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An Unprecedented Response to the Ebola Crisis

The Ebola crisis has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established

The Ebola crisis has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established. / Morgana Wingard

Today the world is facing the largest and most-protracted Ebola epidemic in history. Yesterday, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Obama declared the Ebola epidemic in West Africa a top national security priority and announced a clear, comprehensive, and global strategy to stop the outbreak.

“Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace. We’re prepared to take leadership on this to provide the kinds of capabilities that only America has, and to mobilize the world in ways that only America can do.  That’s what we’re doing as we speak.”

The United States has been combating the Ebola epidemic since the first cases were reported in March, and we have expanded our efforts and increased personnel in the region as the crisis has unfolded. More than 120 specialists from across the U.S. Government are on the ground in West Africa to prevent, detect, and stop the spread of this disease. USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team—or DART—to the region to oversee and coordinate the U.S. response, providing logistics, planning, program, and operational support to the affected countries; drawing forth critical assets and resources from several U.S. departments and agencies.

This crisis continues to escalate exponentially and requires an intensified speed and scale of response to address a rising rate of infection. It has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established. Heroic doctors, nurses, and health workers are stretched to their personal and professional limits.

Against this landscape of overwhelming despair, there is hope. As the President declared in Atlanta:

“The world knows how to fight this disease. It’s not a mystery. We know the science.  We know how to prevent it from spreading. We know how to care for those who contract it.  We know that if we take the proper steps, we can save lives. But we have to act fast.“

That’s why yesterday afternoon President Obama announced a significant expansion of our response.

In an Ebola crisis, chlorine is used to disinfect areas that people infected with the virus may have come in contact with.

In an Ebola outbreak, chlorine is used to disinfect areas that people infected with the virus may have come in contact with. / Morgana Wingard

Through a whole-of-government approach, we’re mounting an aggressive U.S. effort to fight this epidemic and have devised a clear strategy with four key pillars to stop this epic crisis:

  • Controlling the epidemic;
  • Mitigating second-order impacts, including blunting the economic, social, and political tolls;
  • Coordinating the U.S. and broader global response; and
  • Fortifying global health security infrastructure in the region and beyond.

Our goal is to enable the most effective international response possible, using our government-wide capabilities to fight the epidemic on a regional basis. Our current efforts have focused on controlling the spread of the disease—bringing in labs for specimen testing; supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief supplies; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; supporting burial teams who are safely managing human remains to prevent transmission; and spearheading mass public awareness campaigns with communities to describe how to prevent, detect, and treat Ebola.

To complement these efforts, the President also announced the launch of the USAID-led Community Care Campaign, which will aim to provide every family and every community the critical information and basic items that can help protect them from this deadly virus.  Information will stress the importance of sick families members seeking help at a clinic or Ebola treatment unit and how to exercise basic infection control that can be life-saving, such as washing hands or not washing their dead relatives. Items like soap and chlorine can reduce transmission. Women are especially important to reach given their traditional role in washing the bodies of dead relatives — a prime transmission route of the virus. To reach people with low literacy, the campaign will train health volunteers and community leaders on how best to verbally provide messages to their neighbors.

Partnering with the affected countries, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and organizations on the ground, USAID will initially target 400,000 of the highest risk households in Liberia with this vital training and important tools.

The campaign is also rooted in a sobering reality. Half of all people who get sick don’t seek treatment at hospitals or Ebola treatment units. Many are frightened by rumors and deterred from traveling to hospitals where their friends and neighbors are taken and never return. A complex array of traditional beliefs and practices mean many of those who should seek help choose to stay in their homes – often putting those family members who care for them at risk.

The Ebola crisis is wreaking havoc on West Africa’s health care system. USAID is focused on supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief and medical supplies; training health care workers; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; and supporting public messaging with communities on how to prevent, detect and treat Ebola.

