risk reduction? What does having access to savings and credit have to do with disaster risk reduction?In this next installment of the USAID Pounds of Prevention series (PDF), we discuss the important role that financial services play in reducing vulnerability to disasters and facilitating post-disaster recovery. We travel to Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean where USAID supports a number of efforts that increase people’s access to finance and also strengthens the preparedness capacity of the providers themselves. Photo by USAID.

NEWEST Rice Marks Latest Milestone

This post originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog

“Today, we have new tools and approaches that enable us to achieve progress that was simply unimaginable in the past: the eradication of extreme poverty and its most devastating corollaries, including widespread hunger and preventable child death.” – Administrator Shah in his 2013 Annual Letter

One such tool is genetic engineering.

To help leverage this and other advanced molecular tools for food security, Feed the Future partners from U.S. and international research communities and the private sector have teamed up to apply these tools to common challenges faced by millions of rice farmers throughout Africa.

Researchers in Uganda plant seeds in the first ever confined field trials of genetically engineered rice in Africa. Photo Credit: Jimmy Lamo, NACRRI

Their efforts are paying off. This month, for the first time in Africa, researchers in Ghana and Uganda planted confined field trials of genetically engineered rice.

The new variety includes a trait for increased nitrogen use efficiency, which helps the plant take better advantage of the scant nitrogen found in Africa’s often nutrient-poor soils. Soil nitrogen deficiencies limit yields on roughly 90 percent of the lands African farmers use for growing rice. The engineered variety could also promote responsible fertilizer use by improving the crop’s responsiveness to smaller doses of fertilizer.

The field trials are a major scientific milestone and mark the latest success in a vibrant partnership between USAID, international and national agricultural research institutions, private-sector biotechnology firms, and non-governmental organizations—a partnership that is not only generating improved rice varieties, but also enhancing African researchers’ capacity to regulate and execute advanced agricultural research.

The partnership coalesces around the NEWEST rice project, which aims to improve the productivity and sustainability of rice production across Sub-Saharan Africa by relieving key production constraints for African rice farmers. In addition to the soil nitrogen deficiencies that inspired the current field trials, saline soils also reduce rice productivity in Africa. Meanwhile, climate change is elevating drought risk across the continent.

Rice varieties that are nitrogen use efficient, water use efficient, and salt-tolerant (NEWEST) could therefore boost yields by up to 30 percent in many regions, increasing farmers’ climate resilience while also minimizing their use of fertilizer and water, reducing deforestation, and slowing expansion of cultivated lands.

As a complement to traditional breeding programs, biotechnology has developed powerful tools that could help meet these ambitious agricultural and environmental goals. To harness these tools and spur agricultural innovation, Feed the Future relies on an international, multi-sector approach:

    • As part of the NEWEST rice project, California-based Arcadia Biosciences donated the intellectual property to generate improved varieties and introduced the new traits into NERICA rice, an important African variety.
    • The biotechnology firm then transferred these initial lines to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia, which worked with Arcadia to conduct preliminary field evaluations and generate seed stocks of the most promising varieties.
    • Arcadia and CIAT then shipped the seed to research partners in Ghana and Uganda’s Agricultural Research Systems, who planted their confined field trials over the past month.
    • Throughout this process, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation coordinated activities across the partnership, helping to navigate intellectual property and biosafety regulations in the two countries and ensuring that the confined field trials adhered to legal and environmental standards.

As the field trials progress, Ghanaian and Ugandan researchers will identify which of the new, nitrogen-use-efficient rice lines perform best under local conditions. Water-efficient, salt-tolerant, and triple-stack rice varieties (which combine all three traits) are still under evaluation in California and Colombia and will be tested in subsequent field trials in Africa. The researchers then plan to optimize the best-performing lines through conventional breeding and introduce the improved traits into locally adapted, farmer-preferred rice varieties.

As part of a broad portfolio of agricultural research investments, this partnership highlights Feed the Future’s strategy to harness agricultural innovation to reduce global hunger, poverty, and undernutrition, while meeting the global challenges of food security in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner.

Environmental Awareness: The Roots of Peace

Earth Days bridge dialogue and action, addressing conflict over natural resources in Kyrgyzstan.  

Osh province, Nookat district, rural municipality Kenesh, school named after Nyshanbaev, March 26, 2013 High school students plant roses in early spring to save school’s environment. Photo Credit: Nargiza Kyrgyzbaeva

Disputes over natural resources, especially water and land, are potential triggers for conflict in Kyrgyzstan. The country has experienced violent conflict on a number of occasions in its two decades of independence, driven by factors including a struggle for limited resources between diverse ethnic communities, weak adherence to the rule of law, and corruption. To alleviate some of the tensions, USAID created Early Warning Networks, which bring local government, traditional and non-traditional leaders, youth leaders and concerned citizens together to mitigate conflict through community dialogue and events.

