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From the Field

In Batticaloa, Sri Lanka we held a friendly cricket tournament between youth from the East and South  to mark International Peace Day.

In Jaffna, Sri Lanka we opened a collection center and distributed “freezer trucks” to farmers as part of USAID’s public-private alliances program.  This hand over of equipment, tools and grants will improve productivity and profitability of fruit and vegetable cultivation in the conflict-affected Northern Province. These partnerships will not only provide employment to young men and women in the conflict-affected districts but also offer training and social integration among members of diverse ethnic groups.

In Vavuniya, Sri Lanka under our Office of Transition Initiatives program, we will hand over a large truck  to recently resettled farmers in the North in a bid to enhance their marketing potential and to foster relations between the North and the South. Farmers will also receive water pumps and sprinklers on a credit basis.

In Iraq, as part of an ongoing effort to improve local governance and build local capacity, we held a competition for the best District Council website.  The websites will evaluated based on their content quality and quantity, layout/ organization, update frequency, and objectivity/reliability.

In Jordan, as part of our water resources management program, we began work at a new wastewater treatment plant.  Jordan is one of the ten most water-deprived countries in the world. The treatment plant will help improve the health and environmental conditions of the surrounding areas.

In the Ukraine, we will hold a 10th Anniversary celebration of Telekritika, a key media watchdog in Ukraine and a long-standing USAID partner. The celebration includes award ceremony to honor TV producers and TV journalists whose activities represent the highest ethical reporting standards to strengthening independent media in Ukraine.

All Hands on Open Data: Mapping the Famine

USAID is starting to take a new approach to the data we release – from the types of data we release to the public, to the ways we actually release it.

On Monday we launched a new campaign to raise awareness about the crisis in the Horn of Africa and, with it, released a set of open-source maps. Sharing this data in an interactive format allows visitors to our site to visualize the crisis in a whole new way and will in turn, we hope, help to create new ideas and solutions for fighting famine and drought.

Today, we want to highlight some of the ways other organizations have used this data released by USAID.

If you have seen maps of the drought and subsequent famine in the Horn of Africa, including those from our FWD campaign, they probably include color-coded areas that show the extent and severity of crisis. The areas hardest hit by the drought and famine are usually shown in a deep red color and concentrated in southern Somalia, in regions currently inaccessible to humanitarian assistance.  You also may have seen maps showing a decline in vegetation and rainfall levels over the past year.

The files and data used to make many of these maps come from two USAID-funded programs called the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or FEWS NET, and the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit, or FSNAU.  These two early warning systems use various data sources to provide timely and rigorous early warnings to the humanitarian community on emerging and evolving food security issues.

We are pleased to see that many organizations have used this data over the last several months to spread the word about the drought and the millions of people affected.

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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.

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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.

UK and US working ever closer together to reduce global poverty

In the run up to 2015, the British Government and the US are working with developing countries, the business world and public organisations to inspire action as we strive to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

To this end, we kicked off in New York this week with the first ever MDG Countdown event, highlighting game-changing programmes, policies and partnerships from around the world that could be replicated by others. We were thrilled with this first event that took place on 21 September during the UN General Assembly, with stories of transformational change from Brazil, Gambia, Zambia, Peru, Ethiopia, Nepal, Vietnam and the GAVI Alliance.

Many of these stories of change, innovation and success involve empowering girls and women. We know that investing in them reaps huge rewards. We want to see a generation of educated girls with greater economic opportunities and reduced risks of death and illness in pregnancy and childbirth. Educated women marry later, have fewer and healthier children and send those children to school. They are able to work and become the doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs who will propel their countries towards sustainable economic growth.

There is also much USAID and DFID are learning from each other to transform the impact of our own efforts to reduce poverty and make the world a more secure place. I am excited by Raj Shah’s USAID Forward agenda and the pioneering work USAID is doing on innovation for development. I’m delighted to be your guest at the USAID Development Forum townhall discussion today and welcome the chance to hear from USAID staff.

In May this year, Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama signed the US-UK Partnership for Global Development, marking a new era in our relationship. It sets out the areas where we will focus our collective efforts – combating poverty through economic growth, preventing conflict and improving global health, particularly for women.

With only four years to go until the deadline for meeting the MDGs, the time for warm words is over. We must take action to deliver real results for the world’s poor. We hope that the international development community is inspired by MDG Countdown and will make ambitious commitments to achieve better results at the upcoming High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in South Korea.

Googling Google on my way to the Open Government Partnership

On the sidelines of this week’s UN General Assembly, I experienced the “Power of Open.” Across town, at Google’s New York headquarters, I joined other U.S. and foreign government officials, high-tech entrepreneurs and executives, NGO activists as well as public and private donors to support the launch of the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

The participants at the meeting were a mix of the converted, long-time leaders in this movement of openness and data, as well as some, like me, who were more skeptical.  And no help: several of us also experienced the power of the wrong address. Perhaps we should have Googled how to get to Google; the address on the conference agenda was incorrect and had us wandering the (not unpleasant) halls of the Chelsea Market.  (At one point, I was directed to an elevator but a guard wouldn’t let me on because I didn’t have the right badge. Not very open.  After pursuing the low-tech approach—ask half a dozen strangers “where is Google?” which sounded like a trick question—I finally found it.)

