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USAID Book Club: A Farewell to Alms

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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

Progress in Haiti

Thomas C. Adams serves as Haiti Special Coordinator at the U.S. Department of State, and Mark Feierstein serves as Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The government of Haiti recently addressed the double bind their country often faces when the international media covers the development that is occurring in Haiti, identifying either how development is slow in coming or that the development that is occurring is harmful. We anticipate an upcoming AP article may reflect this same perspective. Haiti is working tirelessly to overcome adversity that existed even before the earthquake and to begin to build a stable and sustainable foundation for economic prosperity and societal stability.

Like many other Haiti donors, the United States government has been a proud partner of the government and people of Haiti. We have approached our work in a fundamentally different way. We have followed the lead of the government and people of Haiti, and we have sought for our development assistance not only to provide aid, but long-term sustainable investment as well. Our investments fall into four areas prioritized by the government: agriculture, health care, infrastructure and rule of law/security. And, while the assistance the United States is providing today is not always immediately apparent, the investments we are making will be lasting.

Haiti has a long way to go. Yet, there are successes. We want to share a few that sometimes go unreported.

  1. More than 1.1 million Haitians have moved out of temporary tent camps. The U.S. government, through USAID, has worked with the government and people of Haiti to repair damaged homes, build transitional shelters and provide rental support. These efforts alone have benefited more than 328,000 people.
  2. The government of Haiti ensured more children are attending school, paying the tuition of 850,000 primary school students and enabling 142,000 new students to attend school this past year alone.
  3. In the North, one of the poorest regions of the country, the government of Haiti is leading one of the largest and most ambitious regional development efforts in the country’s history. Haiti has lead the U.S. government, the Inter-American Development Bank, and businesses — including domestic and foreign — to invest in the future of the region. The Caracol Industrial Park, for example, began operations at one factory in April. A modern power plant that provides electricity to the Park’s factories and surrounding communities is up and running. There is a new vocational training center, a modern university provided by the Dominican Republic, and an improving community-based health care system. An airport expansion, construction of a new settlement with more than 1,280 hurricane and earthquake resistant houses with electricity, potable water, and flush sanitation in every home, and engineering drawings for a new container port are underway. These projects are part of Haiti’s vision for a more prosperous and stable future that harnesses the economic potential of Haiti’s impoverished regions, which the Haitian government put forward, and which donor partners and development experts endorsed.
  4. With more than 60 percent of Haitians reliant on agriculture for income, the United States has expanded agricultural programs, deploying the strategy of Feed the Future, the U.S. government food security initiative. To date we have worked with more than 9,700 farmers, introducing improved seeds, fertilizer and technologies. These efforts have resulted in a 118 percent increase in rice yields, 368 percent increase in corn, 85 percent increase in bean yields, and 21 percent increase in plantain yields. Our goal is to support 100,000 farmers in our three geographical regions of focus.
  5. The U.S. government, through USAID, is funding the services of an experienced management firm to help improve the commercial and operational sustainability of Haiti’s electric utility in Port-au-Prince. In a country where only 12 percent of the population has legal access to electricity, the firm is also seeking to expand services to another 60,000 active customers by next April, which will increase the active customers in Haiti by a third. Since November 2011, the USG has been rehabilitating five electrical substations in Port-au-Prince, ensuring that available power in the system reaches households and businesses. To date, the U.S. government has signed contracts in the energy sector worth $52 million that are in different stages of implementation, half of which focus on the Port-au-Prince area.

The U.S. Government Is Working in Partnership

Dozens of countries, multilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector entities are supporting Haiti. Together, we all pledged more than $12 billion in March 2010 in humanitarian and recovery funding over 10 years — a testament to the wide-spread commitment Haiti’s partners share to its future prosperity. The United States pledged $1.15 billion or about 12 percent of the total funds. The government of Haiti and its partners are striving to ensure each dollar invested yields maximum results and complements, rather than overlaps, with other investments. The U.S. government development strategy can be found at: www.state.gov/s/hsc/. In addition to direct assistance, the United States funds efforts in Haiti through multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Bank. We are the largest donor in the health and agriculture sectors; the IDB is the largest donor in the education sector, as well as one of the lead donors on water, sanitation and hygiene programs (WASH). Today, because of coordination with the government of Haiti, the IDB and the government of Spain, more Haitians have access to clean water than before the earthquake — yet there is still much more progress that needs to be made.

