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Major League Soccer Envoys Bring Olympic-size Excitement to Camp in Eastern Ethiopia

Aug. 12 is International Youth Day, and this year’s theme is “Building a Better World by Partnering with Youth.” As an intern with USAID’s Outreach Program in Ethiopia, I recently spent a week working with 560 young people between ages 13 and 20 doing just that. I helped the U.S. Embassy’s Cultural Affairs Team run a weeklong soccer camp co-sponsored by Sports United and featuring two sports envoys from Major League Soccer: Tony Sanneh and Kate Markgraf.

The State Department’s sports diplomacy program sends American athletes around the world to transcend differences by engaging people with a shared passion for a sport. Forty-four percent of Ethiopia’s population is under the age of 15, so youth development is an integral part of Ethiopia’s development. When asked why he does sports diplomacy, Sanneh, a retired Los Angeles Galaxy player, said, “If kids can learn to stand in line, learn the rules of the game, it translates to the classroom and society.”

Growing up in the United States, I went to summer camp with that American notion of “roughing it.” At this camp however, the participants, coaches and volunteers came from Harar, Dire Dawa and Jijiga, areas of eastern Ethiopia that are susceptible to ethnic and religious tensions. Three hundred and fifty campers were Muslim, and 210 were Christian.

As world attention turns to the London 2012 Summer Olympics, Ethiopian girls were coached and inspired on a daily basis by Markgraf, a three-time Olympian with two gold medals and one silver.  Markgraf remarked on her experience at the camp, saying, “The great thing about soccer is that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what color you are, what gender you are, it brings us all together.”

After the soccer clinics, the Embassy’s cultural attaché, Jason Martin, and staff led daily discussions on social values, peer pressure, American history and good environmental practices. At night the kids would compete as much as they did on the field during the day, dancing to popular Ethiopian music.

On the last day, I asked a girl from Harar named Leyman Jirb Mume if she had had fun, and she said: “I am so happy that I was able to come to this camp and make friends from Jijiga and Dire Dawa. I would never have been able to do that without this program; it makes me so happy.”

For my part, I learned what “roughing it” really means. In addition to braving the scorching heat, many at this camp were very poor, but that didn’t dampen their enthusiastic participation: Some boys and girls even played in flip-flops or barefoot. Markgraf marveled at the level of excitement over soccer balls donated by USAID, saying:  “I think my most memorable experience has been seeing the excitement of the kids when they come off the bus and they each have a soccer ball to play with. We take that for granted in the U.S., but [here] it is something to have an inflated ball that is brand new; that excitement is something I have never seen.”

Timor-Leste Administers Own Elections

On July 7, I went to the polls—along with my fellow citizens of Timor-Leste—to participate in a notable election:  not only did we elect a new parliament for the second time in our young country’s history, but we also voted in general elections that for the first time were managed and run entirely by Timorese institutions. As was widely anticipated, the elections were peaceful and the turnout was high, at about 75 percent.

My country’s independent conduct of free and fair elections demonstrated our government’s commitment to further consolidating our still-young, but vibrant democracy. I am proud that Timor-Leste was able to achieve this milestone just 10 years after the restoration of its independence.

As a Foreign Service National working with USAID, I am also proud about what this election demonstrates about USAID’s efforts to promote sustainability and local ownership in our programs. For the past 10 years, USAID has laid the groundwork for this day by supporting Timor-Leste in developing robust democratic institutions and processes. That work paid off on July 7.

Several Timorese institutions deserve credit for the successful Election Day—namely, the National Electoral Commission and the Technical Secretarial for Elections Administration, which administered the electoral processes. The National Police maintained security and tranquility not only on Election Day, but also during the periods before and after the election.

Although the elections were administered without international assistance, the Timorese government and public did welcome international observers. USAID funded a team of 20 international observers who covered every district throughout the country. Through the International Republican Institute (IRI), we also provided training to 1,700 domestic observers—members of a local non-governmental organization, the Observatorio da Igreja Para Os Assuntos Socials (OIPAS)—who were successfully deployed to every polling station across the country.

Before the election, USAID funded civic and voter education activities that familiarized voters with the elections procedures and processes and helped them to better understand the different platforms and programs proposed by the parties and coalitions competing in the election. And three weeks before the election, USAID deployed a separate team of observers to assess the pre-election atmosphere.

Timor-Leste’s successful elections are indeed a feather in the cap of my country. They are also a great example of what happens when USAID’s development programs work as they should, by strengthening the ability of local actors to carry out important work on their own for the long term.

