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USAID In the News

This week Secretary Kerry defended foreign aid spending amid budget cuts in a Reuters report, saying “Foreign assistance is not a giveaway. It’s not charity. It is an investment in a strong America and in a free world.”

In Africa, The New York Times reports USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah met with Somali leaders in Mogadishu on Thursday, and announced $20 million in new American food aid for the country. Dr. Shah said that “after two decades of conflict, famine and terrorism, it was necessary not only to address Somalia‘s ‘critical emergency needs’ but also to promote stability and recovery.”

Administrator Shah announces partnership in Somalia on February 21, 2013. Photo credit: USAID

The Washington Post notes that Shah is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Somalia in years. Meanwhile Somali diaspora came together in Hargeisa to launch infrastructure investment strategies for the country, which Suleiman Mohamed from USAID’s Partnership for Economic Growth attended according to The Somaliland Sun.

And Maura O’Neill gave NextGov a “sneak peak at the jobs available for the next round of Presidential Innovation Fellows at USAID during a Social Media Week event on Tuesday.” If you are a private sector innovator with experience in big data, venture capital or crowd-sourcing technology, check it out!

USAID Announces #Popcorn + International Development Winners

At the end of January, we asked our partners for videos that showcased the creative ways digital space is used for development. The call for submissions was In participation with the global Social Media Week 2013 at which USAID participated for the first time this year.

Beny, a peer educator in the DRC uses Facebook to educate society about HIV prevention.

We received more than 50 videos from around the world, and we selected 20 that best illustrated how technology directly advances development and social good. We welcomed participants and others interested in social media to our headquarters at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington this afternoon, and shared a dynamic dialogue about the approaches organizations used, the successes they experienced, and the challenges they faced.

Thank you to all those who submitted videos to us! More importantly, thank you for the great work you are doing for making our world a better place to live.

Watch the final playlist that includes all winners. Follow the conversation on Twitter about the video showcase at #smwUSAID.

Advancing Development Through Social Media

Dr. Maura O'Neill is the chief innovation officer and senior counselor to the administrator at USAID.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel for Social Media Week about the latest social media trends in international development. It was the first event of its kind here at USAID and I was happy to moderate. With panelists from UN Foundation, USAID, Huge Inc., iStrategy Labs, and Internews, it was a vibrant discussion to say the least.

The social space has become saturated with creative content from diverse thinkers and implementers of social good, and this could not be a better time for partners in development to use this space for improving programs and reaching even more people. Each panelist introduced a unique, and important, perspective to the conversation about the role of social media in the development world.

The UN Foundation alongside the UN General Assembly hosted an amazing  Social Good Summit  last September. Caleb Tiller, executive director of Communications and Public Affairs, introduced it as a powerful example of how social media can drive conversations around the globe about important issues that directly affect the daily lives of those engaged in the discussions online. He also pointed out that the inherent reach of social media is a benefit for initiatives such as the Summit because it is a quick way of engaging the individuals who are important to the conversation. The Social Good Summit reached  more than 300 cities worldwide and local simultaneous summits were held. This has significant impact in the development space because it means we can connect with more people, educating them about important issues that affect their lives – from global health, to gender equality, to ending extreme poverty (the list goes on!). It also means that any work we do has the potential to reach a thousand-fold the audience we would have reached through more traditional communications means.

Social media also allows room for more innovative ways of assisting people with few resources. And our partners and colleagues have been doing great work using social media as a tool to help promote advancements in the field of development. Through Facebook, Kate Watts, Managing Director at HUGE, helped facilitate the highly successful Pepsi Refresh campaign that gave more than 300 grants and $20 million to users for beneficial projects around the community. Participants submitted thousands of ideas through Facebook that people voted on. Nearly 132 schools and organizations benefited as a result of the campaign, more than 40 communities received affordable housing and parks, and 21 neighborhood parks were refreshed.

Kathleen Reen (right) of Internews explains the importance of digital security at USAID's panel on social media and development. Photo credit: USAID

Kathleen Reen, Vice President for Asia, Environment and New Media Programs at Internews, brought up the important factor of protecting information that resides in digital spaces. To address the challenge, they’ve implemented programs and training to ensure digital security in vulnerable societies that face challenges with access to Internet. As Kathleen said, “In vulnerable/censored societies, changemakers need knowledge digital tools to stay safe.”