The U.S. Government is Focused on Productive Infrastructure for Haiti’s Renewal

If you don’t look closely, numbers can be deceiving. The United States used existing funds from 2009 and 2010 and redirected existing programs to jumpstart recovery assistance, rehabilitate the electric grid and upgrade neighborhoods and health clinics before emergency supplemental funds were made available by Congress. Infrastructure projects don’t begin or get completed overnight, and with good reason. So while the United States is on track to disburse all $475 million we committed to housing, energy and ports, disbursements for these types of complex projects are slower. To build a new port, power plant, hospital or housing complex — all of which the United States is in various stages of implementing — in a collaborative, responsible manner requires feasibility studies, consultations and planning with relevant government entities and communities at the local and national level, environmental studies, and plans for staffing and operations and maintenance. For Haiti to become an economically prosperous nation, we need to support sustainable projects. To do so means providing assistance in a deliberate manner.

Disbursements of U.S. Development Assistance to Haiti
$ in thousands for all items

Humanitarian Relief Assistance
Available funding through 03/31/2012: $1,289,024
Obligations: $1,289,024
Disbursements: $1,289,024
Percentage of available funding disbursed: 100%

Recovery and Reconstruction Assistance
Available funding through 03/31/2012: $1,891,743
Of which is the March 2010 New York pledge: $1,170,196
Obligations: $1,129,985
Of which is the March 2010 New York pledge: $649,842
Disbursements: $988,320
Of which is the March 2010 New York pledge: $463,102
Percentage of available funding disbursed: 48%
Of which is the March 2010 New York pledge: 40%

Total
Available funding through 03/31/2012: $3,180,767
Obligations: $2,419,010
Disbursements: $2,277,345
Percentage of available funding disbursed: 72%

You can see how we are investing in Haiti by going to www.foreignassistance.gov and for information on specific contracts you can visit https://www.fpds.gov/fpdsng_cms/.

The U.S. Government is Committed to Transparency and Accountability

The State Department and USAID regularly provide information to the public and consult with Congress. In the last nine months alone, we have held more than 50 briefings for Members of Congress and their staffers, submitted strategies and reports, and have made ourselves available to answer inquiries via letters, emails, phone calls and meetings. And, for U.S. development projects, USAID provides Congress with a progress report every two weeks.

Importantly, we consulted extensively with the government of Haiti and other stakeholders in Haiti in the design of our assistance strategy, to ensure it reflected the priorities of Haiti. As part of this process, we have shared how much funding is available for investments in each sector and the impact the government of Haiti could anticipate from these initiatives. In the North, we have built community kiosks in different townships to share information in French and Creole about the investments the United States is making to receive feedback and remain accountable to local communities. Our commitments are public and tangible, supported by performance benchmarks that allow the people of Haiti and U.S. taxpayers to hold us accountable for our successes and failures.

We have also taken great strides to make the contracting process more transparent and accessible, especially to Haitian-owned companies. Online, any one can readily find the scope of work and information about the projects, excluding company’s business confidential information, to ensure full and open competition for contracts (by avoiding competing companies knowing the costs structures of their competitors).

We are working hard to ensure the United States is the best partner it can be to the government and people of Haiti, while investing the American taxpayers’ resources wisely and sustainably. Our goal is to continually improve our processes and programs, maintain the integrity of our investments, work in a coordinated manner with all stakeholders, and above all else measure our impact by whether the lives of Haitians are improving.

From the Field: Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker Visits Northern Kosovo

The new playground is a great facility for children of the neighborhood, full of brightly colored new equipment. The climbing tower is an obvious hit! Photo Credit:Ruzica Bozovic of the USAID/DEMI program

During a recent visit to Kosovo, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker spoke in support of the process of decentralization and community engagement to improve life for everyone. Reeker told reporters in Mitrovica North that it is important that local communities determine “how your lives will be led, how your children will be raised and how the international community can support that effort.” Mitrovica North is a Kosovo Serb majority region that has been resistant to cooperation with the central government in Pristina.

Reeker visited the community, along with U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell, to inaugurate a playground constructed by USAID at the request of local residents. Reeker also met with local business leaders at a new Regional Community Resource Center that is supported by USAID. It was thehighest level U.S. Government visit to the tense region since ethnic violence erupted last summer.