The Ebola epidemic is wreaking havoc on West Africa’s health care system. USAID is focused on supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief and medical supplies; training health care workers; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; and supporting public messaging with communities on how to prevent, detect and treat Ebola. / Morgana Wingard

This week, working alongside the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, we will airlift 50,000 USAID-funded home health care kits to be delivered to some of the most isolated and vulnerable communities in Liberia. We will simultaneously work with every part of society to educate people on how to prevent and detect Ebola through mass public awareness campaigns supported by radio, text, television and community announcements. As we scale up our response, the only way the virus will be controlled is if we make concerted efforts to reach every community, and every home in the affected areas.

We know tough months lie ahead. It will require a coordinated effort by the entire global community to help stem this terrible public health crisis. But every outbreak of Ebola in the last 40 years has been stopped, and this one will be, as well.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Lindborg is the USAID Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

Pearl Harbor Day – A Remembrance

The balcony outside the “Flag Mess,” or Admiral’s dining room, on the sixth floor of the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM), offers one of the most all-encompassing views of Honolulu and the southern coast of the island of Oahu in Hawaii.  From the Diamond Head promontory on the far left (familiar to fans of Hawaii 5-0) through Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, to Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field, on to the Waianae mountains to the far right, on a sunny December morning it is hard to envision how different the scene would have been 72 years ago.

December 7, 1941 – the “day that will live in infamy” in the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – saw the Japanese Imperial Navy attack on Pearl Harbor and many other U.S. military installations on Oahu.  A Hawaiian friend, now 85 years old, was a schoolgirl at the time.  She remembers the sound of the attack and running out onto the lawns of the Kamehameha School – the first school established for native Hawaiians – to see the Japanese planes bombing the U.S. fleet at Pearl, an experience that left indelible memories.

Sailors man the rails as the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) enters Pearl Harbor. Nimitz is in Pearl Harbor for a scheduled port visit during their transit home after an eight-month deployment to the U.S. 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility.

Sailors man the rails as the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) enters Pearl Harbor. Nimitz is in Pearl Harbor for a scheduled port visit during their transit home after an eight-month deployment to the U.S. 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility. Photo Credit: Seaman Apprentice Kelly M. Agee

Other witnesses to the attack, who survived and lived to fight in the Pacific campaign, are fewer and fewer every year.  They still return, some to spend eternity with their fallen comrades.  In a solemn ceremony, survivors who served on the USS Arizona can have their cremated remains entombed within the hull of the ship – approximately three dozen have done so, joining the more than 1,100 who went down with their ship.

These days, the job of protecting American interests in the USPACOM area of responsibility (AOR) falls to the people of USPACOM and the four service commands.  It is a massive job – the AOR reaches from the west coast of the U.S. to the western borders of China and India, more than 50% of the surface area of the world.  With 60% of the world’s population, the world’s five largest militaries, five of the world total of seven U.S. mutual defense treaty allies, and sea lanes through which the bulk of world commerce passes, the region is vital to U.S. national interests.

The importance that USAID places on our partnership with USPACOM is demonstrated by the assignment of four USAID advisors to the Command – two Development Advisors and two Humanitarian Assistance Advisors.  Working closely together, we are committed to advancing U.S. national interests and USAID developmental objectives in this critical part of the world –responding to humanitarian disasters, building host nation capacity to counter instability and violent  extremism; mitigating the effects of climate change; and countering illicit trafficking; and  promoting stability, good governance, and regional cooperation in Asia. Although this cooperation takes many forms, it is usually most visible when military forces respond to a USAID and host nation request for support with disaster assistance programs, as was the case just last month when the strongest typhoon to ever hit land devastated parts of the Philippines.

As we pause to remember the sacrifice of those who fell here 72 years ago, we should also remember that the people of USAID and USPACOM continue to work in peaceful ways to achieve the ideals for which our fathers and grandfathers fought not so long ago.

