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Archives for Europe and Eurasia

Serbia Plugs Into Cow Power

In the past, I would speed up when driving by a farm. The only thing I could think of was the awful smell that made me hold my breath. Now, I slow down and think of endless supplies of clean energy, thanks to a USAID project that is helping convert manure into renewable energy– all the while, banking on American industrial expertise.

On one farm in Blace, a town of 11,000 people in southern Serbia, 700 cows produce thousands of gallons of manure each day. But this farm’s waste does not “go to waste.”

With support from USAID’s Agribusiness Project, manure from the Lazar Dairy is being “digested” by Serbia’s first biogas plant and converted into electricity, which the dairy sells to the national electricity company, EPS, at a preferential rate applicable to renewable energy suppliers.

Lazar pays about €0.05/kWh for the electricity it purchases from EPS, but it will receive about three times as much for the electricity that it sells to power company.

Lazar Dairy Biogas Plant 5

A DAI-led USAID project supported the construction of Serbia’s Lazar Dairy new biogas plant. The plant was designed by DVO Inc., of Chilton, Wisconsin, a leading U.S. designer and builder of anaerobic digesters.

Ushering the $2 million plant from drawing board to full operation took two-years. USAID’s Agribusiness Project acted as the “matchmaker” between Lazar Dairy and DVO, Inc., of Wisconsin, a leading U.S. designer and builder of anaerobic digesters.

The dairy had faced significant problems dealing with its manure, a major pollution issue. Now, this is virtually eliminated by the digester — a sealed container — as is the odor problem. Since its inauguration in May 2012, the plant has been operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, feeding up to 1 MW of renewable electrical energy into the national electrical grid every month—enough to power more than 1,000 homes.

In addition to generating biogas that powers the generator, the leftover solids and liquids are filtered and used for cow bedding and as fertilizer. The recycling of other organic waste (such as whey from cheese production at the farm) results in a liquid fertilizer and waste heat in the form of hot water that can be used to heat buildings.

Lazar Dairy Biogas Plant 3

A DAI-led USAID project supported the construction of Serbia’s Lazar Dairy new biogas plant. The plant was designed by DVO Inc., of Chilton, Wisconsin, a leading U.S. designer and builder of anaerobic digesters.

“The introduction of the bio-digester completely changed our business operations. We now have a steady cash inflow and dispose of our waste without harm to the environment,” said Milan Vidojevic, owner of the Lazar Dairy and one of Serbia’s most successful entrepreneurs.

Bolstering technological innovations like these, which encourage economic growth both abroad and at home, while supporting responsible agricultural practices, is a priority at USAID.

“This investment demonstrates that environmentally sound production can increase profits AND provide wide reaching benefits for the whole community. The U.S. Government is proud to have facilitated this process, through which this American technology has found its way to Blace,” said the former U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, Mary Warlick.

Lazar Dairy, which employs 120 people, is an economic engine for villages around Blace. In addition to its dairy farm, Lazar buys up to 45,000 liters (12,000 gallons) of milk per day from a network of more than 2,000 local farmers within a 100-kilometer radius. Its processing plant converts this raw milk to processed milk, yogurt, creams, and cheeses.

As a result of USAID’s assistance since early 2009, the company has generated annual sales of nearly $1 million, which translates to more than $600,000 in cash payments to the 2,000 raw-milk suppliers. Should future environmental regulations in Serbia allow it, the dairy would be eligible for additional revenue through the sale of carbon credits.

New Report Highlights the Hardships and Hard-Won Victories for LGBT People in the Europe and Eurasia Region

 

A demonstrator holds a rainbow flag in Bratislava

A demonstrator holds a rainbow flag in Bratislava on September 21,2013, during the Rainbow Pride Parade, a march for the human rights of non-heterosexual people and the celebration of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) pride in Slovakia. AFP PHOTO/SAM

As the recent winter Olympics in Sochi illustrated all too well, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia face tremendous hurdles in their everyday lives, including openly hostile laws and an extremely difficult working environment for the grassroots organizations that advocate for social change in the face of grave personal risks. The situation in Russia is unfortunately not unique, with LGBT people facing increasing hostility, discriminatory laws, and escalating threats of violence in many countries around the world, whether in Uganda, Nigeria, or Eurasia.

