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Video of the Week: Cash and Carry with the World Food Programme in Zimbabwe

In parts of Zimbabwe where market conditions allow, the World Food Programme  is arranging for cash to be given to those in need.  In this way, people make their own decisions about buying their food – and the local economy benefits too.

Judicial Reform and Economic Growth in the Philippines

Nisha Biswal is USAID’s assistant administrator for Asia. Photo Credit: USAID.

“[The judiciary] should be considered as a key element in the promotion of inclusive, sustainable and equitable economic growth, especially for those who are poor and marginalized in developing countries,” Philippines Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said during a recent event that I participated in at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on the interconnections between a strong judiciary and predictable economic investment and growth.  Chief Justice Sereno—the first woman to serve as Chief Justice of the Philippines Supreme Court—is a key voice calling for the development of a strong and stable judiciary in the Philippines that creates a platform for continued investment and confidence in the country’s economy.

Chief Justice Sereno’s story is powerful – and one I wish we could tell more often. Appointed to the highest seat in the Philippine judiciary following the impeachment of her predecessor, she symbolized a meaningful call for change and a new face in the judiciary, with a fresh perspective. She also has a long track record on the issue of judicial reform: in 2007, she co-authored a survey-based paper that found that 84 percent of corporations surveyed stated that judicial inefficiency would cause firms to decide not to invest in the country.

Chief Justice Sereno spoke with conviction and determination about how an economy can only prosper if judicial reform is responsive, adequate, and sufficient in minimizing transaction risks and providing reasonable protection of business interests. The role of the courts is to honor bargains, settle controversies and interpret the rules of the market which allow for investors to place their trust in economic dealings.

This perspective aligns well with our own development efforts in the Philippines; judicial reform was raised as an issue in the constraints analysis conducted under the U.S.-Philippines Partnership for Growth (PFG), a pathbreaking partnership that began over a year ago. The PFG constraints analysis amplifies the Chief Justice’s analysis that the quality of court services is a key determinant of inclusive and sustainable growth.

In concert with the PFG, our Judicial Strengthening to Increase Court Effectiveness (JUSTICE) Project will assist in accomplishing many of the goals Chief Justice Sereno has set in her judicial reform agenda. JUSTICE, which just recently began in October 2012 and is being implemented by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, will improve court efficiency, primarily through docket decongestion and reduction of trial delays; strengthen contract and intellectual property enforcement to help ensure the predictability of market rules; and build confidence in the integrity of courts. The JUSTICE Project will work to improve intellectual property rights and contract enforcement by building capacity of courts to resolve priority commercial cases. USAID will also support organizations outside the government to address rule of law issues. More important, USAID will continue to engage leaders like Chief Justice Sereno to search for innovative ways of improving justice delivery.

Chief Justice Sereno remarked that, “There is a kind of renaissance going on in the Philippines, with a focus on judicial reform.” Seeing a vital issue like judicial reform in the Philippines get prioritized at the highest levels of government is exciting, and bodes well for the country’s economic development. We hope that Chief Justice Sereno’s efforts are successful and that USAID can contribute to this success through our own activities in the Philippines.

For more information on USAID’s work to support judicial reform in the Philippines, please visit our website.

FrontLines Year in Review: Apps for Afghanistan

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines September/October 2012 issue.

With a recent explosion in mobile phones, USAID engages Afghanistan’s best and brightest to grow mobile money.

Just a decade ago, Afghans had to travel to Pakistan to make international calls. The landline phone infrastructure had completely fallen into disarray during the civil war, and there were no mobile phone operators. The first American diplomats and U.N. workers to return to Kabul after the fall of the Taliban carried backpacks full of costly satellite phones for the new Afghan emergency government.

But smart, early regulatory decisions by Afghan lawmakers, based on technical assistance from USAID and other donors, engendered the rapid growth of a profitable and competitive sector, pushing down airtime prices well within reach of normal Afghans. Today, Afghanistan is awash in mobile phones, with more than 18 million active subscriptions in a country of 28 million.

This explosion of mobile users has created a network that bridges the country’s formidable urban-rural divide while transcending gaps in physical infrastructure, low literacy rates and pervasive insecurity.

