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Archives for Education and Universities

Helping Bright Ideas Shine Through Spotlight: Brian Gitta, Makerere University, Uganda, ResilientAfrica Network

USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) – a multidisciplinary research and development effort led by seven universities working to evaluate and strengthen real-world innovations in development – recently spotlighted young academics and their creative approaches to development challenges during TechCon 2013, the first annual HESN meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia. As part of a contest, more than 40 students and researchers presented innovations designed to help communities in developing countries.  

Winner Brian Gitta, from Makarere University in Uganda, invented  a tool that can diagnose malaria without the need for blood samples and a laboratory. This is the story of that innovation.

Brian Gitta wasn’t in the mood to get stuck by another needle – he was already getting injections three times a day to fight off a foodborne illness. But as his fever spiked and the pain in his joints worsened, he suspected he was suffering yet another occurrence of malaria, the disease he’d contracted as a child and currently kills one child every minute in the developing world.

A nurse at a local clinic confirmed his suspicion by drawing blood using a needle and syringe. “I hated the needles and kept thinking of ways people could be diagnosed without pain,” Gitta recalled.

Brian Gitta, from Makerere University in Uganda pitches his winning idea that uses cell phones and light – not needles and blood samples to test for malaria. Photo Credit: Cynthia Kao-Johnson/USAID

Brian Gitta, from Makerere University in Uganda pitches his winning idea that uses cell phones and light – not needles and blood samples to test for malaria. Photo Credit: Cynthia Kao-Johnson/USAID

That puzzle was still on Gitta’s mind weeks later as he began his studies in Computer Science at Makerere University and started thinking about ways technology could be used to improve malaria detection. The standard method of determining whether someone has malaria is drawing blood and viewing it under a microscope, which requires health workers and facilities that are scarce in many low-income communities.  For Brian, the goal wasn’t just to alleviate momentary pain; eliminating needles and the need for a lab would not only limit the risk of infection but allow for diagnosis in communities that had no medical centers.

Gitta shared the idea with his friend Joshua Businge and they began researching new ways to detect malaria.  They learned that for years, light sensors have been used to read the blood’s oxygen content through the skin. This seemed like a promising avenue to explore, so the pair recruited Josiah Kavuma and Simon Lubambo, students skilled in engineering hardware.  Together, the team designed a prototype that plugs into a smartphone and can detect malaria using only light. Results are available in seconds and the smartphone can email them and map them for epidemiological purposes.  They named the device Matibabu, Swahili for medical center.

By coincidence, Makerere University was launching an initiative called the ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) as part of HESN and an upcoming launch event in Uganda would give local innovators an opportunity to demonstrate concepts for solving public problems.  The team demonstrated their prototype to Alex Dehgan, director of USAID’s Office of Science and Technology, RAN director William Bazeyo, and Deborah Elzie from RAN partner Tulane University.  “I was very impressed,” Elzie said. “When we talk about innovation, people are often just improving on something that’s already out there…These guys really found a whole new way of looking at how to determine if someone has malaria.”

RAN searches for creative minds like Gitta’s and helps them overcome obstacles that often keep bright ideas from making it to the marketplace.  RAN gave Gitta’s team a workspace, training on writing business proposals, mentoring, and the resources needed to make a better prototype.

They teams hopes to a commercially viable product and plans to partner with an established organization working against malaria.

Reflecting on his innovation, Gitta noted, “as long as you put your mind and hard work to it, you can accomplish anything at any age.”

Testing Readers in the Early Grades in Pakistan

I wish you could have been there. The little girl, a third grader, in a sky blue uniform with a white sash sat across from the evaluator. Her manner was shy, her voice barely audible but her dark eyes were determined. She was going to do her best, no doubt about it, despite a bunch of strangers standing around to watch.

A young girl in Pakistan attempts to read the story of Rani, testing her reading and comprehension skills as part of an Early Grade Reading Assessment being carried out in Pakistan.  / Christie Vilsack

A young girl in Pakistan attempts to read the story of Rani, testing her reading and comprehension skills as part of an Early Grade Reading Assessment being carried out in Pakistan. / Christie Vilsack

The evaluator explained that she could help us understand how children read by participating in some word games. He told her about himself and asked her to do the same. He asked about the language she uses at home with her family.