This year, the Early Warning Networks in the southern Osh Province and at the national level organized a series of Earth Day celebrations. In addition to fostering dialogue and cooperation between communities over potential sources of conflict, these celebrations focused on promoting environmental awareness and positive changes in local communities. These activities are part of USAID/Kyrgyzstan’s Conflict Mitigation through Targeted Analysis through Community Actionproject (COMTACA). Through activities like these, USAID fosters conflict mitigation through technology, dialogue, and community events.

Osh province, Aravan district, Ayil Okmotu Allya Anarova, March 13, 2013 Group work presents positive mood to all event participants. Photo Credit: Islam Baybagyshev

I was lucky enough to attend three events in honor of Earth Day.  In the first, two communities in the Osh Province’s Aravan district joined efforts to clean irrigation canals. This helped improve the efficiency of their shared irrigation resources and reduced the risk of conflict over irrigation access. In the nearby community of Nookat, students planted roses and trees to create a greener school but, above all, to build a sense of student unity.

Albina Nurlanova is an eleventh grader who planted trees during these Earth Day celebrations. She shared her thoughts with me: “I was very glad to plant a tree in my school by leaving a memory for future students. Time will pass and in 20 years when I visit my school, I will be proud to show my children the tree that I planted it with my own hands and teach them to protect the environment.” Taking an active part in different environmental activities that bring unity and friendship—and put smiles on people’s faces—made me proud to be a citizen of Kyrgyzstan.

This series of Earth Day events culminated on April 20 with a final event organized in the national capital of Bishkek.  It was called Environmental Awareness: the Roots of Peace. This event highlighted the importance of peace, harmony and the unity of Kyrgyzstan through environmental awareness. By planting a tree, participants demonstrated their dedication to harmony and stability by leaving a lasting memory for future generations.  More than 300 students, environmental activists, artists and local residents came together in Bishkek’s Ata Turk Park to plant trees, sing songs, recite poems and give speeches about the environment. For more information, please visit www.acted.org or https://www.facebook.com/DenZemli.

Adding It All Up: Crunching Numbers and Saving Dollars

In Pretoria, South Africa, dozens of USAID officials sit side by side with members of the South African Economic Development Department poring over Excel spreadsheets, formulating equations, and double checking data as part of a math-intensive boot camp designed to improve the number-crunching capacity of all those involved. They work for different governments on different continents, but they are all students in a USAID-sponsored training–the latest incarnation of an ongoing effort to revitalize the use of evidence-based programming within the Agency and beyond.

As part of a four week course funded by USAID, South African government officials are trained side by side with their USAID counterparts on how to perform a cost benefit analysis. Photo credit: USAID

For two years now, a small team of economists at USAID have worked to reintroduce cost-benefit analysis, or CBA, as a tool for ensuring financial sustainability in USAID-funded projects. This particular training marked a turning point, with USAID starting to build analytic skills not just internally, but externally with host country governments as well. The idea behind these joint CBA trainings was to combine two of the Agency’s reform goals:  to make our own projects more sustainable, and also to assist government officials in partner countries as they seek to create economies that are more efficient, growth oriented and focused on reducing poverty.

Trainees looked at effects of inflation, input prices, subsidies, and other financial factors as they examined a wide variety of possible economic interventions. In the end, not only did they learn concrete skills, but U.S. and South African officials forged stronger intergovernmental relationships as each side shared their unique perspectives. The results of this initial course were so encouraging, in fact, that it led to a much larger joint activity, with USAID funding an initiative to set policy assessment standards and guidelines for the entire Government of South Africa.

Based on the success of the training, USAID also partnered with the South African Ministry of Finance to train 35 South African government officials through an in-depth four-week CBA course.  These officials learned important economic concepts for the daily management of various government agencies.  They then requested “Executive Days” for higher-level officials to become familiar with the same concepts. This technical tune-up was particularly timely because over the next five years, the South African government plans to spend billions of dollars on development projects in a diverse array of sectors including health, infrastructure and education. This training is aimed at increasing the capacity of the government to identify and structure those projects that will have the most growth potential going forward.

Since the start of these trainings, positive feedback from both governments has been consistent, suggesting that both an analytic and a diplomatic gap had been bridged. According to USAID Mission Director Jeff Borns, “The course allowed us to deepen our relationships with the relatively new Economic Development Department in South Africa and build capacity within USAID and the host government.” As a result of the class, officials have already started prioritizing projects for analyses. USAID hopes to duplicate this success in May 2013, with a four-week course in Kenya that is being sponsored by the Kenya School of Government. The majority of participants will be officials from Kenya, with representatives from the Tanzanian government as well.

