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Archives for UNGA

From Conflict to Coping

Tisda, Mercy Corps Program Officer, in Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Erin Gray, Mercy Corps

Last summer, amidst the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in generations, Mercy Corps received encouraging news from local officials in the Somali-Oromiya region of Ethiopia.  In this area – long known for conflict, scarce resources and harsh conditions – communities that had participated in USAID-supported Mercy Corps peacebuilding efforts were reportedly coping better than they had during less severe droughts in the past.

We were intrigued, so we sent out a research team—and the findings were striking: when local conflict had been addressed, people were far better equipped to survive the drought.

To understand why, put yourself in the position of an Ethiopian herder.  When a drought hits, you can cope in several ways.  First, you will sell the weakest animals in your herd, raising cash to meet your family’s short-term needs while reducing grazing pressure on a water-scare environment. You may migrate with the remaining herd to areas where the grazing potential is better.  Along the way, you will rely on sharing access to scarce remaining water resources wherever you go.

Yet conflict can make these coping mechanisms impossible – blocking market access, freedom of movement, and access to shared resources like water. In this part of Ethiopia, population pressure and climate change had strained resources, spurring violence that in 2008-09 resulted in massive loss of lives and assets. In response to that conflict, Mercy Corps initiated a peacebuilding process in 2009 with support from USAID.  We helped participating communities focus on establishing peaceful relations, economic linkages, and joint management of natural resources.

A “resilience” approach to aid focuses on understanding, and improving, how communities cope with drought and other shocks.  Instead of just providing assistance that meets immediate material needs, a resilience approach also focuses on factors that affect a community’s ability to cope.  As Mercy Corps found last summer in Ethiopia, this often means focusing on factors that fall well outside the traditional assistance toolkit.

The program had focused on reducing violence – but our researchers found that it also built resilience along the way. Communities that participated in Mercy Corps’ program reported greater freedom of movement and fewer barriers to accessing resources, markets and public services than did non-participating communities. They identified greater freedom of movement as the single most important factor contributing to their ability to cope and adapt to the severe drought conditions. As one herder from the Wachile community said, “It is very difficult to use or access dry reserves (grazing areas) located in contending communities in a situation where there is no peace…the peace dialogues in the area have improved community interaction and helped us to access these resources.”

Our research report – titled Conflict to Coping – confirmed the important link between conflict and resilience in this region, and demonstrated that effective peacebuilding interventions help build resilience to crises.  Participating communities showed less reliance on distressful coping strategies, especially depletion of productive assets, than other communities. Importantly, the increased peace and security has allowed participating communities to employ more effective livelihood coping strategies, enabling them to better cope with extreme droughts.

Live from UNGA: Day One

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This week, Administrator Shah and other Agency leaders are participating in several events taking place during and around the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Sunday evening we kicked off our week here in New York at the Social Good Summit, a three-day conference where big ideas meet new media to create innovative solutions. This Summit unites a dynamic community of global leaders to discuss a big idea: the power of innovative thinking and technology to solve our greatest challenges. The most innovative technologists, influential minds and passionate activists will come together with one shared goal: to unlock the potential of new media and technology to make the world a better place, and then to translate that potential into action.

USAID’s chief innovation officer, Maura O’Neil launched the mWomen Design Challenge with partners GSMA, Qtel Group, AusAID, to help improve mobile access for women in developing nations by improving the user experience. She addressed the technical literacy barrier of women’s mobile phone access and ownership. The event included a live design demo and discussions on improving mobile design to make it more intuitive for illiterate populations and the importance of collaborating with the private sector to drive change at scale.

Administrator Shah also appeared at the Social Good Summit yesterday where he spoke on a panel organized by UNICEF called  A Promise Renewed. The event highlighted child survival, technology and innovation for change. Dr. Shah spoke on a panel moderated by CNN anchor Zain Verjee, along with Tony Lake, UNICEF, Clay Shirky and Ethiopian Health Minister Tedros.

Yesterday we also launched two incredible partnerships.

Administrator Shah co-hosted the launch event for the Better than Cash Alliance, a global public-private partnership dedicated to supporting organizations’ transition away from cash to electronic payments. USAID convened the founders of the Alliance, which include The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, U.N. Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and Visa Inc. The Alliance will call on governments, the development community and the private sector to adopt the use of electronic payments for programs that support people living in poverty and provide resources to those who commit to make the transition. Watch the  video.