Video of the Week: Abby Wambach named USAID Development Champion

Today we announced that U.S. Olympic soccer star Abby Wambach will serve as the agency’s first-ever Development Champion. In this role, Wambach will raise awareness of the work USAID is undertaking to improve the lives of young women and girls through sport around the world.

Watch this video for a special message from Abby recorded before she left to London to compete as part of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Soccer Team.

Learn more about USAID’s work using sport for development.

Thinking Across Borders in Southeast Asia

Earlier this month, I traveled to Cambodia to join Secretary Clinton at the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial meetings where we launched “LMI 2020” – a deepening of the United States’ commitment to  Southeast Asia through a set of new activities aimed at strengthening regional coordination on development challenges facing the Lower Mekong region. 

“LMI 2020” seeks to advance knowledge and understanding of the environmental and health implications of economic and infrastructure development along the Mekong River, one of the most bio-diverse fresh-water ecosystems on the planet, as well as to strengthen the capacity and coordination of government, civil society and academic/research institutions in the region on these issues.  These new assistance programs support the LMI pillars of environment, education, health and connectivity which are co-chaired respectively by Viet Nam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.  But one of the most exciting outcomes was the formal welcome of Burma as a full participant in the Lower Mekong Initiative and the adoption of a fifth pillar on Agriculture and Food Security that Burma will co-chair.

The Lower Mekong Initiative was launched in 2009 as a framework for addressing the transnational challenges posed by infrastructure development along the Mekong River and a way to share information and analysis and to improve coordination amongst the countries in the region as well as donors.  Hence a parallel effort, bringing together the “Friends of the Lower Mekong” (FLM) around the table with the Mekong countries, has also become a critical way of aligning programs and policies.  I was struck by how far our partnerships under the LMI framework have progressed in the three years since it was launched. LMI partners now regularly discuss challenges with each other, at the highest political levels as well as in technical working group meetings, on issues such as the impact of proposed hydropower projects on the main stem of the Mekong River, or the need to coordinate to fight emerging pandemic threats.

After several days of productive meetings in Phnom Penh surrounding the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial meetings, I then traveled to Siem Reap  to participate in  the Lower Mekong Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue, which USAID co-hosted along with the State Department and the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs to highlight the role of women in the fostering sustainable development in the Mekong region. Secretary Clinton gave an inspiring speech on women’s rights as workers and the need to ensure opportunities for all girls and women. USAID has committed to support women leaders in the region to build a network to address critical transnational issues, such as environmental resources management.  Listening to the dynamic and vibrant women participants at the conference, it was clear to me that the potential in the region to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth could not be achieved without the full and active participation of women.

For more information, see the fact sheets on LMIthe Asia Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative (APSEI) and more at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/index.htm

Latest Issue of USAID Newsletter

USAID logo and Impact Newsletter header

This week’s Impact newsletter features coverage of USAID participation in the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., the 2012 Global Diaspora Forum, the response to famine in the Horn of Africa, and a link to the latest issue of FrontLines.  You can also see recent media coverage in the USAID in the News section.

Stay connected with USAID by signing up for the Impact Newsletter.

Mexican Diaspora Leader Gives Back Green

The Impact Blog interviewed Luis Aguirre-Torres, CEO of GreenMomentum and recipient of the White House’s Champion of Change award. He partners with USAID in his homeland of Mexico to help foster green companies. 

You have been extremely successful in helping companies become green, why is it important for you to give back to your native country of Mexico?

After several years of living abroad, I found myself in a position to give back to the country that gave me an education and inspired me to continue moving forward. I have a personal believe that the future is something we work towards and not something that simply one day magically appears. Before I always imagined a better future than what the present turned out to be; today, I understand that the future will only be different if we take an active role in making it happen. What better place to reinvent the future than my country of origin.

What is the Cleantech Challenge and how did it come about?

The Cleantech Challenge was originally conceived as a green business plan competition. However, today it has become an open forum for investors, entrepreneurs, government and development agencies to share ideas on how to develop clean technology, how to finance it and how to accelerate its implementation. It was first conceptualized after a conversation with the Director of the UNEP a few years ago, when he challenged me and my team to do something different that could impact the Mexican economy. A few weeks later, the Cleantech Challenge was born.

What would a surge in green companies in Latin America mean for the region?

We are currently seeing a surge in green companies in Mexico. This has been echoed by other countries like Colombia, Chile and Argentina, among others. For all these countries, it represents an opportunity to become part of the world’s new green economy. As it has happened in other countries, it could also lead to a surge in investment opportunities and the development of new government policies. This could accelerate economic growth through the creation of new business and job opportunities, having therefore a direct impact on the competitiveness of the region as a whole.

Do you think Latin America faces unique challenges regarding greenhouse gas emissions compared to the rest of the world?