Richard Hough is the USAID Senior Development Advisor to U.S. Pacific Command. A career Foreign Service Officer, he works to maximize interagency cooperation and develop solutions to developmental challenges faced by both civilian and military agencies.  His international career has spanned more than thirty years, with assignments in Africa, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Richard served as USAID Mission Director in Romania and Yugoslavia (Serbia/Montenegro), opening the missions in each country in the immediate post-communist period and managing significant democratic, social and economic transition programs, including pro-democracy support that was instrumental in removing President Milosevic from power.  As Director of Programming for the USAID Missions to Indonesia and the West Bank and Gaza (Palestine), he managed the development of a new, post-9/11 strategy for USAID programs in Indonesia, the fourth largest country, with the largest Muslim population, in the world.  Following the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 26, 2004 Richard developed a $400 million recovery and reconstruction plan for the province of Aceh.  In Palestine he managed a $2 billion development assistance portfolio that supported the Israeli-Arab peace process.  He is married to Jill Gulliksen, an international development professional with thirty years of program management experience; they have two grown children.

From the Field in Pakistan: Catch of a Lifetime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about USAID’s work in Pakistan.

From the Field in Madagascar: USAID Food Security Program Improves Livelihoods

As part of USAID’s 52nd birthday celebration, USAID/Madagascar shares a story of one woman who has benefited from a food security project. 

Sitting in the shade of an old mango tree, a group of villagers is intently listening to a middle-aged woman reading aloud from a booklet in her hands. The woman is Philomène, the ‘Treasurer’ of the local Village Savings and Loans association, and she is making her weekly report to the members.

Philomène (4th from left) volunteered to keep the VSL association’s books Photo credit: CARE International/Madagascar

Philomène (4th from left) volunteered to keep the VSL association’s books
Photo credit: CARE International/Madagascar

We heard about Philomène during a field visit to a food security project implemented by our partner CRS. The team was in a small village called Ampasimbola, in eastern Madagascar. Philomène is a farmer and she has been tilling the land for as long as she can remember. She is a single mother of six children, four of which are still in school.

Although Philomène puts a lot of effort into her work, she hardly produced enough food to feed her family. It was a challenge for her to make ends meet; on occasion, her children missed school to stay home and help her do farm work, her only source of income.

When USAID’s food security program started in Ampasimbola in 2010, Philomène did not think twice about joining the Village Savings and Loans association. She even volunteered to keep the books for the group. These village-level savings banks allow members to contribute some amount on a regular basis. They can then request loans with soft repayment terms and conditions. Philomène seized the opportunity to take out a loan and start a small restaurant offering doughnuts, coffee, fish, and even second-hand clothes to increase her income.

With hard work, Philomène’s restaurant quickly thrived. She soon had to choose between continuing farm work that brought home hardly any money, or focusing on a more lucrative and rewarding activity. She decided to drop farming— a savvy decision, because not only did she make substantial profits from the sale of food but she also received payments of interest from investing her savings back into the Village Savings and Loans association.

Philomène’s livelihood has improved and she is now able to send her children to school regularly, and pay for the annual school fees, Ariary 43,000 or about $22 dollars without any problem. The hungry season, which she had earlier coped with eight out of the twelve months per year, is today but a bad dream. Thanks to her contribution to the Village Savings and Loans association, Philomène extended her hut after two years and added a kitchen and a bathroom. She proudly bought new kitchen utensils and other household equipment, and was able to decorate her home.

I’m no longer alone. In our VSL group, we’re like brothers and sisters. We counsel one another, and we share knowledge and experiences. It’s a real new life for me!” says a proud Philomène.  In her spare time, Philomène engages in development and other social activities, and the community seeks her help for advice or assistance when visitors come to the village and seek accommodation for the night. Philomène can help because her hut is now large enough to put up guests. She is now, more than ever, an important member of the community.

Follow USAID Madagascar on Facebook and Twitter for ongoing updates in the region.

Join the #USAIDProgress conversation on Twitter and learn about our other successes!

From the Field in Pakistan: The Cattle Whisperer

With six children to feed and not enough money to make ends meet, each day was a trial for Bushra Yasmeen. On some days she didn’t have enough money to take her children to the doctor, on others there wasn’t enough money to support their education. Being a seamstress in a remote village in the Punjab was not taking her anywhere.