USAID’s CBA trainings have helped improve host country governments’ policy formulation processes, data and research — directly impacting the effectiveness of government spending, with the ultimate goal of increasing employment, equity and economic growth.

Facilitating Economic Growth through Infrastructure and Trade

Eric Postel is assistant administrator for the Bureau of Economic Growth, Education and Environment

Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to 11 of the world’s 20 fastest growing economies. Economic growth in the entire region is expected to be strong – between five and six percent – in the next few years, and it will be led by the private sector; foreign direct investment now dwarfs foreign aid in Africa.

Yet, a recent World Bank report noted that regional trade barriers are cost African countries billions of dollars in potential revenue every year. Trade among African countries makes up only 10 percent of the region’s total trade volume. In East Africa, it costs 50 percent more to move freight one kilometer than it does in the United States or Europe, and in landlocked countries transport costs can be as high as 75 percent of the value of the goods they are trying to export.

On March 29, I participated in an economic growth roundtable with the Presidents of Malawi, Senegal, and Sierra Leone and the Prime Minister of Cape Verde to discuss these challenges and to examine ways to strengthen trade and investment, enhance regional integration, and improve the four countries’ business environments.

The four African leaders called attention to a major impediment to trade and investment in Africa: poor infrastructure, which inhibits both regional and global trade.  That is why USAID is working with governments to assess and prioritize critical infrastructure needs.  For example, in South Sudan, USAID helped build a 192-kilometer-long Juba-Nimule Road, the largest infrastructure project ever built in South Sudan, and the young nation’s first paved highway. The road has reduced travel time between Nimule and Juba from eight hours to less than three, linking Juba with Uganda and providing the shortest, most efficient route to the Port of Mombasa in Kenya. The road has generated economic activities along the route, and created employment and training opportunities for South Sudanese communities, thereby enhancing stability.

Meeting with the four leaders allowed me to reaffirm USAID’s commitment to work with both the governments and private sector in all four countries to improve export readiness, and reduce the time and cost to trade.  In Cape Verde, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, USAID has helped establish Resource Centers to assist local businesses take advantage of the provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which offers duty free entry for 6,400 products from qualifying African countries into the United States.

We are also supporting three regional Trade Hubs designed to help sub-Saharan African governments and businesses reduce the time and cost of trade, harmonize trade and regulatory requirements, and work directly with African firms to identify export opportunities. In Malawi, our Southern Africa Trade Hub has helped to streamline customs procedures and develop a national single window system, which allows traders to submit all required data into a single electronic system accessible to all border agencies. Systems like this one significantly reduce the time and cost of moving goods across borders and increase customs revenue.

We have also helped Malawi and Sierra Leone develop export strategies and stand ready to support strategy implementation and the crafting of similar strategies in Senegal and Cape Verde. When developed and implemented in consultation with the private sector, the strategies serve as an invaluable tool to facilitate trade and improve economic growth.

By working to reduce barriers to trade in African markets, USAID supports sustained growth in the region and improves bilateral trade and investment opportunities for both African and U.S. firms.

Water and International Cooperation

Christian Holmes serves as USAID’s Global Water Coordinator. Photo credit: USAID

As we celebrate World Water Day, it is important to consider this: only if we cooperate effectively, can we sustain the supplies of quality water necessary for human life.

The United Nations has set 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation. USAID addresses the global challenges of water in close cooperation with non-governmental and civil society organizations that undertake the critical frontline responsibility of developing and implementing water programs. Our partners are advocacy groups that bring both knowledge and passion to the challenge, governments that are dedicated to providing a better life for their citizens, and communities that best understand the challenges and solutions. We have reached out to universities that are creating innovative solutions, to the private sector that can build a new global economy while supporting sustainable development, and to international development and financial institutions that provide essential program development, implementation and financial support.

USAID supports water cooperation at the local, national and regional level. Over last 10 years, we have provided some 50 million people with water and sanitation services.

In Somalia, the School Environment and Education Development for Somalia (SEEDS) provides access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities on school grounds, promotes hygiene education and trains teachers and government officials. The results thus far: 359 latrines constructed and another 189 rehabilitated in 114 schools; 213 hand-washing facilities installed in 90 schools and five water points completed. All told more than 150,000 people in these communities benefited, and student enrollment increased by more than 32,000. It’s important to note that of those students, 12,666 were girls whose parents would only allow them to attend school with the kind of private, girls-only latrines built as part of this project.

In Nepal, where 66 percent of households experience food shortages each year, USAID’s Nepal Economic Agriculture and Trade (NEAT) program is helping cut input costs and boost crop productivity by installing and rehabilitating irrigation systems and training local technicians to maintain them. That, along with parallel efforts that are part of this project, is expected to directly benefit over 300,000 Nepalese and indirectly impact millions in the country by improving the business environment, facilitating trade flows and strengthening fiscal policy.