And finally, Administrator Shah concluded the evening by joining New York Times Journalist Nicholas Kristof and others in commemorating Half the Sky, the best-selling book and multimedia initiative which tell the stories of women in the developing world on issues of family planning, health, girl’s education, sex trafficking, women’s economic empowerment, and domestic violence. USAID  supported the development of eighteen educational and advocacy videos, and three mobile phone games on health and gender equity, developed by Show of Force partner, Games for Change, which will be launched in the early fall for use in East Africa and India.  At the event, Dr. Shah launched Women and Girls Lead Global, a public-private alliance with Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Ford Foundation, in cooperation with CARE, focused on using the power of documentary film and new media to empower women and girls around the world.

To keep up with our team live at #UNGA, Follow @USAID, the Administrator @rajshah, Assistant Administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan @Thieristan or Chief Innovator @MauraATUSAID.

Equal Futures Partnership Advances Global Women’s Opportunities

Sarah Mendelson is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Credit: USAID

I am excited to have just returned from the kick-off of the Equal Futures Partnership to expand women’s opportunities around the world. The event was held in New York City and part of a number of events USAID is participating in during the United Nations General Assembly this week.

The world has made significant strides in expanding opportunity for women and girls; in the U.S., we just celebrated 40 years of Title IX, an act of Congress that changed the lives of many in my generation by enabling girls to have equal access to education playing sports. Equal access to sports in schools, particularly, taught many of us how to be fierce competitors and learn valuable lessons in team building.

Yet more work is needed to tackle the global gender inequality. Last week, I met in London with donors on this very topic where researchers discussed a number of startlingly facts:

  • In 2011, women held only 19 percent of parliamentary seats worldwide, while less than five percent of heads of state and government were women.
  • While in the past 25 years, women have increasingly joined the labor market, the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report describes “pervasive and persistent gender differences” in productivity and earnings across sectors and jobs.
  • Though women are 43 percent of the agriculture labor force and undertake many unpaid activities, they own just a tiny fraction of land worldwide.

These realities demand an urgent response.

Building on President Obama’s challenge a year ago at UNGA, the United States government has partnered in a new international effort to break down barriers to women’s political participation and economic empowerment. The goal of the Equal Futures Partnership is to realize women’s human rights by expanding opportunity for women and girls to fully participate in public life and drive inclusive economic growth in our countries.

Through this partnership, the countries of Senegal, Benin, Jordan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Peru, Denmark, Finland, Australia and the European Union are all making new commitments to action, and will consult with national stakeholders inside and outside government, including civil society, multilateral organizations including UN Women and the World Bank, and the private sector, to identify and overcome key barriers to women’s political and economic participation.  This partnership promises to be groundbreaking not only for the countries involved but also for those who are watching its implementation.

USAID and its Center for Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance stands by to provide assistance to these countries as well as many others throughout the world as they work to advance women’s political participation and economic empowerment.

This is thrilling work that helps make the promise of development real for everyone–not just a privileged few.

Visa Joins Global Partnership

This post originally appeared on the Better Than Cash Blog

Today, Visa joins with six partners from government, the private sector and the international development community to launch the Better Than Cash Alliance. Working together with our other founding members – the United Nations Capital Development Fund, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Citi, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Omidyar Network – the Alliance will help bring many of the world’s 2.5 billion unbanked people into the financial mainstream by providing them with resources that are safer and more useful than physical cash.

Around the world, governments, the development community and the private sector are making billions of dollars in cash payments to the poor – in salaries, pensions, emergency relief, social aid and more. Making these payments in physical cash or in-kind goods costs poor people time and money and can be unsafe.

To begin with, people in developing countries often have to travel great distances just to collect cash payments. That can mean days away from work and their families and, worse, the risk of being robbed on the journey back. Delivering cash to poor recipients often involves several couriers – and if any of these intermediaries pocket part of the amount, cash is impossible to track.

For anyone without a bank account, cash also is hard to save. Shifting payments to electronic or mobile payments offers more security and convenience – and, more importantly, an onramp to financial inclusion by providing easier access to accounts they could use to save, get a loan or make payments of their own.

At Visa, we are proud of the work we are doing already around the world to help governments enable the electronic delivery of social benefits and other disbursements. For example, in Mexico, Visa works with the government-owned Bank of National Savings and Financial Savings (Bansefi) to distribute social program benefits via Visa debit and prepaid cards to 6.5 million people, giving recipients opportunities to use financial services to save, budget and improve their lives.