The U.S. government and USAID are strong supporters of LGBT rights. The Agency’s new mission statement places a premium on the inclusion and the empowerment of marginalized people through our work across the globe. Our missions in the Europe and Eurasia (E&E) region have stepped up their efforts to ensure that LGBT issues are addressed through development projects and that LGBT people are able to participate fully and effectively in all that we do. Testing the Waters: LGBT People in the Europe and Eurasia Region, a new report that was just released by USAID today, was designed to support these efforts by comprehensively documenting the status of LGBT people across the region and describing in detail the challenges they face in seeking to claim their human rights and role as full participants in their communities and societies.

The challenges that the report reveals are daunting. Across the region, attitudes towards LGBT people are very negative, with openly derogatory remarks and homophobic sentiments commonly expressed in public and in private. LGBT people are not legally protected from discrimination in the region, and they frequently suffer physical attacks and intimidation.  Gathering places and offices of grassroots LGBT advocacy groups have been ransacked and destroyed. Harassment at home, in school, and at the workplace is a common feature of everyday life. Not surprisingly, many LGBT people in the region choose not to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity, even to families and friends.

Despite all of these challenges, the report also makes it clear that LGBT people across the region are speaking up and making a difference. Grassroots organizations advocate for LGBT rights in every E&E country, provide safe spaces for LGBT people, and offer support and much-needed social services. Many people take on great personal and professional risks in their efforts to ensure that the societies they live in are accepting of all people, regardless of who they love or how they express their gender identity.

I hope you will take the time to read this report  and to think about what you too can do to ensure that no-one is left out of our joint efforts to create a world in which everyone is treated fairly and equally.

Partnering to Make Merit-Based College Admissions the Norm in Ukraine

Prior to 2008, if you were to have asked typical Ukrainian high school students,  university applicants or their parents to honestly explain the surest way to gain entrance to university, most would have responded that informal payments and influence-seeking provided the golden keys to admission.  This type of process benefited not the brightest and most deserving but the affluent and best connected. High school graduates from low-income households or rural areas had virtually no access to the more prestigious universities and faculties of Ukraine. This uneven playing field for university admissions has already had its unintended consequence; since the best students were not always accepted at the best universities, employers too often settled for underqualified graduates, resulting in a workforce less professional than it should be.

Testing Procedures

A student watches as a test proctor registers her examination materials.
Photo: USAID/USETI

The picture is beginning to change. Since 2007, USAID has assisted Ukraine in building and rolling out national university admissions testing. USAID’s Ukrainian Standardized External Testing Initiative (USETI) and its follow-on, the USETI Alliance, have partnered with Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science, the academic community and civil society to launch national standardized external testing for university admissions, helping Ukrainians build the infrastructure and intellectual tools for a fair and merit-based admissions process. Equal access to higher education and by extension better prepared graduates are critical ingredients for a more competitive Ukrainian professional workforce to drive the economy.

USETI is a partnership of 16 Ukrainian and international governmental institutions, NGOs, universities and businesses,  established to make Ukraine’s higher education system more transparent in its admissions processes.

USAID’s key innovation was to build a coalition of support for standardized external testing as a transparent tool for admissions to higher educational institutions, bringing together parents, educators and NGOs who are convinced of the benefits of this merit-based approach. Parents asserted the rights of their children to merit-based access to higher education. NGOs responded by becoming the voice of the parents, putting pressure on politicians to change national policy. Higher educational institutions saw the benefit of supporting a merit-based admissions policy in attracting high quality students.

USETI and the USETI Alliance provided critical support to Ukraine’s national testing center, the Ukrainian Center for Education Quality Assessment, to make it a strong and sustainable institution capable of independently and transparently developing and implementing secure tests that meet international standards.

The USETI Alliance also helped develop the KONKURS online reporting system, which publishes the results of each university applicant by name, assuring the real-time internal transparency of admissions to higher educational institutions.