It’s clear that the broad boundaries of social media bring to the forefront various issues we need to keep in mind, and continue to fine-tune, so we use platforms in smart ways. At USAID in particular, it is critical for our virtual efforts to translate to “real-life.” One way to do this was to use videogames as a channel to reach youth in Jordan.  It increases their real-life knowledge about civic responsibility and engagement by getting them engaged in building and running virtual cities. Maryanne Yerkes, senior civil society and ICT advisor at USAID, explained how USAID’s Innovations in Youth Capacity and Engagement (IYCE ) program says that games  directly strengthen youth engagement when integrated offline components.

We know that social media has isn’t perfect and has some of its own downsides. But, only through trying new approaches to our work and embracing new technologies can we discover powerful ways to drive more quickly our development goals.

What is your experience with social media and development? Join the conversation.

Maura O’Neill is on Twitter.

Follow USAID on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Storify.

Improving Hygiene for Displaced Syrians

Using clean water from her family’s new bucket, Haneen* brushes her teeth with the toothbrush received from a USAID partner in Olive Grove Camp “I now can use a toothbrush to brush my teeth. I go to the well and put some water in the bucket, then use this water to wash my hands and brush my teeth.”  PhotoCredit: USAID Partner *Name changed to protect identity Improving Hygiene for Displaced Syrians

Basic personal hygiene is critical to help prevent the spread of illness and  disease among displaced Syrians.

After nearly two years of ongoing brutal conflict, more than 4 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, including some 2.5 million who are displaced from their homes.

In Atmeh’s Olive Tree Camp, near the Reyhanli border crossing in Turkey’s Hatay Province, many of the residents left their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Good basic personal hygiene and hand washing are critical to  help prevent the spread of illness and disease, and providing basic hygiene supplies and education was identified as a  priority in the camp.

USAID—through an international non governmental  organization—began distributions of family hygiene kits in the  camp in October 2012.  Each kit includes two towels, toothpaste and toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, and feminine pads. USAID also provided two water containers and buckets to store and transport clean water to tents and makeshift homes.

“When people are running away from war and destruction, they  think less about hygiene and keeping the children clean,” says one Syrian mother. “I like the items that my family got, because we now have things that we can use and are of a help to us as a unit.”

To further improve hygiene in the camp, USAID funding also repaired the water pump, established water trucking, and constructed a septic system that supports 60 latrines, with 100 more in the construction process. In addition, USAID also established 120 garbage collection points and established trash removal services in the camp.

These hygiene programs are in addition to medical and other assistance USAID is providing to Syrians in the Olive Tree Camp.

In total, the United States is providing nearly $385 million to help the innocent children, women, and men affected by the crisis in Syria. We will continue to stand by and with the Syrian people.

To learn more about USAID’s efforts in Syria, http://www.usaid.gov/crisis/syria

USAID Helps Timor-Leste Communities Keep Kids in School

My country, Timor-Leste, is extremely young—only 10 years old. Our Timorese population is young, too. Almost 40 percent of our one million people are school-age—that is, between 5 and 19 years old. But school attendance rates are still low and many kids drop out of school.

One of the worst times for students to drop out is between 6th and 7th grades: about 20 percent of 6th grade students do not go on to start 7th grade, the first year of secondary school. USAID is focusing on this particular problem through the School Dropout Prevention Pilot (SDPP) project, which works with more than 10,000 kids in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades—the final grades in elementary school—along with their teachers, parents and the communities in which they live. The goals are to discover which kids might be in danger of dropping out and then to keep them in school with a range of fun activities that boost their skills and confidence.

Students in Timor-Leste play a learning game with the SDPP team at Ramahana Elementary School. Photo credit: Milca Baptista, USAID

A few weeks after the launch of the project’s in-school activities in October, I had the opportunity to visit three SDPP schools in remote areas of Timor-Leste, along with colleagues from our Mission in Dili and USAID headquarters in Washington. The schools we visited were in Viqueque District, far from where I live in the capital, Dili, so the trip also gave me an opportunity to understand people’s lives in parts of the country I had never visited before as well as to see the project teams in action.

The first school we visited was Bubulita Elementary School, near Timor-Leste’s south coast, about eight hours’ drive from Dili. We had to walk for two and a half hours from the nearest road to reach the school. In Bubulita, SDPP has had substantial success with an early warning system to identify kids at risk of dropping out—a system that means, for the first time in Timor-Leste, school administrators and teachers can track attendance, performance, and behavior to identify at-risk students. A key component of this system involves having a trained volunteer community team visit the parents of at-risk kids to convince them to keep their children in school.