Each page required a certain task. The first determined whether she knew where to begin reading on the page and in what direction. She used her pointer finger to show that she did.

Next he asked her to say the name of some letters, and then to name some simple words. She could do this also.

Then he asked her to say the sounds produced by letters (b is the sound made by the letter “b”). And then he gave her some made up words to sound out like pum and tep. Most of us remember this as phonics, which we learned in kindergarten and first grade. This task was more difficult for her.

When he asked her to read a short paragraph she stumbled through the words and the timer went off long before she finished. Anyone watching could tell it was the letter sounds that were tripping her up.

She was so busy trying to decipher the words that the meaning behind the story escaped her. She couldn’t tell the evaluator why the character, Rani, was scared of what was behind the door, or why she smiled when she saw it was just a mouse.

By now 33,000 children in Pakistan have been tested, a random sampling in each of Pakistan’s seven administrative units. The test that was used in Pakistan is called EGRA, the Early Grade Reading Assessment, and it was developed with World Bank and USAID support to RTI International here in the United States, starting in 2005.

EGRA is an essential tool in our educational toolbox as USAID invests in teaching 100 million children to read in 39 countries around the world. The EGRA instrument is translated into the local language and tests the foundational skills of reading as well as reading fluency and comprehension. It can help teachers know which skills need more attention and can help policy makers know which aspects of instruction need more attention and funding.

The evaluator in a primary school in Pakistan talks with the young girl about the reading assessment, explaining how it works and what she will be doing. Credit: Christie Vilsack

The evaluator in a primary school in Pakistan talks with the young girl about the reading assessment, explaining how it works and what she will be doing. / Christie Vilsack

If you’ve had a child in a U.S. school then he or she has probably taken DIBELS© or another oral assessment in the early grades to test her or his understanding of the key building blocks of reading.

EGRA was inspired by DIBELS and other early grade assessments and experts at RTI, USAID and the World Bank, other institutions picked the key skills and subtests that predict reading competency and can be tested in the context of developing countries. EGRA is so easy to administer that any of us could do it with our own children and get a sense of their strengths and weaknesses.

We can use the data we gather from the test to help ministries of education determine how best to proceed to meet the reading needs of their students and where to invest their scarce resources.  EGRA is also a diagnostic tool that can provide teachers and principals a roadmap for improving teaching and learning. USAID works to build capacity at the ministry level, train teachers and develop textbooks in a languages that children speak and understand, and produce supplemental reading materials so that government officials, communities, and parents develop sustainable programs that improve students’ reading skills.

In developing countries, the solutions are not difficult to understand. They mirror the solutions here at home. Those who work on these issues say it’s carrying out the solutions under difficult circumstances that is a bigger problem.

How do you administer tests if no one in the country knows how to assess early grade students? If schools are far from cities and towns and transportation is difficult? If schools have been closed by insurgents? How do you administer the test if an earthquake has suspended classes? How do you get to villages high in the mountains to administer the test? And if you get there and there aren’t the necessary number of students in the classroom to make the test statistically correct because they’re farming with their parents in the fields, what do you do?

It’s essential to find ways around such barriers because the most important person in the room is the child who wants to learn, who wants to know about the girl, Rani, in the story and why she smiles at the end.

The little girl before me smiles at the evaluator as the assessment ends, smiles shyly at all of us because she has done her best. We leave with a sense of purpose. It’s hard to teach 100 million children to read, but it’s not impossible. And, when we succeed, this little girl and many like her will be able to raise her own children, including her daughters, in a culture that values education and the economic and global security it ensures.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christie Vilsack is USAID’s Senior Advisor for International Education

Working Together, Faster and Closer to Solve Development Challenges

In November 2012, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its Office of Science and Technology launched an initiative under which seven universities would act not just as colleagues in studying global challenges, but as USAID’s laboratories, testing real-time solutions.  This Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) is a network of eight Development Labs on seven university campuses and over 100 additional partners institutions in 38 countries that harness the ingenuity and passion of university students, researchers, and faculty to find, develop, and apply new science and tech-based solutions to the world’s most challenging development problems. HESN is powered by a conviction that advances in science and technology can bring the brightest minds in higher education closer to practitioners in developing countries who are trying out innovative approaches, as well as accelerating the expansion process for innovations that prove successful.