The USETI Alliance continues to build public support for the process through one of Ukraine’s most influential civil society organizations, the OPORA Civic Network, a partner organization that has instilled public confidence and approval of the standard external testing process through intensive university admission monitoring

According to national polls, popular support for standardized external testing continues to increase. Whereas 42 percent of Ukrainian supported such a system in 2008, by 2012 the number had increased to 62 percent.

Most importantly, by the end of 2015 about 1.8 million students will be accepted to university programs based on their performance on standard external tests rather than family contacts or their ability to pay.

Much more has to be done to make an admissions system based on standardized external testing sustainable, and a continuing commitment by all stakeholders is essential. Nonetheless, the paradigm has shifted, and Ukraine will be better for it.

From the Field in Montenegro: Rebuilding Trust Is No Fiction for the Country’s Biggest Court

A judge is preparing for a trial scheduled for the next day, and he needs the case file. His office is tiny, crammed with binders and documents, so he first looks on the floor behind him. He thinks he remembers the color of the file — yes, he remembers putting a yellow sticker it on it — but somehow he cannot find it. He goes into the corridor, where he can hardly walk among the piles of files. He spends some time scanning the cases, but in vain. Then he sees his assistant. “Can you please help me find the case file? You know, the 11-year-old girl’s case? I put a sticker on it, remember?”

“Oh, judge, you forgot again,”the assistant says. “I told you to keep the most urgent case files in our kitchenette!”

Although this story is fiction, it could have been a typical day in the Basic Court in Podgorica before USAID’s Rule of Law project knocked on the door of this court, the largest in Montenegro.

And the situation was not fiction for citizens coming to the court; they didn’t know where to go, whom to ask, or where to find the courtrooms. They only seemed to meet angry court staff in the corridors, and none seemed willing to help them. The judges were usually cranky, lugging huge case files into their offices because there were no proper archives. Actually, the “archives” were the corridor floors.

The Basic Court in Podgorica—receiving more than half of the country’s cases—deserved better. To begin with, USAID helped it look like a real court. Working with the court’s staff, USAID refurbished the main reception area, where citizens are now welcomed by knowledgeable staff stationed at information desks. New LCD screens display the schedule of hearings, along with courtroom numbers and assigned judges. The entire courthouse was renovated, from registry offices to the public restrooms. The building now looks more respectable, but even more important, the effort has led to increased public trust in the justice dispensed by the court.

When I met Basic Court judge and spokesperson Ibrahim Smailovic in the renovated reception area, the element he emphasized most was not immediately visible to an outsider. “Through this project,” he told me, “a lot has been done about the quality of the relationship between the court and citizens. Being better informed and being able to get things done quickly, I think citizens now have more trust in what we do here, and I hope they have more trust in the whole judicial system of Montenegro.”

Judge Smailovic would probably laugh about my fictional story at the beginning of this blog, and rightfully so, because he is aware how close it was to reality and how it illustrates the strides the Basic Court of Podgorica has made with USAID support.

Renovations to the courthouse and its archives were completed shortly before Montenegro graduated from USAID assistance in late 2013. Weeks before the Mission closed, Judge Smailovic stepped before a film crew’s cameras to speak about the strides the Basic Court had made. “Through USAID assistance, Montenegro now has a more transparent, responsive judiciary and government,” he said with pride.

USAID’s Good Governance Activity streamlined operations at the Basic Court of Podgorica and the Municipality of Cetinje as part of its efforts to develop transparent, responsive government institutions. The video below shows how USAID improved government services in the country’s largest court and made doing business easier in Montenegro’s old royal capital.

Access to Information = Access to Opportunity

Technology is becoming increasingly important in all public services, but especially libraries. In an age where economic, educational, health, and social opportunities depend more and more on access to the Internet, lack of access means lack of opportunity.

Microsoft decided that the USAID Bibliomist project was a great opportunity to partner with USAID, the International Research and Exchanges Board, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Library Association to spur the evolution of Ukraine’s libraries into modern information resource  and community centers. Microsoft donated $9 million in software to Ukraine’s public libraries as part of its global initiative to endow communities with accessible and useful technology. Today Bibliomist can proudly state that it has helped revive 10 percent of Ukraine’s libraries and firmly planted the seeds to rejuvenate many more. Only through such a broad-based partnership could such an endeavor be realized.