To seek advice and help, Bushra frequently turned to community elders who gathered in the evenings to talk about the day and what was happening in the small village they all shared.

Livestock extension worker Bushra Yasmeen poses in her clinic in Pir Mahal in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Bushra received training and basic supplies from USAID’s Dairy Project  Photo credit: USAID Dairy Project

Livestock extension worker Bushra Yasmeen poses in her clinic in Pir Mahal in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Bushra received training and basic supplies from USAID’s Dairy Project
Photo credit: USAID Dairy Project

It was at one such meeting that she heard that some people from the city — from USAID’s Dairy Project —  were coming to the village the next day to talk about training women to take better care of cattle. In rural areas of Pakistan, this work is done mostly by women. Through this project, USAID is improving animal health-care services in 1,500 villages in the Punjab by providing support and guidance to women like Bushra.

Always on the lookout for an opportunity to better support her family and help her husband, Bushra was eager to see what the training was all about. Based on her enthusiasm and energy, and the knowledge she displayed during the selection process, the USAID Dairy Project team selected her for training as a livestock extension worker.

During the month-long training program, Bushra learned about animal disease prevention and basic livestock management, including the need for timely vaccinations against mastitis (inflammation of the udders, one of the most common diseases among dairy cattle) and hoof-and-mouth disease.

With the training and a medical support kit provided by USAID, Bushra started providing basic treatment to the cattle in her village, earning more than she had as a seamstress.

“I have earned 10,000 rupees in two months by attending to 180 cattle cases in my village,” says a beaming Bushra.  She no longer has to think twice about money when her children need school supplies or medical care. In addition, Bushra has set up a clinic providing preventive and basic medical care to the animals owned by the dairy farmers in her village. The steady income means that she can reinvest in her clinic as well.

Learn more about USAID’s work in Pakistan. Like USAID Pakistan on Facebook and follow them on Twitter (@UsAidPakistan) for ongoing updates in the region!

From The Field: Getting Creative in Supporting Local Governance

Amid the political reform movements that swept through the Middle East and North Africa in the past three years, the government in Morocco responded with a new constitution promoting enhanced citizen participation.

Building a democratic, constitutional state – founded on the principles of participation, pluralism and good governance – is critical for lasting peace and stability, and this new constitution takes steps in that direction. Last month I attended an open forum between citizens and local government officials that aimed to bring those principles to life.

What are creative ways a government and its citizens improve communication with each other? The ideas from the youth leaders, newly elected female municipal officials, and municipality staff, and their enthusiasm to engage with USAID, particularly impressed me.

Former USAID/Morocco Mission Director, John Groarke (left), speaks with members of the youth council and local press. Photo credit: USAID

Hasnae Zahiri, an energetic young woman recently elected president of a rural municipality, told me that USAID’s support for the creation of an Equity & Equal Opportunity Commission helped pave the way for women’s political participation in her district. Of the thirteen members of the committee, four are women from rural areas.

Likewise, Anouar Ahmed Cherif, a member of a local youth council formed with USAID support, told me: “Before the council, our relationship to the commune [municipality] was merely administrative. Now, we have six members who attend the commune meetings and propose ideas and projects.” As a result of his council’s recommendation, a proposal is circulating to transform a nearby forested area into a public park.

To improve government transparency and reduce the risk of corruption and fraud, USAID is helping to establish internal auditing systems within local municipalities. USAID training resulted in the launch of an investigation into an increase in unauthorized construction projects in the city of Safi. Thanks to the program’s success in providing oversight, the municipality is planning to help neighboring communes establish the same system.

These few examples illustrate the important role USAID is playing in helping government institutions at various levels become more inclusive and effective. The work is hard, and results take time to achieve. But the civil society groups, young democracy activists, and empowered political movements shaping the country’s future inspire me as USAID continues helping them in their endeavors.

John Groarke is the former Mission Director of USAID/Morocco. He has served in the Agency for the past eighteen years. 