“I appreciate the fact that this project is involving local community members, so they feel that they are also responsible, not just teachers and parents,” said Bubulita principal Mario da Cruz.

Since SDPP facilitators arrived at Bubulita, there has been perfect attendance. Before the activities started, three students were considered at-risk. One was older than the maximum school age, so had to quit. But the other two have come back to school. And now, local community volunteers visit the school twice a week to find out if any students are missing or late for class.

The introduction of SDPP’s extra-curricular activities has brought perfect attendance to Bubulita Elementary School in Viqueque. Photo credit: Milca Baptista, USAID

Not far from the district capital we visited the Kraras Elementary School. Because it is near the town, the school is in far better condition than others we saw. I talked with the principal and deputy principal who told me that the project is well-supported by the teachers, the students and the local community, who are all excited about the extracurricular activities that are run by SDPP project facilitators. These activities aim to keep at-risk students interested in school by boosting their confidence and their ability to participate with their peers. Activities include cooperative learning exercises and games to build basic literacy and numeracy skills. In most schools, SDPP extracurricular activities are the first they have ever had.

“This is the first time we have had extracurricular activities at our school. Although some of the children have to walk two hours to and from school, they stay to take part until the end of the activities,” said Kraras principal Claudino Ruas. He added that no students have missed class more than once since the project started.

On my trip to these remote areas of my own country, I found that even though the lives of people are extremely difficult, they all want their kids to receive a good education. In one remote village I learned that the people of the community had even built a school themselves to ensure that their children would have access to a school near their homes. As a Timorese, I admire their courage and determination to move my country forward even in that isolated place, and I am happy that USAID is helping these communities ensure that all kids receive the support they need to stay in school and build a better future for our young country.

Photos of the Week: International Mother Language Day

A teacher in Kati, Mali instructs her class. Photo credit: Dana Schmidt

February 21, 2013 marks International Mother Language Day! To celebrate its 14th anniversary, USAID recognizes education and literacy programs operated by our missions around the globe. There are more than 6,000 languages in the world and 50 percent of them are dying. International Mother Language Day not only promotes linguistic and cultural diversity, it brings attention a need to preserve it.

Learning in a mother language (first language) is incredibly important to children’s development and education. It improves school outcomes, reduces repetition and reduces dropout. Children who are educated in their mother tongue are significantly more likely to be enrolled and attend school. Additionally, children learn to read faster if they speak the language of instruction, because they already have vocabulary, knowledge of the construction of the language and  the ability to pronounce the sounds of the language.

Join the conversation on Twitter (@USAIDEducation) and use hashtag #MotherLanguage Day!

In Uganda, a teacher helps a student in front of the class. Photo credit: Dana Schmidt

 

Video of the Week: USAID Participates in Social Media Week

In this week’s Video of the Week, Administrator Raj Shah talks about the importance of social media to further international development goals. For the first time, USAID will participate in Social Media Week, held this week. Social Media Week is a worldwide event exploring the social, cultural and economic impact of social media. This annual conference connects people and organizations through collaboration, learning, and the sharing of ideas and information.

USAID will host events during Social Media Week in Washington to amplify the role of international development in social media. Events include a panel discussion “Why is Social Media Necessary for International Development?” and a video showcase “#Popcorn + International Development” that features videos from USAID partners and missions, and others who are making a footprint in development. Lastly, USAID will host a networking event, with Global Health Alliance, to toast a week of collaboration and the power of social media to change people’s lives.

Can’t attend one of our events, but would like to join the conversation? Join us on Twitter (@usaid) and use hashtag #smwUSAID.

 

USAID Welcomes Secretary of State John Kerry

This morning, USAID hosted Secretary of State John Kerry for his first visit with USAID staff at the Ronald Reagan Building. Denise Rollins, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia,  delivered opening remarks recounting some of the successes we have seen since the Agency’s inception by former President John F. Kennedy. With a warm welcome, Administrator Shah introduced Secretary Kerry to the assembly, commended him for his long history as an ally for development, and passed to him the “mantle of development” in his new role at the U.S. Department of State.