From the Field

In Ukraine, we facilitated a meeting between one of Ukraine’s Federal District Court Judge’s Charles Breyer and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Tefft.  This meeting was arranged at the Judge’s request, through the Fair, Accountable, Independent and Responsible Judiciary Program (FAIR).  The purpose of the FAIR Program is to support legislative, regulatory and institutional reform of judicial institutions in order to build a foundation for a more accountable and independent judiciary.

Also, under the FAIR program, USAID Ukraine held a conference on Strategic Planning for the Judiciary at which the Ambassador made remarks.  He emphasized that, “an independent and effective judiciary is critical to Ukraine’s continued economic development.”  The Ambassador’s remarks can be found here in full.

In Macedonia, to foster the development of the creative industries sector, we held an Artfest.  This activity is part of USAID’s Creative Businesses Project which works to create opportunities for long-term employment and increased income for creative micro and small enterprises.   The main beneficiaries are unemployed youth and women.

From the Field

Our weekly feature highlighting events at USAID Missions around the globe.

In Tanzania, on World AIDS Day, Former President George W. Bush and his family visited sites in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The highlight of their site visits was observing an innovative HIV prevention intervention funded by USAID that takes place in Tanzanian beauty salons. Former President Bush and Mrs. Bush along with their daughters and son-in-law, stopped in at Ramuu’s Beauty Salon in Dar es Salaam to see the Jipende! (Love Yourself!) Program in action. Ramuu’s is one of 46 salons in Dar es Salaam that have been trained and equipped to be Resource Centers for Women’s Health.

Speaking with the beauty salon owner and attendants, the Bush family heard first-hand how the owner and the salon attendants are trained to deliver messages to salon clients about HIV prevention, family planning and women’s health issues such as breast and cervical cancer. Mr. Bush commended the salon owner for participating in the USAID funded Jipende! Program and her efforts to empower women with important health knowledge and information.

In Paraguay, we held the closing ceremony for USAID’s Health Decentralization program. The Health Decentralization Program which began a decade ago, will conclude this month.  The program has provided assistance at the central, regional and local levels to strengthen the health decentralization process and health services provided to poor people by Paraguay’s Ministry of Health. USAID assisted health councils across the country to develop local health plans and improve management of financial resources and accountability.

In Haiti, we held a ground breaking ceremony for a 246-hectare Industrial Park in Caracol.  Former President Bill Clinton and Haitian President Michel Martelly were in attendance.  The Industrial Park is expected to create thousands of jobs in Haiti.

From the Field

In Nepal,  USAID launched a Global Climate Change Program.  The new program, Hariyo Ban, is a five-year program and cornerstone of President Obama’s Global Climate Change Initiative.  Climate change is emerging as a major threat to the people and biodiversity of Nepal. Hariyo Ban, which means “green forests” in Nepali, will help to build resilience to climate change in communities, ecosystems and keystone wildlife species by restoring and conserving Nepal’s forests.  It will also improve the livelihoods of Nepal’s most impoverished communities.  Over the project period, the program will reduce emissions/sequester over 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents in the target landscapes.  The program will also provide capacity building and livelihood development support to 180,000 people; bring 50,000 hectares of forest area under improved management and generate vital revenue from payments for environmental services systems.

In Ukraine, Acting USAID Mission Director, Sarah Wines Welcomed Ukrainian Parliamentary and Executive Internship Program Graduates.  She presented identification cards to 102 new interns of the USAID Parliamentary and Executive Internship Program during an official welcoming ceremony in Kyiv. Also participating were Dmytro Markov, Deputy Secretary General of the Rada, and Taras Prytula, Head of the Interns’ League. Over the coming months, students and recent college graduates from nearly all regions of Ukraine will work in 28 Parliamentary committees and departments, as well as in six Ministries of Ukraine. Explaining the program’s significance to the interns, Ms. Wines stated that “in these halls, very important decisions are made, that affect people in very real ways.” Composed of 78 Parliamentary interns and 24 interns in the Executive branch of government, the 2011-2012 intern class comprises a diverse range of disciplines, including those studying law, economics, international relations and in the technical disciplines. Ms. Wines encouraged the students to use their skills to bring fresh ideas to government service, and confirmed the U.S. Government’s commitment to partnership with Ukraine and its democracy through the USAID Parliamentary Development Program.

From the Field

In Iraq, we will be participating for the first time in the Baghdad International Trade Fair.  Seventeen countries total will be in participation.   We are planning a powerful social media campaign to engage with visitors about opportunities to partner with U.S. companies and USAID.  We are anticipating half a million visitors to the fair.