An Afghan youth uses his mobile phone to take pictures in Musa Qala. Photo credit: Dmitry Kostyukov, AFP

The near-ubiquity of mobile phone coverage has allowed Afghanistan to join the vanguard of countries experimenting with innovative new uses for the mobile channel, using the networks to extend services and information cheaply to populations lacking access through other means. Among the most promising is mobile money—the ability to safely store and transfer “e-money” via SMS, avoiding the expense and danger associated with moving cash, while extending the reach of basic financial services from the 5 percent of the population with accounts in brick-and-mortar banks to the 65 percent of Afghans who use mobile phones.

Already, m-money trials facilitated by the U.S. Government, such as paying government salaries by mobile instead of cash, are demonstrating startling benefits: In Wardak province, police deployed in unbanked communities report “raises” of 30 percent when paid via mobile; cash payments of salaries in Afghanistan are exceedingly vulnerable to corruption. Equally promising applications to extend and repay micro loans and pay household electricity bills are beginning to roll out, delivering dramatic increases in efficiency.

As the mobile network operators increasingly focus on scaling their mobile money products and agent networks, USAID is working in partnership with the private sector to aggregate demand and provide consumer education to Afghans, most of whom are unfamiliar with or mistrustful of the formal banking system. In one novel approach, the Agency is working with the Association of Mobile Money Operators of Afghanistan to harness the creativity and energy of Afghanistan’s best and brightest to develop mobile money applications to address pressing problems faced daily by Afghans.

An Afghan Avalanche of Ideas

The overwhelming response to an app design competition this year among Afghan university students illustrated just how compelling up-and-coming young Afghans find mobile money—more than 5,000 students across the country submitted ideas, many of which focused on how mobile money on how mobile money could improve the Afghan Government’s ability to provide basic services transparently and efficiently.

Others put forward ways in which mobile money could help empower individuals by giving them tools to manage their own finances, a particular boon for women, who often rely on male relatives to conduct financial transactions on their behalf.

Such competitions can trigger a network effect, drawing students into the design process and drawing in new mobile money users—and expanding the mobile technology sector.

Afghan officials say the enthusiasm generated by the contest and subsequent avalanche of ideas bodes well for future uptake of mobile money in Afghanistan given the country’s demographics. With two-thirds of Afghans age 25 years or younger, Afghanistan is truly a land of potential early adopters…[continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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Communication is Aid: Old and New Technologies Make Aid More Effective

Communication can and should be seen as aid. People rely on communication to find out what’s happening, where to go for assistance and who to call for help. Research and projects, such as infoasaid, give evidence that communication is crucial to survival and recovery. In fact, the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Network positions two-way communication with affected people at the heart of resilience-building, preparedness and response.

If communication is aid, what does that mean in practice? And how do we get better at doing it? These are some of the questions that participants of the ‘Communication is Aid: Humanitarian, Media and Technology Collaboration’ event*, held in Nairobi on December 6, tried to answer.

In her opening remarks, Gabriella Waaijman, Officer in Charge of UNOCHA Eastern Africa, explained, “Gone are the days when humanitarian agencies can provide assistance without asking what the needs are in the communities where they are working.” There is no doubt in my mind that we need to listen to communities because they are the only ones who know what’s happening on the ground and can suggest what would improve their day-to-day lives. We need to empower them with the tools to communicate their needs to us, and we need to effectively respond. Modern development requires two-way communication and listening.

Are we there yet? That’s for debate, but we are certainly getting closer. Adeso is implementing a USAID project in northern Kenya, working with pastoral and transitional communities to reduce hunger and poverty, increase social stability, and build strong foundations for economic growth and environmental resilience, and we are looking at ways to use communication to enhance these objectivesUSAID also helped jumpstart SokoShambani, a free SMS platform that allows small-scale potato farmers in Kenya to connect directly with buyers. “It takes the farmer to the market, and the market to the farm,” as Stephen Kimiri of ZEVAN explains.

Shujaaz.FM main character DJ Boyie pirates airtime to talk about what’s important to Kenyan youth. Photo credit: Riccardo Gangale/USAID.