In the Dominican Republic, Visa and the government teamed up to boost the national financial inclusion rate and address theft and delay issues of government benefits by distributing reloadable Visa Solidaridad cards. Today, more than 800,000 people in the Dominican Republic receive their aid via Visa card—which also helps provide customers for local merchants as those citizens use their cards to pay for food, fuel and medicines.

Through this innovative partnership, Visa and our partners in the Alliance aim to provide governments, the development community and the private sector with the inspiration, technical expertise and financial support to commit to making the transition to electronic payments and unleash new potential to reduce poverty and promote economic development.

Learn more by visiting the Better Than Cash Alliance website.

Designing for Women: The Mobile Challenge

Imagine if you picked up a smartphone and didn’t know how to use it. What must it be like to have such a powerful device in the palm of your hand and not be able to utilize it? For many technically illiterate women in the developing world, navigating a smartphone or even a more basic feature phone is a real challenge.

Based on research performed in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda, as part of the GSMA mWomen Program, we know that on average, resource-poor women are 22% less likely to want a mobile phone because they would not know how to use it.  Yet we also know from other GSMA research that mobile phones afford women critical entrepreneurial opportunities, security, and a greater sense of family connection.

Mobile phone use in the developing world is exploding, yet women are at risk of being left behind, missing out on opportunities and services from education to healthcare.  Making the user experience easier would open up a multitude of possibilities. So what if there was a more intuitive way of navigating your phone?

The GSMA mWomen Program, as part of USAID’s mWomen Global Development Alliance, has set out to do just that by launching the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge: Redefining the User Experience at the third annual Social Good Summit in New York. Through submissions from the global design and developer community, the Design Challenge seeks to increase access to life enhancing mobile services so that regardless of someone’s skill level, they can pick up a phone and maximize its potential.

At the Social Good Summit, USAID, GSMA, AusAID, Qtel Group and the design firm Huge, shared possible approaches to solving this issue, by making the mobile user interface and experience more intuitive.  Mobile phones are a real game changer when it comes to tackling global challenges around the world but if the design does not change, hundreds of millions of women risk being left out in this next mobile revolution.  That is a risk we cannot afford to take.

And now, the good news…

As featured on DFID’s blog

As a journalist I spend a lot of time reporting on the developing world. To be honest, many of my stories focus on problems and failures, so when I was approached to moderate an event about the Millennium Development Goals during the UN General Assembly, to showcase solutions and successes, I couldn’t resist taking the project on.

Inspiration: Femi Oke talking to Dr Isatou Njie Saidy. Photo Credit: USAID

On paper, ‘MDG Countdown 2011, Successes and Innovations’ was impressive. The event co-hosts,  DFID and USAID,  had come up with an engaging mix of strong speakers, positive case studies and celebrity guests, all packed into a dynamic 90-minute presentation. It looked good on paper… On the day, as the highlights video shows, it was even better and I got to present some good news for a change.

Before taking the stage, I got some last-minute inspiration for my presentation from the first female Vice President of Gambia, Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy. Gambia’s success story at the event focused on progress in education. The country’s Children’s Act of 2005 established compulsory basic education as law and Gambia has seen impressive increases in the numbers of children enrolled for school – especially girls.

Read more.

FWD the Facts

On Saturday, September 24, 2011, I had the privilege to help organize a panel discussion at the United States Mission to the United Nations in NYC, followed by a presentation on the new USAID FWD the Facts campaign that had just been released a few days prior.  The panel consisted of civically engaged youth both domestically and globally and was moderated by Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero.  There were well over fifty young people in the audience ranging from college students to professionals.

Ross Seidman is a member of Youth Service America’s National Youth Council and Board of Directors, and the Youth Working Group to the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO. Photo Credit:Nicole Goldin/USAID

After the panel ended, we regrouped for a presentation and workshop led by Nicole Goldin of USAID (with collaborating representatives from the Ad Council and RGA) to educate the audience on the new FWD the Facts campaign.  It is a new effort that hopes to educate and engage the American public on the crisis affecting over 13 million people in the Horn of Africa.  After being presented with the facts and goals of the campaign the audience split up into three groups to discuss both the strengths and opportunities we saw.