A year later, “TechCon 2013” in Williamsburg, Virginia brought together more than 200 representatives from the seven lead universities and their partners: The College of William & Mary; University of California, Berkeley; Duke University; Makerere University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Michigan State University; and Texas A&M University. The eight Development Labs demonstrated their individual progress, but equally exciting were the unexpected insights gained from the uncommon collaboration between members of the network. Epidemiologists learned from marketing experts, agricultural economists from software executives, and professors of mechanical engineering from post-conflict project managers.

That sort of collaboration — involving experts from disparate academic disciplines who might otherwise not run into each other on campus — was part of the vision of HESN. “The solutions that will truly be transformative, that will get us to scale, that will make us successful, that will save lives, are those that capture all of the university,” Alex Dehgan, Science and Technology Adviser to the USAID Administrator, said in his remarks to the conference. “We’re not looking for business as usual. We’re asking, are the things that you are working on going to result in innovations that are truly disruptive? Will you change the landscape as a result?”

“We’re not just trying to create grant relations with each of you,” USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah told the conference by video link. “We are really hoping that you will be the extramural R&D hub for the agency that has significant global capabilities and sits at the center of the American government to achieve the goals that the President laid out for us.”

In the “Innovation Marketplace” exhibition area, Chris Bielecki, who is working toward a Ph.D. in agricultural engineering, was exhibiting his project that helps farming families in food-insecure Guatemala keep a photographic journal of their meals. “Interesting to see how HESN centers’ work are integrating with each other,” Bielecki observed on Twitter. ” Who says academia can’t break out of their silos!”

More than 40 students and researchers competed for conference attendees’ votes and a chance at $4,000 in expansion funding from IBM in the conference “pitch competition”.  Environmental engineering student Caroline Delaire delivered a sales pitch for an affordable way to rid drinking water of arsenic in rural Bangladesh — just add rust. Urban planning student Elizabeth Hoffecker Moreno pitched a project in rural Zambia that helps women protect their health by making menstrual pads with locally grown cotton.  The sales pitch that won the top prize, was by Brian Gitta, a sophomore at Makerere University in Uganda. When Gitta was sick with malaria he wondered whether it would be possible to diagnose the disease without piercing the skin. He and his classmates subsequently invented a device that shines light through the skin and sends the data to a cell phone, where the results can be quickly read and interpreted, even by non-medical personnel  far from a clinic.  Beyond the pitch competition, Esri sponsored a mapping competition that brought students together to map their activities and tell the story of the network.

In the first year of HESN, Development Labs developed 27 transformative innovations and conducted pilot tests for 20 of those; 4 of them have already been adopted by the targeted communities. Labs have shared their research in 25 publications and reports as well as via websites that have attracted more than 10,000 visitors. The labs have contributed instructional material for 11 new university courses on international development.  Almost 200 students have received field experience including more than 50 who completed overseas fellowships of more than a month.

At the end of the conference, USAID’s Dehgan said the gathering marked an important step in the evolution of the foreign aid establishment’s embracing of innovation. “I think it is the tipping point where we really went from vision and idea to the actual production of starting to get results — the creation of the ecosystems and the creation of the pipelines of services that we’re trying to do in development,” he said. “We’re starting to see a community of practice around development engineering, around the use of data, around the question of how we really harness innovation.”

To learn more about HESN, visit www.usaid.gov/hesn.

From the Field in Pakistan: Catch of a Lifetime

When the video team and I started out from Islamabad, Pakistan, early one morning, I didn’t know what, or whose, story awaited us. We were traveling to the remote outskirts of Jamshoro, a city on the banks of the Indus River (about 90 miles northeast of Karachi for a video shoot. It was during our interviews with community members that we met Imran Ali Mallah.

A world away from education, Imran once worked diligently as a fisherman, hauling up nets seven days a week to make ends meet. When we spoke with him, however, he was living a different kind of life.