A librarian assists a visitor in how to do an online search. Photo credit: USAID

A librarian assists a visitor in how to do an online search. Photo credit: USAID

Libraries are sources not only of books but also information, so their importance is not waning. Libraries can use technology in a variety of ways. For instance, by supporting public access computers, we help ensure that those who do not have computers available to them at home, work, or school can still benefit from this critical technology. Using technology, libraries can also provide benefits to the community as a whole. For instance, libraries are well positioned to develop community assessments, which are studies that help a community identify its needs and then determine how to go about meeting them.

Today Ukraine’s public libraries are working diligently to close both the digital and the opportunity gap: from giving free classes on resume-building to providing free access to technology. They are striving to provide services and workshops that address essential community needs, from increasing electoral literacy to promoting healthy lifestyles. As libraries discover better ways to deliver information via new media platforms and improve operational efficiencies, they will have a greater impact on a broader population.

In supporting Ukraine’s libraries, our expectation is that Microsoft technologies will be a resource that both municipalities and local community groups will be able to use in their efforts to bridge the digital divide and make their communities stronger.

Although there is much still to do, we’re inspired by what we’ve seen while working with Ukrainians: people taking the lead in changing not only their lives but the lives of those around them, making a real impact in their local communities and in Ukraine in general.

Read more:

Making it Easier for Small and Medium-size Enterprises to Do Business

Paige Alexander serves as assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia

Paige Alexander serves as assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia

This morning I spoke at an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) as part of the launch of the 2014 World Bank Doing Business report. Doing Business 2014 is the 11th in a series of annual reports benchmarking the regulations that affect private sector firms, focused on regulations that impact on small and medium-size enterprises.

USAID has been a proud advocate and partner for the Doing Business report since it began, and we supported more than twenty countries in implementing the reforms documented in this year’s report – including in a majority of the top reforming countries.

Improving the business environment in our partner countries is demonstrating real impact and benefits for businesses. Numerous USAID Missions and projects around the world contributed to these reforms, benefiting millions of entrepreneurs who can now spend more of their time and money investing in their businesses—the engines of growth and employment around the world—rather than struggling to navigate a maze of unnecessary red tape.

Take the example of Iraq.  In Iraq, it used to take three months to start a new business. Entrepreneurs had to make separate trips to the provincial Chamber of Commerce, federal Chamber of Commerce, and a bank.  It took days just to determine whether a company name was already in use. Now, the entire process takes just 24 days. USAID helped Iraq’s Ministry of Trade establish a one-stop shop for Iraqis to register a business, reserve a name, and fulfill capital requirements. The Chamber of Commerce created an online database to check whether a trade name is already taken.

USAID has decades of experience with commercial law and regulatory reforms, particularly from the remarkable transition to vibrant, free-market democracies that are implementing the Doing Business reform agenda across Eastern Europe. From the beginning of Doing Business, we advised top-reforming countries on legal and regulatory changes, and on the more difficult issues of implementation.

For example, USAID partnered with this year’s top reformer, Ukraine, on credit, customs, and construction permits, supporting Ukraine as it moved up 28 spots to #112. While Ukraine’s ranking remains far below that of other economically developed nations, and the country still faces major issues in terms of its business climate–especially in protection of investors’ rights and contract enforcement–this year’s progress demonstrated that putting political will behind reform can yield results.

We are working with reformers in the Government of Kosovo, the #4 reformer worldwide, on reducing capital requirement for starting a business, registration fees, and the time to register a business. Since 2010 Kosovo has reduced the number of procedures required by a third, reduced the time required by 22 days, and reduced the cost by 16%.

USAID success extends far beyond the Europe and Eurasia region. In Burundi, USAID helped with revision of the land code, supporting a national education campaign about land registration and supporting implementing ministries in the new registration process. Since 2004, the time to register property has declined by 38%. USAID provided technical assistance to streamline cargo processing times and reduce border delays in Rwanda, decreasing the time to export by 57% since 2006. In Guatemala, USAID supported online business registration, decreasing the time to register a business by 50% since 2004.