In Uganda, on our Embassy YouTube page, we recently posted an interview with a successful women farmer who benefited from a USAID program which guaranteed a loan that allowed her to start her own seed business. Click here to hear her story.

From the Field

Our weekly feature highlighting upcoming events at USAID Missions around the globe.

In Indonesia, the U.S. government, through a USAID Development Credit Authority facility, will provide a guarantee to a new student loan program funded by the Putera Sampoerna Foundation and two financial institutions, UBS AG and Raiffeisen Bank International AG. The program will provide student loans over a 20-year period for Indonesian students, including those interested in studying in America. Making available student loans will give Indonesian students of all economic backgrounds the financial means necessary to pursue their educational goals.

In Male, Maldives, USAID/Sri Lanka will launch an Enhancing Climate Resiliency and Water Security project. The project will target assistance to two islands in the north of the country, with the goal of making them climate resilient islands. The project will help island residents improve their knowledge and ability to protect their islands’ natural resources, and over the long-term reduce their vulnerability to climate change.

In Uganda, we held a ground-breaking ceremony for an integrated cancer training and treatment facility on the grounds of the Uganda Cancer Institute. Ugandan Vice President Edward Ssekandi and Harold Varmus, Nobel laureate and director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute along with David Eckerson, USAID-Uganda Mission Director, led the ground-breaking ceremony for an integrated cancer training and treatment facility on the grounds of the Uganda Cancer Institute at Mulago Hospital. USAID has awarded grants valued at $1.4 million to Seattle, Washington-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to aid in the construction of the first American cancer clinic and medical-training facility. When completed, the new facility will significantly increase patient access to cancer diagnosis and treatment while furthering study of cancers in Uganda. NTV Uganda, Uganda’s leading TV station, aired the ground-breaking ceremony at Mulago Hospital. Check out the clip on YouTube.

From the Field

Our weekly feature highlighting upcoming events at USAID Missions around the globe.

In Indonesia, we will hold a ceremony for the Aceh West Coast Highway construction project. The event recognizes the U.S. Government’s support for the creation of a difficult section of national highway from Banda Aceh to Calang, which is approaching completion. This ceremony will provide an opportunity to underscore that the U.S. Government is committed to Aceh’s economic development and the Comprehensive Partnership with Indonesia. New programs through USAID are also contributing to support the province’s reconstruction and future development in other ways, in addition to developing this important economic artery.

In Azerbaijan, Save the Children will host a talk show on disability issues in the nation. During this program, USAID will broadcast a PSA on increasing employment of disabled people.

In Paraguay, A rural farmer’s association, Caapiibary Cooperative will inaugurate a new infrastructure for passion fruit processing. USAID/Paraguay is helping rural farmers to increase production and find new markets for their production and has connected them with local companies which buy the farmer’s product. In this case the leading company Frutika is buying passion fruit for juice processing, helping farmers increase their income and escape poverty.

Local Health Support Builds Better Lives for Mothers and Babies

As we headed out for a health-focused field trip in Timor-Leste’s central highlands, we were treated to almost all the geographical delights of the country.  Along the coast road, the dry season winds were whipping up the sea into the biggest waves I’d seen since I arrived in Timor-Leste.  As we turned inland, the brown fields among the rising hills attested to the end of the harvest.  Driving ever higher—along narrower and narrower roads—the altitude brought back the green of forests.

We were headed through the district of Ermera to the “sub-village” of Hatugeo, tucked just below the peak of Timor-Leste’s highest mountain.  This district has some of the country’s worst health indictors:

  • Infant mortality is 70 babies per 1,000 births, far higher than the national average of 45/1,000, and higher than in neighboring Indonesia (34/1,000).
  • Only 3 percent of mothers deliver their babies in a health care facility, compared with 22 percent across the country.
  • A higher percentage of children show signs of malnourishment and illness than in the rest of Timor-Leste.

Why is that?  I’ve been told there are four main reasons (and I suppose that there are more).  First, the district is very mountainous; second, there are few roads; third, there is a shortage of professional health staff; and fourth, this district is known for its festivals and parties—people spend what little money they have on these, not on nutrition and health, so says the Deputy Director of the District Health Service Florindo De Araujo.  This is a big problem, and Mr. De Araujo and his staff are wracking their brains to figure out what to do about it.

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