After learning about a USAID-funded teachers’ education program, former fisherman Imran Ali Mallah decided to study to become a teacher. Photo credit:  USAID Teacher Education Project/EDC

After learning about a USAID-funded teachers’ education program, former fisherman Imran Ali Mallah decided to study to become a teacher. Photo credit: USAID Teacher Education Project/EDC

Weary of the unpredictability of the fishing trade and inspired by an advertisement in the local paper for a USAID initiative offering training, he decided to become a teacher.

“I grew up in poverty,” Imran told me. “I know the pain and suffering that comes along with it.”

Imran enrolled in the two-year ADE teacher training program and committed himself to his new endeavor. He now travels four hours every day from his home in Jamshoro to the Provincial Institute of Teacher Education in Nawabshah. Despite the hardship, he has maintained excellent grades, and will receive his associate’s degree in 2014.

Imran is optimistic about his future, passionate about teaching and financially more secure.  Instead of toiling each day on his boat, he is able to support himself and his studies by teaching children two hours a day. He hopes to help give his students the opportunity for a better future. “Changing children’s mindsets toward learning and success is very important for the citizens of our country,” said Imran. “It enables personal growth. I hope to pass on this beacon of knowledge.”

Thanks to the USAID-funded Associate’s Degree in Education (ADE) program, Imran Ali Mallah is changing his life—and the lives of his students—as he pursues his ambition of becoming a teacher. Photo credit: USAID Teacher Education Project/ EDC

Thanks to the USAID-funded Associate’s Degree in Education (ADE) program, Imran Ali Mallah is changing his life—and the lives of his students—as he pursues his ambition of becoming a teacher. Photo credit: USAID Teacher Education Project/ EDC

Imran credits the USAID education program with his success, “The ADE program has been a source of inspiration. It enabled me to switch my profession from fishing to teaching. With its advanced teaching methods, it has brought classrooms to life, which has made both teachers and students open to change.”

More than 2,600 teacher trainees like Imran are enrolled in the USAID-funded, Government of Pakistan-accredited, two-year ADE program and four-year Bachelors of Education. ADE is one of several USAID projects helping millions of Pakistanis unlock their full potential. In addition to ADE, USAID has launched degree programs in education at 90 teacher colleges and universities, and is building new applied research centers at Pakistani universities that focus on energy, water and agriculture. More than 10,600 low-income students attend college in Pakistan with USAID-funded scholarships.

Learn more about USAID’s work in Pakistan.

Haiti Holds First National Reading Championship

The finalists with the Director General and Deputy Director General of MENFP and well-known author Frankétienne. Photo credit: MENFP

The finalists with the Director General and Deputy Director General of MENFP and well-known author Frankétienne. Photo credit: MENFP

Out of 11,000 students from 172 schools, the Government of Haiti recently chose 72 finalists to attend the first National Reading Championship. From this talented bunch, six were national finalists. The two shining stars who came out on top in the final round were Bruna Samika Délomme, a fourth grader from the Northwest, and Loveda Movin, a third grader from Nippes. After participating in community reading activities during their summer, they proudly walked away as the top readers in their country.

At the event, Minister of National Education Vanneur Pierre stated that the National Reading Championship was a stepping stone in efforts toward improving the education system in Haiti. “The country is at a difficult crossroads today where education is the only tool to get the nation out of this impasse. Fortunately, the government has chosen to put the emphasis on education,” he said.

Samika Bruna Delhomme (L) of Northwest and Loveda Movin of Nippes were named finalists. Photo credit: MENFP

Samika Bruna Delhomme (L) of Northwest and Loveda Movin of Nippes were named finalists. Photo credit: MENFP

The competition has set a precedent for the nation and for the students. By acknowledging and supporting the endeavors of its brightest students, the Government of Haiti is helping to instill a culture of reading in this country and to secure a better future for its students. Ensuring that children can read in early grades often determines their future educational success, thus opening the door to greater economic opportunities in adulthood.

The National Reading Championship was hosted by USAID and the Ministry of Education, helping students like Bruna and Loveda maintain their reading competencies and comprehension during the summer vacation.  In addition, it inspired Minister Pierre to initiate Reading Fridays, which will be implemented in public schools to promote and encourage reading fluency and comprehension.