USAID is proud of our record of support for legal and regulatory reforms–but indicators only tell part of the story. As echoed by my fellow panelists, reform implementation–the key to achieving the intended development impact–remains incomplete. To transform aid recipient countries into attractive investment destinations, governments must implement and enforce broader and deeper reforms that extend beyond technical solutions and also embrace greater transparency, increased interaction between civil society and government, and improved governance–factors that are so closely correlated with economic growth.

USAID will continue our work to make it easier to do business, while also focusing on integrating increased stakeholder participation and good governance as essential components of our reform programs, as well as supporting the implementation of reforms to create conditions for sustainable economic growth.

CSIS streamed the event and tweeted highlights.

Retooling Ukraine’s Court Management through Partnership

Some of us are fortunate enough to have a transformational experience that changes us forever. I had such an experience while participating in designing and implementing the pilot Judicial Administration Certificate Program in Ukraine. Working with the USAID FAIR Justice Project in partnership with Ukraine’s State Judicial Administration and the National School of Judges of Ukraine, we delivered the first academic-based court administration program in Ukraine. It is a great example of how partnerships between governments, academia and development can lead to real change.

The first graduating class of court administrators in Ukraine. Photo credit: USAID Ukraine

The first graduating class of court administrators in Ukraine. Photo credit: USAID Ukraine

With the 2010 adoption of Ukraine’s Law on the Judiciary and the Status of Judges, court administrators were given broader responsibilities and more autonomy to manage courts. Much confusion over who was responsible for what in court operations accompanied the change.  The newly defined court administrators found themselves stymied by a lack of clear professional qualification requirements, incomplete understanding of the parameters of court administration, conflicting definitions of responsibilities and authorities, and limited professional development opportunities. USAID recognized these issues and saw them as opportunities to facilitate court reform utilizing best practices in contemporary court administration, thus improving access to justice for Ukrainians.

Michigan State University (MSU) faculty members joined with Ukrainian faculty members to develop the subject matter and teaching materials. The program consisted of 10 courses from the MSU Judicial Administration Certificate Program with ample adaptations and additions to ensure that the Ukrainian context was represented.  Program participants were competitively selected from among court administrators across Ukraine. Together the newly formed MSU-Ukrainian faculty engaged in team teaching all 10 courses, which covered the internationally-recognized core competencies developed by the National Association for Court Management. The recent result of these efforts was the June 12, 2013, graduation ceremony for 40 graduates of the Ukraine Pilot Court Administration Certificate Program. Many of the students reported at the graduation that they had already achieved noticeable results back in their home courts, with more expected.

In 2014 we expect to graduate another class of court managers. Ukraine’s National School of Judges has agreed to continue the classes after that, which makes me certain that the country is on its way to a new generation of court administrators skilled in the most current management methods.

From the moment I met the USAID FAIR team and discussed the possibility of bringing the MSU Judicial Administration Program to Ukraine, I sensed there was something qualitatively different about this experience. It wasn’t just about education. It wasn’t just about systems improvement. It wasn’t just about overcoming the challenges and doing the work at break-neck speed. It was also about whether a partnership as unusual as the one we were to form could succeed. It surpassed my expectations.

Through the months that we – the entire USAID FAIR Justice Project family, the students, and the instructors spent together, our mission and desires coalesced in a way that made our collective human spirit soar. The Ukrainian judiciary and people are better for it. We have created true leaders for the present and the future. It doesn’t get any better than that. I look forward to continuing our relationship.

Video of the Week: Working for Disabilities in Macedonia

This year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will partly focus on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other agreed development goals for persons with disabilities. Over 1 billion people, or approximately 15% of the world’s population, live with some form of disability. 80% of them live in developing countries. USAID is committed to disability-inclusive development by supporting disability-specific programs to address targeted needs and integrating disability into all our programs. Watch this video about  a success story of USAID Macedonia‘s Persons with Disabilities Internship and Employment Project.

Learn more about USAID’s role at UNGA.

 

Vocational Courses Give Economic Empowerment to Women of Georgia

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

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

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

Christina Blurtsian. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

Christina Blurtsian. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iveta Tskhovrebashvili. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

Iveta Tskhovrebashvili. Photo credit: USAID/Georgia

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

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

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

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

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

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