We loved that the website is so simple and that it is so easy to become engaged in the initiative through the “ACTION” tab, specifically the “FWD Knowledge” download.  Many people also brought up the campaign’s opportunity to build connections through personal experiences of those living in the Horn of Africa.  This would motivate people to get involved as we want to see both the macro and micro dynamics of the situation.  Much of the conversation also centered around what college students could do on campus to bring awareness and action to the cause.  Ideas that floated around ranged from creating a network of “interns” on different campuses that could work with preexisting campus groups and administrators to finding corporate sponsorship to create an online interactive platform that could include a direct action piece via the web.  People also suggested an App and serious gaming.

It was an empowering opportunity to be a focus group for such a large initiative and have the ability to provide direct input and ideas to representatives from USAID, RGA, and the Ad Council.  Programs like this are exactly the types of things that make us feel directly involved in the process in a meaningful way.  These occasions are the motivation that many young people need to become involved in initiatives and some of the ideas from those in attendance have the potential to empower even more young people in meaningful leadership experiences through service-learning.  I know this was the beginning of the conversation, not the end, and I look forward to continuing the dialogue.

Ross Seidman is a freshman at the University of Maryland, a member of Youth Service America’s National Youth Council and Board of Directors and the Youth Working Group to the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO.

Social Media in International Development

If this week’s Social Good Summit in New York could only prove one point, it would be that social media has a crucial role to play in communicating the story of international development. Whether it is a blog, a tweet, or a large Facebook presence—social media is a way to actively engage the public on development issues.

A view of the Social Good Summit. Photo Credit: UN Foundation

The second annual summit, hosted by Mashable and the UN Foundation, brought innovative thinkers dedicated to solving the world’s biggest problems, such as famine, malaria, maternal health mortality, and child marriage, together with bloggers and social media types.

The four-day summit included a star-studded line up—from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to cycling legend Lance Armstrong. It was live streamed by Mashable, and bloggers and attendees watched the panel discussions and livetweeted throughout the event using the hashtag #socialgood. The conversation was viral with thousands actively participating around the world via Twitter.

The highlights of the week include USAID Administrator Raj Shah launching our new FWD campaign, which is a  digital campaign that showcases interactive maps to tell the story of crisis and response in the Horn of Africa. The website is a place where people can get the latest information, forward the facts, and find ways to do more.

Read the rest of this entry »

MDG Countdown 2011: Celebrating Success and Innovations

On Wednesday, September 21, USAID and UK development agency DFID co-hosted, “MDG Countdown 2011: Celebrating Successes and Innovations.” The event highlighted several game-changing programs and policies of countries that have made significant progress towards achieving the MDGs.

Along with Secretary Mitchell and Administrator Shah, featured speakers included: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson, The Elders Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Femi Oke, New York Public Radio (moderator). Checkout this highlights video to get more information.

USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (9/19/2011 – 9/23/2011)

September 19: The Huffington Post reports that at Mashable’s Social Good Summit, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah launched a new public engagement effort to raise awareness about the devastating famine in the Horn of Africa. Known as the FWD Campaign (Famine, War, Drought), the campaign aims to increase awareness and a call to action in the Horn of Africa

September 20: In an interview with PBS NewsHour, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah discussed the new Horn of Africa public awareness campaign, called FWD. Administrator Shah also provided an update on the crisis in Somalia and the new tools being implemented to track food prices throughout the region. A Reuters journalist also interviewed Administrator Shah, who discussed the use of innovative technology USAID is using to distribute food aid. In Somalia, cell phones have been used to help distribute mobile money for people to safely purchase food.

September 20: An op-ed written by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah was published in The Huffington Post. In it, Administrator Shah discusses the famine in the Horn of Africa introduces the new FWD campaign, asking people to “get informed, get engaged and forward this information on to their friends and families.

September 21: A USA Today article included a story about a USAID-hosted sports and development event that took place during the UN General Assembly. Former NBA All-Star Dikembe Mutombo, who has traveled extensively in Africa, spoke on a panel discussing the importance sports can play in international development. Mutombo was joined by former All-Star pitcher Pedro Martinez and four-time Olympic gold medal speedskater Johann Olav Koss.

September 21: Reuters and The New York Times reports that PepsiCo is partnering with USAID to provide chickpeas to target malnourished children in Ethiopia. PepsiCo unveiled the plan on Wednesday at the Clinton Global Initiative.

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