Other examples include the Praekelt Foundation’s development of the Young Africa Live mobile platform that provides young people in Africa with information about HIV/AIDS and other sexual health issues. Since 2009, the platform has been used by more than a million people in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. The Danish Refugee Council has for its part adapted the Ushahidi platform – a free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping that was first used following Kenya’s disputed 2007 elections to collect eyewitness reports of violence and place them on a Google Maps – to monitor humanitarian aid in Somalia. Through this system, DRC’s beneficiaries can use their mobile phone to provide feedback on the aid they received from DRC, and make complaints.

So, how do we use the right technologies in the right context? As Rob Burnet from Well Told Story underlined, “Push won’t work – it must be pull.” We need to understand our audience and really listen to what they want. For example, USAID invested in Well Told Story’s innovative Shujaaz.FM multi-media project aimed to engage Kenya’s youth in promoting peace for the March 2013 elections. The project includes fictional Kenyan youth who grapple with real social and political challenges in a monthly comic book and through daily radio spots. The project gained popularity and 20,000 Kenyan youth now interact with the characters on Facebook.

Humanitarian and development players can learn a lot from private sector entities who are developing new technological solutions to address some the challenges faced when delivering aid. At the same time, we must keep in mind that while technology is part of the solution, it is not the solution in and of itself. It needs to be used in the right context, by the right people and for the right audience. Improving how we communicate will therefore require resources, training and commitment. My hope is that we continue to seek modern communication methods to provide more opportunities for learning, exchange and future collaborations for all audiences around the globe.

*Adeso and UNOCHA Eastern Africa jointly organized this one-day event, in partnership with the CDAC Network and Internews, and with financial support from BBC Media Action and Microsoft. Presentations and video from the event will be available on the Adeso website in the coming weeks, and in the meantime, have a look at this Storify.

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Bangladesh

In this next installment of the USAID Pounds of Prevention series (PDF), we travel to Bangladesh. Disaster risk reduction activities have saved countless lives in Bangladesh. Above, villagers discuss priorities for disaster preparedness, including reconstructing roads affected by previous cyclones, protecting fresh water sources and improving home foundations. Photo by Robert Friedman, USAID.

At Datajam, Innovators and Entrepreneurs Unleash Open Data for Global Development

Rajiv Shah (left) serves as administrator of USAID. Todd Park is U.S. Chief Technology Officer. Photo Credit: USAID, White House.

A remarkable new tool is becoming increasingly available to help end extreme poverty and ensure dignity and opportunity for people around the world—a tool that few people think about when they consider how to bolster international development efforts. That tool is data, and in particular “open data“—data freely available in formats that are easy to use in new and innovative ways, while rigorously protecting privacy.

The possibilities are truly endless—it could be regional epidemiological statistics being made available to community health workers; or real-time weather information being made available to small-holder farmers; or loan information being made accessible to first-time borrowers. In these and countless other arenas, open data has the potential to not only improve transparency and coordination, but also dramatically accelerate progress in development.

In order to explore new ways of leveragingopen data for development and to help strengthen our commitment to open data with others inside and outside of government, we joined with colleagues from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on December 10 for a DataJam at the White House.

Administrator Shah and CTO Park discuss open data's impact in development. Photo Credit: USAID.

This unprecedented event brought world-class innovators and entrepreneurs together with U.S. government leaders and decision-makers to discuss the impact that open development data has already had on strengthening entrepreneurship in the United States and in developing countries—and the additional impact that can be had going forward. We also brainstormed about new partnerships we could form to facilitate the opening of new pockets of data that many of us deal with in our work every day and that have potential added value across the development domain. For USAID, this effort reflects our increasing focus on throwing open the doors of development to problem-solvers everywhere.

The Datajam showcased some of the groundbreaking work that innovators and entrepreneurs have accomplished with open data in the development sphere—from tracking election transparency in Kenya with the non-profit Ushahidi; to the State Department’s Tech@State and TechCamp conference and workshop platforms that bring in-country technologists and entrepreneurs together to solve local—and global—problems; to the exciting announcement that FEWSnet, USAID’s Famine Early Warning System Network, is launching a competition to analyze USAID data to better inform and improve our own decision-making. As Presidential Innovation Fellow Dmitry Kachaev, explained, “Technology is not the hard part.  The hard part is getting the information.”