Administrator Rajiv Shah welcomes Secretary of State John Kerry to USAID. Photo credit: Pat Adams, USAID

Secretary Kerry discussed the importance of development in the current global landscape, making note that the most important work we do is provide linkages between multiple initiatives that “make a difference in the lives of other people,” citing USAID priorities such as education, global health and HIV prevention programs, ending extreme poverty, and gender equality.

A long friend to development, Secretary Kerry spent twenty-eight years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he played a principle role in authoring and passing major legislation on humanitarian aid, international criminal practices, and climate change.

Secretary Kerry has also helped integrate development into the U.S. foreign and national security policy, and this morning, reminded us how development directly impacts us at home as much as it impacts the people we assist overseas. Through jobs, investments and partnerships with organizations committed to improving lives of those with limited resources, we all do “some of the most important work in the world.” As Secretary Kerry told the assembly, “we present the face of America [and] the values of America” and it is our job to “change opinions, to save lives…[and] to connect the dots so Americans understand [development] isn’t a waste of effort.”

As tokens of a partnership for development, Administrator Shah gave Secretary Kerry innovative tools from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Development Lab – a cell phone charger that runs off the power of a bicycle and a corn sheller (PDF) that frees women and children from backbreaking work shelling by hand. MIT is a member of USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network,  and leads the International Development Innovation Network, which fosters local innovation by supporting the ingenuity, creativity and resilience of people living in poverty.

USAID shares Secretary Kerry’s vision for development and look forward to working with him to help build a world where people everywhere have access to a better life.

As Secretary Kerry said, “We [all] advance because we engage and show we care about more than just ourselves.”

Read the full transcript of Secretary Kerry’s address to USAID.

Meeting the President’s Challenge to End Extreme Poverty

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog.

“We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all—not only because it creates new markets, more stable order in certain regions of the world, but also because it’s the right thing to do. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades by connecting more people to the global economy; by empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve, and helping communities to feed, and power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach.” – President Obama, 2013 State of the Union address 

In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama laid out a challenge for our generation to eradicate the scourge of extreme poverty. We are advancing this critical agenda through Feed the Future, the President’s signature global hunger and food security initiative. Here, we examine how.

Progress in the most impoverished parts of our world creates new markets and stability. Photo credit: USAID

“A little more than a dollar a day…” By standard definition, this means less than $1.25 a day. That won’t buy a latte, let alone a healthy lunch here in the United States. Hunger and poverty are inextricably linked. Through Feed the Future, we’re working to achieve the President’s vision to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in our lifetime. This is our generation’s legacy to leave. And reducing poverty is more than just a goal: It’s achievable, and we are already seeing results.

Since 2009, Feed the Future has supported agriculture-led growth in 19 focus countries, with investments that will lift 20 percent of the people in our targeted areas out of poverty in three years. Agricultural growth is an incredibly effective way to fight poverty – 75 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas in developing countries, where most people’s livelihoods rely directly on agriculture, and studies show that growth in the agricultural sector has up to three times greater impact on poverty reduction than growth in other sectors.

And Feed the Future is showing results.  We have improved farmers’ access to key technologies that we know transform their lives, increasing yields and incomes. In 2011 alone, we helped nearly 2 million food producers adopt improved technologies and practices to improve their yields, and our efforts to integrate agriculture and nutrition mean that healthier harvests can also mean better market opportunities.

We’re strategically targeting our investments in countries where our support can have the greatest impact. We’re aligning our investments behind food security and nutrition priorities our partner countries have identified, and we’re helping foster the growth and accountability required to ensure that this impact lasts. And because we know we don’t have all the answers to reducing global poverty, we’re taking a rigorous approach to figuring out what works best, so we can do more of it. We’re identifying gaps in evidence and working to fill them. We’re engaging with global leaders, top scientists, business leaders, and communities to share what we learn so that we can beat hunger and poverty together.

“By connecting more people to the global economy…” Feed the Future supports countries in developing their own agriculture sectors to generate opportunities for economic growth and trade. We place particular emphasis on empowering smallholder farmers with the tools and technologies they need to produce more robust harvests and have better opportunities to participate in markets and earn better incomes.

Smallholder farmers are the key to unlocking agricultural growth and transforming economies. In supporting them, we’re also helping build tomorrow’s markets and trade partners, connecting smallholder farmers in rural areas to local, regional and global markets.