Women Deliver Conference Focuses Attention to Women’s Health and Rights

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global HealthThis week we will be focusing on Family Planning. 

This week leaders and advocates from nearly 150 countries are gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for Women Deliver 2013, one of the largest conferences of the decade focused on the health and wellbeing of girls and women. USAID is proud to participate in Women Deliver 2013 and highlight the Agency’s strong support and dedication to improving the health and status of women and girls across the globe. A number of our technical experts are presenting at the conference on topics covering family planning, maternal, newborn and child health, and other programming that address the needs of women and girls.

With support from USAID, Masreshah delivers reproductive health information and services to households in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Pathfinder International

The discussions in Kuala Lumpur are sparking a larger global conversation on how and why we all must work together to improve access to reproductive and maternal health.  Last night, USAID participated in the launch of WomenDeliver+Social Good, a movement that brings together social entrepreneurs and new media connectors around the world with the leaders who are shaping policies and programmes around women’s health and economic empowerment.  Watch USAID’s Health Development Officer, Judy Manning, present at the launch event where she spoke about the development of new contraceptive technologies as a solution to saving women’s and children’s lives.

Coinciding with the Women Deliver conference, USAID is highlighting our work in family planning this week on IMPACT as part of our Global Health blog series this month.  Family planning plays a critical role in meeting our goals of ending preventable child and maternal deaths and creating an AIDS Free Generation, and is crucial to improving people’s lives across the globe.  We know that family planning enables women and couples to choose the timing and spacing of their pregnancies, resulting in incredible health and economic benefits for families.  A USAID analysis found that, by preventing closely spaced births, family planning could save the lives of more than 1.6 million children under five annually.  Satisfying the global unmet need for family planning could reduce maternal deaths by 30 percent. And enabling young women and girls to avoid early pregnancy allows them to stay in school longer, increasing their economic opportunities.

Check back here all week as we highlight the importance of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5b, Universal Access to Reproductive Health.  Keep up with USAID’s participation at Women Deliver by following USAID for Global Health on Twitter for live updates and visit our webpage dedicated to the conference.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

 

From the Field: Giving At-Risk Youth a Chance in Guyana

For many at-risk youth, workforce development training is the key to gaining the necessary skills to enter the workforce and become productive, earning members of society. In Guyana, a Caribbean country on the northern coast of South America, USAID workforce development programs serve critical needs in areas where crime rates are high and youth who lack job skills have few options to make a living. A USAID-supported program aims to give young Guyanese youth who are vulnerable to crime and violence, or have already committed minor crimes, a chance to turn their lives around.

Employment coach Rollin Tappan advises a participant in the Guyana SKYE program. Photo credit: Tomaisha Hendricks, SKYE Program Officer (fully owned by EDC and the SKYE Project)

The Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) Guyana project will, by August 2013, provide 805 at-risk youth ages 15 to 24 with training in market-driven skills, and improve their ability to transition into the workforce. Community partners are preparing youth for the workplace by providing training in communications, personal development, local labor laws and financial literacy — areas that have been identified as priorities by public and private sector employers in Guyana. All activities are integrated through the provision of employment coaches that are paired with each youth to assist them in reaching individual development destinations.

The SKYE Project is part of President Obama’s Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), in which the United States is working together with the nations of the Caribbean on substantially reducing illicit trafficking, increasing public safety and security, and promoting social justice. Funded by USAID, SKYE is managed by the Education Development Center (EDC), and works with private sector partners, government ministries, community agencies and NGOs.

Youth participating in SKYE activities are given the opportunity to avoid entering or re- entering the juvenile justice system by taking part in activities that help them achieve their goals and become productive members of their communities — before their lives are lost to crime, violence and incarceration.

Employment coaches are key to the project’s success. The SKYE Project is recruiting and training 22 employment coaches, mostly local credentialed social workers that focus on youth, to work with young participants in four regions throughout Guyana.

“It isn’t difficult to train youth to be carpenters or construction workers,” Corbin says. “But when training ends and job seeking begins, youth are in danger of vulnerability if they don’t get a job right away. Our employment coaches are there to provide support and guidance to transition youth to real jobs in their communities.”