That’s where we all come in, and that’s why we are issuing a call to action for open data. There are data sets and information resources across the government that could serve a greater good and be effective tools for change if they were made more accessible and usable, while ensuring that privacy and confidentiality are always rigorously protected. We want to collect these data—these potential change agents—and present them in their most creative and effective forms. We want to engage students and volunteers to help us clean and organize the data to make this information accessible and useful, just as USAID’s Development Credit Authority did with its crowdsourcing project to clean up and map loan data records. We want these same data to be available to entrepreneurs and innovators who are building new organizations and creating local and lasting change.

Although we often talk about our business-like focus on data and the importance of delivering concrete results, the reality is that the open data movement has been inspired not only by analytical logic but also in large part by a shared passion to help change the world. When you apply your vision and expertise to this task—when you add to the growing stores of data for use in new and creative ways—you are helping an infant take its first easy breath and live to celebrate her fifth birthday. You are helping farmers grow more nutritious foods, fostering healthy families and prosperous communities. You are helping end the enduring outrage of human trafficking. This is the power of open data.

We’re excited and think you should be too.

Watch a video of the Datajam event.

Visit our website for more information about open data and learn more about the Presidential Innovation Fellows.

Rajiv Shah is the Administrator of USAID.

Todd Park is Assistant to the President and U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

Photo of the Week: 2012 in Pictures

This week’s “Photo of the Week” is a compilation of photos from major events throughout 2012. It was a busy year to say the least. We continued to work to combat drought in the Sahel region, we successfully launched the Child Survival Call to Action,hosted the Frontiers in Development Conference, we closed our USAID mission in Panama, and continued our efforts in providing assistance all around the world. Stay tuned this new year for our weekly blog feature “Photo of the Week”.

 

FrontLines Year in Review: Catching Ethiopians Before They Fall

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines May/June 2012 issue.

Despite one of the region’s worst droughts, no famine struck rural Ethiopia last year. The drought’s impact was lessened by a food-and-cash-for-public-works program USAID supports and helped design. Today, one of Africa’s largest social safety nets does not just protect against chronic food insecurity, it helps communities weather the future.

It is December 2011, and life goes on as normal in the arid highlands of Tigray, the northern Ethiopian region whose burnt siennas, giant cactus flowers, and peaks and canyons could easily be confused with those of the American Southwest. Here, donkeys carry grain and pull packs on the side of the road. Farmers work their fields. There is no sign of a crisis.

Normality is not typically a measure of success, but in this case, and in this particular region, it is. Beginning in early 2011, a severe drought decimated parts of East Africa, leading to a June declaration of famine in parts of Somalia.

The drought was considered in some parts of the region to be one of the worst in 60 years, affecting more than 13.3 million people in the Horn of Africa. The month before the official drought declaration, USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) warned: “This is the most severe food-security emergency in the world today.”

In Tigray, a region held hostage to annual alternating dry and wet seasons, the impact has been minimal. The reason, according to many who live there, is a riff on the same theme: Because of “safety net,” they say, things are OK.

A beneficiary of the USAID-supported Productive Safety Net Program living near the Mai-Aqui site, in Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Nena Terrell.

“Safety net,” which several Ethiopian ethnicities know by its English term, refers to the flagship food-security program designed by the Ethiopian Government, USAID and other donors after another severe drought hit the country in 2003.

The Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), as it is officially called, originated as part of a new approach to address chronic food shortages through scheduled food or cash transfers to chronically food-insecure populations in exchange for labor on public works projects.

“The food ensures families living on the edge are not forced to sell off their assets, mainly livestock, in order to feed their families. The labor, the quid pro quo for those fit enough to partake, is channeled into public-works projects designed to improve communities as a whole,” says Dina Esposito, director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace.

As a result, crucial infrastructure—roads, watersheds, canals, terracing, irrigation systems, schools and health clinics—has been built or rehabilitated with the labor of the food insecure.

According to USAID/Ethiopia Mission Director Tom Staal, as the program was being designed in consultations led by the Ethiopian Gov­ernment, donors realized the need to not just respond to crises as they happened, but to build up resilience among the most vulnerable communities, giving them the ability to weather the inevitable dry stretches on their own.

“Before PSNP, those in chronic need were provided assistance through emergency programs,” says Scott Hocklander, chief of USAID/Ethiopia’s Office for Food Assistance and Livelihood Transitions.