We support a wide range of development activities to promote Trans boundary water cooperation. USAID and the University of Colorado Boulder are partnering to assess snow and glacier contributions to water resources originating in the high mountains of Asia that straddle ten countries.  This assessment will be crucial in helping to forecast the future availability and vulnerability of water resources in the region, beginning with accurate assessments of the distinct, separate contributions to river discharge from melting glacier ice and seasonal snow.

In the Asia-Pacific region, USAID has supported the efforts of WaterLinks to build the capacity of Asia’s urban water sector. WaterLinks paired water operators from Asia countries to share best practices to meet the demand for water and sanitation and address related issues like wastewater management and climate change resilience. WaterLinks facilitated more than 60 water operator partnerships, resulting in more than one million people gained improved access to safe water supply and sanitation services.

Also in this region, USAID supports the Mekong River Commission and the riparian countries to plan the sustainable development of water resources in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB), where 60 million people live and 80 percent of them rely directly on the Mekong river system for their food and livelihoods:  USAID supports projects that seek to improve sediment flows and management; enhance scenario planning approaches and promote sustainable fisheries management

In Africa, to help meet these varied water demands across the Mara River Basin; in 2005  USAID provided funding to launch the Trans boundary Water for Biodiversity and Human Health in the Mara River Basin TWB-MRB project. The project has helped local communities develop new water services, refurbish nonfunctioning water systems, and improve sanitation services.

We also support organizations that will build global partnerships. Last year, USAID joined the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership which brings together governments, donors, civil society organizations, and development partners to achieve sustainable sanitation and drinking water.

As a member of The US Water Partnership (USWP), USAID is part of a national effort to unite American expertise, knowledge, and resources, and mobilize those assets to address water challenges around the globe, especially in the developing world. This week, the USWP recognized thirteen new members, including think tanks, universities, government agencies and for-profit groups willing and ready to join a growing number in this country concerned about global water issues.

While there are multiple ways to cooperate, a constant supply of quality water is the fundamental life force that drives us to work together to safeguard this precious resource.

Lessons of Financial Independence and Self-Sufficiency in Georgia

Working in 85 communities in 10 target municipalities across Georgia, the USAID/New Economic Opportunities (NEO) initiative enables highly vulnerable individuals to be self-sufficient through vocational training.

“Amazing, but I have to put some of my villagers on the waiting list,” smiles Shalva Grigalashvili, plumber and tile-setter from Kvishkheti community in Khashuri municipality. “More and more people in Kvishkheti feel a need to put appropriate tourism infrastructure in place and start to upgrade their houses to attract more visitors,’” explains Shalva. As a popular tourist destination in Georgia, the income of the Kvishkheti population significantly depends on the tourism revenues accrued each summer.

The twenty-two year old Shalva Grigalashvili was one of 20 students who graduated from the USAID-sponsored plumbing/tile-setting vocational training program at the Khidistavi Orienti Vocational College in Gori in September 2012. Along with other top students in his program, the USAID/New Economic Opportunities Initiative (NEO) awarded plumbing and tile-setting toolkits to encourage graduates like Shalva to start their own businesses and support income generation opportunities.

Shalva Grigalashvili, one of USAID/NEO beneficiaries, tiling a guesthouse bathroom in Kvishkheti village of Khashuri municipality. Photo credit: USAID/NEO

Unlike many of his friends and neighbors who travel to work in Tbilisi, Shalva decided to stay in his own village and help other residents improve their living conditions. After completing his training, Shalva started to renovate his neighbors’ houses in Bulbulistsikhe village in Kvishkheti community. Shalva also decided to help a less successful classmate who because of poor performance did not receive a plumber’s toolkit. Through their joint efforts, Shalva gave his friend the opportunity to build upon his training and better master their profession, gain employment and increase his income.  ”Hard work,” Shalva admits, “but well worth the effort. It is so rewarding to have such a highly demanded profession that brings you money and respect.”

Shalva is just one of the 254 vulnerable individuals from NEO target communities in the Shida Kartli, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Racha-Lechkhumi, and Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti regions of Georgia that benefited from USAID-funded vocational training programs. Within three month of graduation, 168 graduates (66 percent) had already obtained new jobs or improved their employment status. Additional sessions of vocational training for NEO vulnerable beneficiaries in trades such as apparel-making, hair dressing, cooking and construction works are scheduled for early 2013.

Learn more about the USAID/New Economic Opportunities (NEO) initiative in Georgia.

Follow USAID Georgia on Facebook and Twitter.

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