Once fortified by excellent bagels and lox (the upside of the private-public partnership: food), but still skeptical, I settled in to listen and learn.

Let’s be clear. I am not in favor of opacity; I have been fighting for open societies and increased access to information for over two decades.  And my colleagues literally laugh at my inability to make it through an hour-long meeting without using the word “data.”

But until yesterday, the concept of “Open Government” has struck me as overly broad and unmoored. It seemed to mean everything to some and nothing to many.

I was particularly worried that “Open Government” might be an easy out for authoritarian regimes.  Instead of talking about democracy or human rights, not very nice regimes might gravitate instead toward puffed up pronouncements about how their government had automated the paper procurement process (not that that is bad.)  Would the OGP really have an effect on people’s lives?  And more directly, how did this effort mesh with what we are doing at USAID advancing democracy, human rights, and governance?

I came away a convert.

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Administrator Shah at the Social Good Summit

You can learn more about the FWD public awareness campaign at FWD the Facts about Famine, War, and Drought in the Horn of Africa and by visiting FWD.

USAID Impact @ UN General Assembly in New York

Every year, USAID plays an important role in the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York. This year is the 66th session of the Assembly and our USAID Impact blog is dedicated to giving you updates.

The United Nations. Photo Credit: Jesse Thomas/USAID

This week from September 19-23, USAID Administrator Raj Shah and  other Agency leaders will participate in several events. This year’s Assembly has a special focus on non-communicable diseases, a major cause of death in both the developing and non-developing world. USAID recognizes that non-communicable diseases represent an urgent and growing global public health concern, and works with host countries and other donors to build sustainable health systems responsive to the full range of health issues.

On Monday September 19, Shah will appear at the second annual SocialGoodSummit, presented byMashable,92Y and the UNFoundation.

“Held at the heart of UN week, the Summit is where big ideas meet new media to create innovative solutions. The Social Good 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. It ignites conversations between a live audience in New York City and thousands around the world participating via Livestream.” We will be live streaming his participation on Impact. To find out the agenda of the Social Good Summit, click here.

Administrator Shah’s appearance at the Social Good Summit will highlight USAID’s response to the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa and will present new ways to get informed, connected, and engaged with the crisis using new media tools. You can watch his appearance live at 3:45 PM right here on the Impact blog.

The Agency will also be hosting two marquee events.  On Tuesday September 20, we will highlight the innovative ways sport is being used to accomplish a wide range of development goals in an event to feature baseball legend Pedro Martinez and basketball legend Dikembe Mutombo. The following day, in conjunction with UK development agency DFID, USAID will highlight several game-changing programs, policies, and partnerships of countries that have made progress towards achieving the poverty-reduction MillenniumDevelopmentGoals, which were hashed out by world leaders before the UN General Assembly in 2000.

Dispatches, blogs, stories and video related to USAID’s UNGA participation and programs will be found all week on the ImpactBlog.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube as we will also be providing real-time updates of events! We look forward to creating a conversation with you all on social media! If you are tweeting about the UN General Assembly, please use the hashtag #UNGA and if you are tweeting about the Social Good Summit, please use #SocialGood.

USAID in the News: Weekly Briefing (9/12/2011 – 9/16/2011)

September 9: Last Friday, The Christian Science Monitor published a story about one of USAID’s partners that is connecting mobile phone users with aid and relief workers in the Middle East. The article explains how text messaging is enabling development workers to learn what’s happening in the region and give out information on where people can find aid. The use of mobile phones in development is on the rise, as phones can now be used as ATM cards and can also send weather alerts rural farmers.

September 15: In an op-ed published in The Hill, Ret. USMC General Michael Hagee and Ret. USCG Admiral James Loy discussed the importance of maintaining a strong development program, including USAID, to address global challenges. “America cannot retreat from today’s world, which is why military leaders from General Petraeus to Admiral Mullen have made clear that, in an era of global threats, U.S. national security requires strong civilian partners working alongside the military.”

This Week at USAID – September 6, 2011

After a hiatus, we will be continuing the “This Week at USAID” series on the first day of the work week.

Thursday, September 8th is International Literacy Day. The Center for Universal Education at Brookings, the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative, and USAID will mark the day by hosting a series of panel discussions on how a range of education stakeholders are addressing the challenge of improving literacy, particularly at lower primary levels, to help fulfill the promise of quality education for all.

Stephen Haykin will be sworn-in as USAID Mission Director to Georgia.

Raja Jandhyala, USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Africa, will testify before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights on the long-term needs in East Africa.

Alex Their, USAID’s Assistant to the Administrator and Director of the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, will testify before U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on development programs in Afghanistan.

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