Latin America faces a series of challenges regarding climate change. It has to develop new and more reliable mechanisms for financing the implementation of adaptation and mitigation programs. Specifically, it has to find a way of fighting climate change without negatively impacting economic growth and increasing the region’s competitiveness.

The White House just honored you with a Champion of Change award, what does this mean for you?

This has been a great experience. I feel humbled and forever grateful to those who from the beginning believed in this project. The recognition from the White House means the world to us, not only because it validates our efforts during the past four years, but also because it has allowed us to share it with the American people and the rest of the world. It has inspired me to continue working and to work towards newer and bigger things.

To read more, visit the White House’s Champions of Change webpage.

Ask the Expert: Administrator Shah on the AIDS fight

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Originally published at Global Pulse, by John Donnelly and Charles M. Sennott.

Q: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced this week that the administration would be put together a blueprint in five months for an “AIDS-free generation.” She first announced this vision eight months ago. Why does it take 13 months to put together a plan?

A: Let’s start with the goal. We were all very committed to create an AIDS-free generation. … We want to take a very honest and rigorous approach. We know it will require resources. We know it requires a great deal of local knowledge and development insights to say which communities are transmitting the most, how are we going to reach them, how do you reach people who are not as symptomatic? And what are the implementation strategies that are going to allow us to target and maximize outcomes against this goal?

We are trying to step through that in a very rigorous way. We are not holding anything up by doing that analysis. We’re embarking on an aggressive scale up of treatment, of prevention, of country ownership, of investing in country systems, even as we craft a blueprint that completely guides this country and our global partners for sometime in the immediate future.

Q: Is there a need for a blueprint, and is there wisdom in waiting for the results from the HIV combination prevention trials, which will test different approaches to reduce infections all at once?

A: The HIV combination prevention trial in Tanzania is particularly important because that’s probably the largest scale among them. It’s going to add a great deal of knowledge and data. But the reality is the pathway that defines success is going to look different based on the unique characteristics of the pandemic in countries and in communities. We need to do those trials and learn from them. We also are moving ahead with the aggressive presumption that combination prevention, including treatment as prevention, can be an effective strategy to get to an AIDS-free generation.

Q: Regarding male circumcision, you’ve had some problems in creating demand, such as what you’ve seen in Swaziland. What approach do you use now?

A: We need to apply more local insight, partnership with local institutions, better understanding of local behaviors and cultural preferences in how we scale up male circumcision programs. It is a medical intervention that has lots of data to substantiate its efficacy, but it is also a very personal and very significant cultural statement that we even in the United States in parts of our country debate and struggle with.

The big lesson learned is to take a little bit of time to be consultative with local partners who really know and are from the cultures in which we hope to scale up access to the intervention. I think we are working in the context of an aggressive scale up of male circumcision.

Q: The closing of the Global Health Initiative office ended the original dream of moving GHI to USAID. Are you disappointed that the dream didn’t materialize?

A: I kind of focus on what works and what doesn’t work, and what’s necessary to achieve our goals at a particular time. Our administration has set three critical health goals for our work: an AIDS-free generation; child survival call to action and eliminating preventable childhood death; and the virtual elimination or significant reduction of mothers who die in childbirth.

But what we learned in order to achieve them, we can’t have the current situation, where the US is keeping its funding constant in a tough global economy, but others are doing a little bit less. We know we need to have more focus and a more integrated approach. In the call to action we bring together malaria, preventing infections from mother to child, nutrition during the first 1000 days, GAVI and other immunization, and therapy for pneumonia and diarrhea. Let’s think of these as a combination approach to achieve the results of saving 5.5 million kids.

I know from my conversations with the president and the secretary that that’s their expectation — we are delivering on that. So, you know, the organizational structuring of it evolved in order to take on these goals and to address these challenges that were in our midst. Remember, GHI was launched before funding challenges existed both for US and abroad, and I think this is responsive to the reality of what’s needed.

Q: But GHI was perceived as the signature global health program of the Obama administration.

A: Just because we don’t have a Global Health Initiative coordinator at the State Department anymore doesn’t mean we don’t have a Global Health Initiative. We believe this structural approach will be more effective in delivering the kind of integration across services that we think is at the crux of getting health outcomes for the same resources, which is what GHI is about. It is true: We had a structure, we didn’t think it was the right structure to deal with the challenges going forward. We made changes to that, but we are absolutely committed to the GHI, to the goals we’ve established and to the concept of integrating service delivery to drive better results.

Q: At a panel at the Kaiser Family Foundation, Mike McCurry called on the Obama administration to articulate one clear global health goal – not three or five. But one. What do you think of that?