In the next few years SKYE will also assess labor market needs to better position youth for success. The project is also working to build local capacities by providing curricula and training so that Guyanese communities can continue to engage at-risk youth and provide opportunities to become productive members of society.

Visit our website to learn more about the new USAID Youth Policy (PDF).

Photo of the Week: Accessing Credit for Food Security

Despite the importance of the agriculture sector in Ethiopia, access to credit is limited. USAID uses its Development Credit Authority to share risk with local banks, thus opening financing for underserved but credit-worthy borrowers. Photo Credit: Morgana Wingard

USAID Book Club: A Farewell to Alms

Fall semester @USAID banner image

As part of USAID’s Fall Semester, we will host an online book club for our readers this fall. The Impact Blog will post suggestions from our senior experts at USAID to suggest a book on important issues in international development.  We’ll provide you and your book club with the reading suggestions and discussion questions, and you tell us what you think! Our fall reading list will  explore solutions to the most pressing global challenges in international development—mobile solutions, poverty, hunger, health, economic growth, and agriculture.

This week’s choice comes from: USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah

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.

Book: A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, by Gregory Clark

Synopsis: The source of human progress has long been a subject of debate. What makes rich countries rich, and poor countries poor? In the this book,  University of California, Davis, Economist Gregory Clark offers a provocative take on the age-old question, arguing that it was culture—rather than geography, natural resources or centuries of exploitation—that left some parts of the globe behind.

According to Clark, relative stability and effective workforces enabled certain societies to take better advantage of the Industrial Revolution’s new technologies and opportunities. Those countries with lax systems or undisciplined workers lost ground, and stayed there.

Clark’s book is skeptical of whether the poorest parts of the world will ever achieve real progress. For development professionals, it offers up a challenge to the belief that outside intervention can help bridge the vast economic divide between rich and poor.

Review:  This book impacted me because it shows how for hundreds, or even thousands, of years basic economic progress was largely stagnant. You didn’t have rapid compound increases in living standards until the Industrial Revolution when some countries and some societies got on a pathway towards growth – towards better health, longer life expectancy, higher income per person and more investment in education. Others remained on a slower-moving pathway.

That great divergence, and the study of it, is at the core of development. It is that divergence that we try to learn from and correct for. We define success in development as helping communities and countries get on that pathway towards improved health and education, and greater wealth creation.

I didn’t choose this book because I think it is the definitive story on development, but rather because I share its focus on core economic growth as the driver of divergence.

I disagree where Clark concludes that some societies failed to take advantage of the availability of modern technology because their cultures were antagonistic to development. With the right conditions in place, you can unlock a formidable work ethic from a range of different cultures and communities. The last 50 years have shown us that. By investing in local capacity and local institutions, we can leave a legacy of economic infrastructure, strong and capable leadership, and transparent, effective public and private sector institutions.

USAID’s partnerships in Latin America helped country after country develop strong institutions. The same can be said for South Korea. Unfortunately, there have been examples where aid and assistance have been provided in a manner that was not as sensitive to building lasting local capacity and institutions. This is true for all partners, not just our Agency. That’s why we’ve launched a program called USAID Forward, to refocus on working in a way that will create durable and sustained progress.

Administrator Shah is on Twitter at @rajshah. You  can also “Ask the Administrator” your questions on Crowdhall

Discussion Questions

1. Do you agree with Clark that some societies failed to take advantage of the availability of modern technology because their cultures were antagonistic to development?

2. The Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Solow has said Clark does not take into account how institutional factors, such as cronyism, inequitable taxation and ineffectual government cripple development. What role do you think these institutional factors play?

3. Clark challenges how effective outside intervention can be in helping poor nations progress. Do you agree?

4. Regardless of why some nations have fallen behind, how do you think they can bridge that gap today?

5. Has your world view changed after reading this book and how?

Get Involved: Use the comments section of this blog post to share your answers, or tweet them to us at #fallsemester

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