Read more about USAID’s education efforts in Haiti.

Like USAID Haiti on Facebook and follow @USAID_Haiti on Twitter for ongoing updates in the region. 

USAID in the News

Devex featured a piece about USAID’s new approach to tackling urban policy through the use of crowdsourcing. A public comment period will be made available on November 7 as a part of the Sustainable Service Delivery in an Increasingly Urbanized World program. By soliciting public opinion, USAID hopes to find new ways to encourage the formation of local solutions that will allow the agency to partner with city governments and community groups to build on expertise and bolster development efforts.

The Times of India reported on a USAID grant that was awarded to three Indian companies to help them share successful low-cost agricultural innovations with African countries. The grants come through the USAID India-Africa Agriculture Innovations Bridge Program, which seeks to improve food security, nutrition, and long-term sustainability by sharing Indian innovations with farmers in Africa who will benefit from them.

Administrator at at The George Washington University’s Feeding the Planet Summit, where he announced the Feed the Future Innovation Labs. Photo credit: Joslin Isaacson, HarvestPlus

Administrator at at The George Washington University’s Feeding the Planet Summit, where he announced the Feed the Future Innovation Labs. Photo credit: Joslin Isaacson, HarvestPlus

AllAfrica covered USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah’s announcement of 10 new Feed the Future Innovation Labs that will partner with American universities to tackle the world’s most challenging agricultural research problems. A part of the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, these labs will work to address the challenges of climate change in agriculture and research ways to produce food in an environmentally sensitive manner to ensure global access to nutritious and safe foods.

Zawya reported on a joint effort between USAID and the Caterpillar Foundation, which seeks to provide intensive technical training to youth in Jordan. The program equips trainees with the skills to fill technician-level positions in key industrial sectors of the Jordanian economy. Rana Al Turk, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) Jordan Country Director says that the program aims to fill job positions, “while providing youth with a comprehensive employability approach that includes the technical training and soft skills they need to enhance their employment prospects and lead successful lives.”

Citizen News featured a story on a USAID-funded program that provides students in Kenya with laptops to enhance their educational experience. According to Jaribu Primary School headmaster Mohamed Gedi, the project has triggered a spike in the performance of the 300 hundred students that benefit from the laptops.

The Express Tribune reported on USAID’s hand over of a state-of-the-art Expanded Program on Immunization Coordination and Planning Resource Center to the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation, and Coordination in Pakistan. The center is equipped with technology and software that will allow the government to track vaccine supplies throughout the country. USAID Health Office Director Jonathan Ross, who inaugurated the center, reaffirmed the U.S. Government’s commitment to improving health indicators in Pakistan through continued health development assistance.

USAID in the News

AllAfrica reported on a newly-announced USAID partnership with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund USA and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust, which is aimed at supporting the proposed Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa. The new hospital, scheduled to open in June 2015, will provide high-quality medical care to children regardless of their social or economic status.

A statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled on Sep. 21, 2013 at the Embassy of South Africa in Washington, DC. Photo credit: USAID

A statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled on Sep. 21, 2013 at the Embassy of South Africa in Washington, DC. Photo credit: USAID

The Express Tribune featured a story about the fourth National Youth Peace Festival in Lahore, Pakistan, which is being supported in part by USAID. The organizers expects to see 500 young people from across Pakistan attend the festival, the theme of which is “One Nation, One Agenda; Democracy and Peace.” Politicians will attend the festival in hopes of engaging youth by taking up issues that are relevant to them.

Jamaica Observer reported USAID’s tool donation  to 105 cocoa farmers in Jamaica as a part of a two-year project, which focuses on “protecting rural lives, livelihoods and ecosystems” in communities affected by climate change. The tools will be used by farmers to combat the negative effects of climate change on agriculture.

Vibe Ghana detailed USAID efforts to support the Western Regional Health Directorate in Ghana. USAID contributions to the health directorate include training, performance-based grants, and equipment that will be distributed throughout district hospitals and health care centers. Dr. Edward Bonko, Leader of the Focus Region Health Project of USAID, explained that the efforts would assist with “maternal, reproductive and child health, HIV/AIDS and malaria preventions and neonatal care” in the Western Region.