A: Mike was dead right. We got to this point by focusing on immunization, focusing on getting malaria bed nets to kids, focusing on HIV/AIDS. We still need to do that. But going forward, as Mike suggested, we need integrating concepts, concepts that people can be inspired by, that are operational and real, but that bring things together so that we are not competing with each other and instead grow enthusiasm for the overall effort.

That’s what the call to action for childhood survival was all about. You see 80 countries show up in the Washington meeting, co-hosted by India, Ethiopia and the United States. Fifty-six countries signed a pledge to eliminate preventable childhood deaths. Probably 20 some have already published scorecards to demonstrate how they are going to measure that. The US agencies and others have all agree to highlight the annual rate of reduction in childhood deaths as an operational metric to focus on across all of our grants. That’s the kind of coming together around something big, inspiring, and very genuinely country driven that I think will define success in the next decade for global health.

Q: Why did the call to action work then?

A: I don’t know the analysis, I just know the answer to the question. It’s somehow the energy is coming from the countries. We had a mid-level delegation from Yemen come to the Washington meeting, and they were so inspired that when they got back, when I got to Yemen the next week, the president of Yemen and deputy health minister both approached me and said, ‘We want to be part of this call to action. We looked to our statistics, we feel we can do better.’ When that happens, and that’s the demand signal we’re getting, that to me is what this should all be about, as opposed to our trying to construct something that then we ask others to respond.

Q: The phrase ‘turning point’ is used a lot when it comes to the AIDS epidemic. Do you use that phrase, and if so, why is it a turning point?

A: Well, the pandemic, the turning point, my understanding, the way I use it, is to refer to a specific moment when the number of global new infections is lower than the number of people added to treatment. Every year after that, you are reducing the number of people with the disease. We are not there. We are still in situation where the aggregate number of people with the disease is growing, so the turning point is a very important concept because once you hit that point you are on the decline and you can legitimately say we’re working statistically downhill toward zero. But the drivers of the turning point are what’s critical. That’s where you see that expanding prevention in a focused way that reaches the most transmitting populations is critical to achieving the turning point. And expanding efforts that effectively reduce risky behaviors so that you don’t have another turning point, and go back up again, are all critical to solve AIDS over the long term. So I think it’s a very viable concept.

SMARTgirl Empowers Women in Cambodia

Originally posted to the FHI360 blog.  

Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, joined Assistant Administrator for Asia, Nisha Biswal for a special visit to the SMARTgirl project in Cambodia, a USAID funded project led by FHI 360. SMARTgirl aims to prevent and mitigate the impact of HIV and improve the sexual and reproductive health of entertainment workers, many of whom are sex workers. There are an estimated 35,000 entertainment workers in Cambodia, working at night clubs, bars, massage parlors, karaoke clubs (KTV), restaurants, beer gardens, as well as on the street. Prevalence of HIV is as high as 14 percent, among some groups of entertainment workers.

SMARTgirl stands apart from other programming among entertainment workers in Cambodia because of its positive, non-stigmatizing approach. It combines evidence-based interventions with the strong SMARTgirl brand, which empowers women to protect their health and well-being. SMARTgirl reaches nearly half of all EWs in Cambodia in their workplace, because it treats them respectfully, recognizes what is important to them and improves health-seeking behavior by raising self-esteem.

SMARTgirl is one of a number of projects that validates what the international community and national leaders have been emphasizing for more than a decade— that empowering women and girls are vital components of human development. Since coming into office, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, as well as Ambassador Verveer, have continually underscored the importance of integrating these issues into Department of State foreign policy objectives.

During Secretary Clinton’s recent ASEAN development meeting in Phnom Penh, she was influential in integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment into the Lower Mekong Initiative agenda. In a statement, she emphasized the importance of reproductive rights for achieving gender equality; an area that the innovative FHI 360 SMARTgirl program has been integrating into its HIV mitigation program:

“Reproductive rights are among the most basic of human rights. … Millions of women and young people in developing countries don’t have access to information to plan their family. They don’t have health services and modern methods of contraception. This is not only a violation of their right…it’s also a question of equity as women everywhere should have the same ability to determine this fundamental part of their lives.”

As this short video on SMARTgirl reveals, the women in the program feel inspired, often for the first time. They see themselves as “smart girls”– women who are empowered to change their lives, and educate others about health issues and rights.

Says Kheng, “Before I became a SMARTgirl leader, I used to face issues on my own, … but we have the right to help each other and we have to participate in the community where we live.”