“By empowering women…” At the heart of our strategy is an understanding that investments in women reduce poverty and promote global stability. Take for example our horticulture project in Kenya, which is working with smallholder farmers, many of whom are women, to not only grow more nutritious crops to eat and sell, but to also diversify into growing higher value crops, like flowers. Higher value crops help these farmers increase their income, which in turn provides them with more money to pay for school fees for their children, medicine, and quality food. We’re also tracking women’s empowerment in agriculture and the impact our programs have on increasing it… [continued]

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Getting to Zero and Eliminating Extreme Poverty

Steve Feldstein is the Director of Policy for USAID’s Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning

For those who spend their days focusing on international development issues, only occasionally does the full public spotlight shine on their work. On Tuesday night, near the conclusion of his State of the Union address, the President articulated a vision that represented one of the clearest, most direct calls to development action in recent years.  He noted that in many parts of the world, people still live on “little more than a dollar a day,” and called for the United States to “join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades.” This has caused a flurry of activity as the development community begins to dissect what exactly this means, how it will be done, and who will be affected. In the policy office at USAID, we’ve spent considerable time analyzing this issue and what it would take to eradicate extreme poverty.

First, while eliminating extreme poverty won’t be an easy task, it has moved from a rhetorical aspiration to a concrete possibility. The total number of people currently in extreme poverty (defined as $1.25/day) is 1.2 billion. Projections of how much extreme poverty will exist by 2035 range between 193 million and 660 million. The most optimistic scenarios assume that we can maintain our current rate of poverty reduction, resulting in 3% of the world population (less than 200 million) living in extreme poverty by 2035, a natural rate of equilibrium that most leading economists consider to be an “end” to extreme poverty. Other projections posit that poverty rate reductions in the developing world, especially in Africa, will slow down, in which case it may take us closer to 50 years to reach this threshold.   Our own analysis leads us to believe that by focusing our shared political attention and applying the right tools we can collectively lift one billion people out of poverty and reach this 3% level in the next two decades.

We should recognize that we’ve made substantial progress – more than was ever anticipated. The number of people living in extreme poverty continued to rise until around 1981, when it reached 1.94 billion people. From 1981 until around 1993, the number did not change much overall, but after 1993 – for the first time in history – the number began to fall. Over the next fifteen years, historic growth rates were achieved and the extreme poverty figure fell from 1.91 to 1.29 billion, nearly a one-third decrease. It will be challenging to maintain this rate of reduction; as poverty numbers get smaller, the rate of decline may slow as remaining pockets of poverty persist in increasingly difficult environments. But economic growth has been the main determinant of progress in poverty reduction and we believe we are well positioned to help foster such growth.

Finally, it’s important to consider where poverty will reside in the future. By 2015, we will have achieved the first Millennium Development Goal (halving the rate of poverty) in all regions of the world except Sub-Saharan Africa. 85% of global poverty is now concentrated in the following countries: India and China (combined 618 million people or 48% of the total), Nigeria, Bangladesh, DRC, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Philippines, and Kenya.

Climate change drives population problems in Uganda. The population lives largely in poverty. And with increasing droughts and heavy, erratic rains destroying farmland and spreading disease, it is important to establish alternative livelihoods for food and create awareness of adaptation for environmental changes. Photo credit: Julie Larsen Maher, Wildlife Conservation Society

We’ve seen miraculous progress in poverty reduction in recent years, due to rapid economic growth in a small number of populous countries (China and India, especially).  Countries like China and India are still poor and have huge populations—so large pockets of poverty persist – but most economists believe the strength of their economic growth will allow them to virtually eliminate extreme poverty in the near future.  On the other hand, as poverty becomes increasingly diffuse, fragile countries (who struggle with conflict and instability) will be home to an ever greater proportion of the world’s poorest citizens.

So how will we in the global community achieve this goal? Ultimately, this effort will vary by country and region; we will need to assess the specific context and focus our efforts on that particular country’s development needs.  In order to reach these diverse and dispersed populations, we will have to employ every tool and instrument at our disposal. This includes continuing to expand and scale efforts to harness science, technology, innovation and knowledge exchange to eliminate extreme poverty. This means rallying the global community and working in partnership with international donors, non-profit and charitable resources, and galvanizing private sector investment towards this effort. It also means leveraging existing efforts, notably the three Presidential Initiatives of Feed the Future, Global Health and Global Climate Change.

As the President said on Tuesday, “We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all.” When it comes to defeating the misery and wretchedness of poverty, it is in our nation’s interest and the interest of all nations to seize the mantle of this challenge and carry it forward.

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