Pakistan’s The Nation reported on the visit of a group of U.S. government officials, including USAID Mission Director for Pakistan Gregory Gottleib, to the Jamshoro Thermal Power Station. The power plant will provide an additional 270 megawatts of power to the national grid.  In addition to the Jamshoro power plant, USAID is working to rehabilitate thermal plants in Muzaffargarh and Guddu and a hydro-plant in Tarbela.

The website OpenEqualFree detailed a USAID effort to educate student gardeners in Liberia through the Advancing Youth Project—a partnership with Liberia’s Ministry of Education and community organizations that offers “alternative basic education services and entrepreneurship training for young people across Liberia.” The initiative will provide agricultural experts to train students to grow their own gardens and teach them the about agribusiness as a possible career choice.

The Hill featured a piece written by Representatives Albio Sires and Mario Diaz-Balart spotlighting USAID efforts to combat tuberculosis. The story, which describes legislation geared toward encouraging development of health care products in low-resource health systems, includes an overview of USAID’s contributions in the area of research and development in global health, saying, “As a leading funder of breakthrough products for global health, USAID is a key partner in later-stage research that ensures the development of safe and effective health tools.”

USAID at UNGA 2013: Day Three

This year’s United Nations General Assembly focuses on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities. 

UNGA Day Three: September 25, 2013

Recap of Wednesday’s Events:

  • The Global Business Coalition for Education, chaired by Gordon Brown, hosted a breakfast meeting to facilitated conversations between the business community and the education sector with the overall goal of more coordinated collaboration to improve education. Malala Yousafzai was in attendance as a special guest and together she and Administrator Shah encouraged the business community to invest in improving educational outcomes, with a particular emphasis on increasing equitable access to quality education, especially for girls.

    Administrator Shah with Malala Yousafzai; Alhaji Aliko Dangote, founder of the Dangote Group (far left); Christie Vilsack, USAID Senior Advisor for International Education; and Malala's father (far right). Photo credit: USAID

    Administrator Shah with Malala Yousafzai; Alhaji Aliko Dangote, founder of the Dangote Group (far left); Christie Vilsack, USAID Senior Advisor for International Education; and Malala’s father (far right) at the Global Business Coalition for Education event. Photo credit: USAID

  • Administrator Shah gave opening remarks at the Learning for All: Education Finance and Delivery event. This event was a follow-on to the high-level “Learning for All” Round One Ministerial Meetings that took place in April. Gordon Brown and the Global Partnership for Education invited the Heads of State, Education Ministers and Finance Ministers from a new set of six countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Somalia and Chad – to hold meetings on accelerating progress toward Education First. Of these, two of the focus countries (Afghanistan and Pakistan) were USAID “Room to Learn” countries. The meeting was attended by Ban Ki Moon, Jim Kim, Gordon Brown, Irina Bukova (Director-General of UNESCO), the President of South Africa, the President of Mozambique, and many others.
  • As a part of the Learning for All meetings, Administrator Shah participated in the “Learning for all Pakistan” meeting.  The Administrator expressed the USG’s continued interest in working with the Government of Pakistan and provincial governments to improve access to education and education quality. He also encouraged Pakistani government official to continue to show increased leadership and commitment to education. Malala Yousafzai also spoke and expressed the importance of education, particularly for girls, In Pakistan and worldwide. She encouraged the leaders in Pakistan to further increase spending on education and make secondary school compulsory.
  • Yesterday afternoon Administrator Shah gave closing remarks at the Responsible Investments in Myanmar forum hosted by the Asia Society and McKinsey Global Institute. The forum discussed the challenges and opportunities of Burma‘s transformation and ways to foster sustained growth and development through responsible investment. The discussion centered on two reports — Asia Society’s Sustaining Myanmar’s Transition: Ten Critical Challenges and the McKinsey Global Institute’s Myanmar’s Moment: Unique Opportunities, Major Challenges.

New Blogs:

Event’s Happening Today at UNGA (Thursday, September 26th):

  • No public events scheduled today

Learn more about this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and its focus on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities.

Follow @USAID and @RajShah for ongoing updates during the week and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #UNGA and #UNGA2013.