An “IdEA” That Runs Deep: Engaging America’s Diaspora Communities

Growing up, John Henry Thompson was fascinated by technology. His family’s farm in Jamaica had no running water or electricity. But when he immigrated to New York with his parents at the age of 12, he quickly proved his technological aptitude. He devoured books on electricity and the latest editions of “Popular Mechanic.” For his seventh grade science fair, he built a rudimentary computing device. This science fair marked the beginning of what would become a lifelong passion for computer programming.

There are many “John Henry”‘s from India to Colombia to the Philippines who have come to the United States to learn and create new futures. Currently, more than 60 million Americans are first- or second-generation Diasporas, and many of them have close ties to countries with critical needs. Instead of just sending money back home, imagine what they could do to help improve the lives and change futures.

Like John Henry, his homeland of Jamaica has come a long way in the past few decades. Yet he knows that Jamaicans haven’t leveraged that mobile lead into greater economic prosperity and better health. He knows that Jamaica can do better. And he wants to ensure that future generations of Jamaicans have the tools they need to compete in the global knowledge economy.

This is why he became a volunteer mentor and trainer for the Digital Jam 2.0 Mobile Applications Competition. Sponsored by the Government of Jamaica and the World Bank, the Mobile App Competition combined both a competition and educational workshops for app developers. As trainer, John Henry helped young developers gain the tools they needed to build effective native mobile applications.

This passion to give back to their homelands is what makes the potential for diaspora communities’ engagement in development so powerful. From their language skills and cultural familiarity to professional networks and personal ties, the diaspora community has the potential to be a significant people-to-people asset for positive development impact. If we can deepen and expand diaspora outreach, we can develop stronger bonds with other nations — through their civil societies, business leaders, inventors, and scientists. We can do things that USAID working alone never could.

That’s why USAID joined with the U.S. Department of State in 2011 to launch the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA). Recognizing the powerful yet untapped potential of diasporas in development, IdEA seeks to deepen America’s engagement and partnership with diaspora communities.

To further advance our work with diaspora communities, USAID, the U.S. Department of State, and IdEA are hosting the second Global Diaspora Forum, an annual celebration of America’s diaspora communities, July 25-26. The Forum is focused on how new technology can empower and increase diaspora philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, volunteerism, and social innovation. I encourage you to visit IdEA’s website to watch live streaming videos from the Forum and read more about diaspora communities’ contributions to their countries of origin and America’s diplomatic relationships and development commitments worldwide.

A Vaccine to Help End the AIDS Pandemic

A new energy animates the hallways of the Washington Convention Center this week, as leaders and advocates commit to a goal once thought impossible: ending the AIDS pandemic.

Indonesian volunteers light candles during a ceremony to mark World AIDS Day in Jakarta. Photo Credit: Adek Berry/AFP

Attendees at the AIDS 2012 Conference here in Washington, and at conference hubs from Nairobi to Chennai, are telling the world that we can end the AIDS pandemic. Among the astonishing accomplishments in our battles against other infectious diseases that allow us to believe this bold claim, is the long-sought eradication of polio. The world learned in January that one of the last holdouts of this viral disease – India – has not recorded a single new case of natural polio infection for more than one year.  Polio still needs to be defeated in a small number of countries, but one of its most stubborn reservoirs of the virus is clearly being drained. That is no small feat.

How was this extraordinary feat accomplished?

In short: through massive immunization campaigns and people working together around the world to end a common threat.

HIV is, admittedly, a far more challenging foe. The virus attacks our body’s immune cells, changes its appearance ceaselessly and incorporates itself into our DNA, where it cannot be extinguished. The deviousness of HIV has long challenged the brightest minds of science. But it is nonetheless a challenge that can be overcome—if, that is, we commit ourselves to supporting research and building on the progress scientists have made so far.

In the last three years alone, clinical studies have demonstrated that preventive HIV vaccines and microbicides are possible. Other research has shown that antiretroviral therapies can be used in various ways to prevent HIV transmission as well. Meanwhile, voluntary medical male circumcision is increasingly being used to reduce the risk of HIV infection.

Each and every one of these strategies must be added to the existing toolkit for HIV prevention—and used together as a tour de force—if we are to end the AIDS pandemic.

New impact modeling, conducted jointly by the Futures Institute and IAVI, suggests that the full implementation of the UNAIDS Investment Framework by 2015 could help turn the tide of this pandemic. The subsequent development and deployment of a broadly effective AIDS vaccine could then further bend the curve and bring us closer to truly ending the AIDS pandemic.

Recent advances have fueled optimism and lent a new momentum to the field of HIV vaccine R&D. This momentum must be sustained. IAVI and its many partners around the world are racing to build on this progress. We invite you to join us in our efforts.

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