USAID at UNGA 2013: Day Two

This year’s United Nations General Assembly focuses on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities. 

UNGA Day Two: September 24, 2013

Highlight:

President Obama delivered an address to the United National General Assembly. A number of outlets are reporting on the President’s announcement of an additional $339 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria.

Announcements:

  • As a part of the Better than Cash Alliance anniversary event, USAID announced that it is on a path to incorporating language into all grants and contracts to accelerate the use of electronic and mobile payments into its programs across the world.

Recap of Tuesday’s Events:

  • Yesterday afternoon Administrator Shah and DFID’s Justine Greening hosted the “MDG Countdown 2013 – Women & Girls” event. The event highlighted the progress made against the MDGs and focused on the work needing to be done over the next 828 days. The event included Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, Geena Davis, actress and UN Special Envoy for Women and Girls in the field of Technology and was moderated by NY Times reporter Nicholas Kristof.

Happening Today:

Learn more about this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and its focus on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities.

Follow @USAID and @RajShah for ongoing updates during the week and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #UNGA and #UNGA2013.

Girls and Women Transforming Societies

This year’s United Nations General Assembly focuses on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities. 

Alex Thier is Assistant to the Administrator for Policy, Planning, and Learning

Alex Thier is Assistant to the Administrator for Policy, Planning, and Learning. Follow him at @thieristan

Elevating the political, social, and economic status of women and girls is a central and indispensable element of global progress towards creating a more prosperous, peaceful, and equitable world, and ending extreme poverty within our lifetime.

The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established in 2000 focus heavily on advancing women and girls (and intensively tracking that progress). And, as today’s USAID and UK’s Department for International Development event on Girls and Women Transforming Societies demonstrates, we’re making some astonishing progress.

Look for example in sub-Saharan Africa: net primary education enrollment for girls has risen substantially from 47 percent in 1990 to 75 percent in 2011. While a Gender Disparity Index shows only slight increases in secondary education in the same region – from .76 to .83, women are gaining ground in non-agricultural work employment, increasing a workforce presence from 24 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 2011.

Some countries, like Afghanistan, have made enormous transformations in access to education. In 2002, 900,000 boys were in school and virtually no girls attended due to a Taliban prohibition. As of 2012 over eight million students were enrolled in Afghan schools with girls accounting for over one third.

Similarly, the maternal death rate in sub-Saharan Africa has significantly dropped by 20 years – an estimated 41 per cent. Figures released by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank showed the 1990 rate of 850 deaths per 100,000 live births declined to a regional average of 500 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2010.

There is still enormous progress to be made, and in many areas the world we are still well short of the MDGs. But what this progress shows us is that these goals are achievable, and that as goes the welfare of women and girls, so goes the welfare of their societies.

In that sense, one of the most important advances may be in the area of women’s political representation. Since 2000, the proportion of women in parliaments in the developing world has increased by two-thirds, although it remains at only 20 percent. Rwanda has the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. Women there have won 56.3 per cent of seats in the lower house. Increasing women’s political participation can benefit issues that may be over looked by exclusively male decision makers. For example, research on panchayats (local councils) in India revealed that the number of drinking water projects in areas with female-led councils was 62 per cent higher than in those with male-led councils.

But, much more needs to be done. Improvements in employment and women’s reproductive health still lag. Women still are more likely to work in the informal economy, earn less than men, and be over-represented in low-wage jobs. For too many women, the process of childbirth is unsafe or results in the death of mother or child.

One thing we do know for certain though – the only way to bring people out of extreme poverty is to include and empower women in broad based economic growth and to close the economic gaps between women and men. Without inclusive practices that promote gender equality and female empowerment, extreme poverty is sure to persist well beyond the next generation.

Today’s event in New York City illustrates how women’s leadership in grassroots advocacy, local solutions and the power of technology can steer the global community on the path to meeting our MDG goals and advancing gender equality and female empowerment in the post-2015 framework.

Learn more about USAID’s work in education.

Learn more about USAID’s role in this year’s United Nations General Assembly. Follow @USAID, @thieristan, and @RajShah for ongoing updates during the week and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #UNGA and #UNGA2013.

 

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