“While this food aid saved lives, it did not contribute to development activities or address the root causes of food insecurity.”

Today, because of the safety net, approximately 8 million people receive assistance in a timely and predictable way…[continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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FrontLines Feature: Community Members and Police Take Back Jamaica’s Streets

This originally appeared in FrontLines, November/December 2012 issue.

As a community-based policing project comes to a close after more than six years, the partnership between police and citizens offers a crime-crushing model for the Caribbean.

Paulette Simpson vividly remembers the days of terror. With a grimace, she recalls one of her darkest moments—when she was bombarded with the piercing sounds of gun shots, the shrieking of women and children, and the smell of blood filling the air in her small community of Gravel Heights, in Spanish Town, Jamaica.

“I was afraid,” she said. “Every day I lived in fear that my life would be taken away from me. I did not want to go out and work. I did not want to die.” In 2010, that fear drove Simpson to pack her bags, close her small grocery shop and seek refuge in a safer community.

After closing her shop and fleeing her community of Gravel Heights, Paulette Simpson was happy to return home and reopen her grocery shop, confident in the ability of the Jamaica Constabulary Force to keep her safe from gangs. Photo Credit: USAID

Two years later, the terrible violence has now relented. In July, total major crime decreased by 49 percent over the previous year in the St. Catherine North Police Division where Spanish Town is located. Anthony Castelle, the division’s senior police superintendent, attributes community-based policing for the reduction. Homicide rates have been reduced, gang activities have been disrupted, and law enforcement officers are regaining the trust and confidence of the people they are sworn to protect, rekindling a partnership that had been badly tarnished.

The newfound security can be partially attributed to the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) fight against crime and violence, with support from the USAID-funded Community Empowerment and Transformation (COMET) project (PDF). COMET focuses efforts on bringing together members of the community and the police in a new community-based policing partnership.

An Island Battleground

Gravel Heights is just one of many communities in Jamaica where criminal gangs caused many to fear for their lives. Gang members would often compete violently for resources and turf in the weapons and drugs trade. They extorted local businesses, and ran neighborhoods as their own fiefdoms. The crime and violence became overwhelming from the mid-90s through 2010, and citizens lost faith in the police. During the most intense periods of violence, five murders a week were reported in Spanish Town. Like Simpson, many left their homes to save their lives.

In 2006, at the height of the violence, USAID began working with residents, the JCF, the Government of Jamaica and civil society groups to come up with solutions. USAID’s COMET project launched community-based policing (CBP) programs, which required intense interaction between community members and the police. Neighborhood watches were set up; youth clubs came together to stand up against the violence; advertisements went up on buses and bumper stickers encouraging people to work with the police; and community consultative boards met regularly to discuss issues and activities with the police.

One of the greatest challenges was the distrust that had built up between the police and community members after many years of violence. People didn’t feel like they could trust the police to protect them and the police did not feel that they could depend on members of the community to give them the information they needed on criminals in the area.

“Prior to the program, there was a time when we, the police, could not walk within a number of high-risk communities without being shot. We would have to venture in armored vehicles to protect ourselves, and today it is much different,” said Stephanie Lindsay, deputy superintendent of the JCF. “The key element is engaging community members, finding out what their issues are and how we can go about resolving them as they are the ones who know best.

“We started this by taking the time to regularly walk into the communities and speak with the citizens on the streets or within their homes in an informal manner as our friends, as our neighbors. This simple gesture spoke volumes and started the process of building our relationship. Yes, some members were reluctant at first to speak with us. However, we have a new generation of youngsters that decided enough is enough with the crime and violence.” [continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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FrontLines Feature: How to Get All Children Reading

This originally appeared in FrontLines, November/December 2012 issue.

Since literacy has been shown to lead to better health, higher incomes and more vibrant democracies, USAID and partners are seeking new solutions to an age-old problem.

Whether you’re digesting a work of literary genius, checking a text on your cellphone or scoping out the ingredients on the back of a cereal box, you’re reading. More times a day than you can even venture to count, you’re doing what 793 million adults worldwide cannot. These individuals aren’t missing out on a luxury. They’re being deprived of a necessity.

People who can read enjoy better health and make more money. By developing skills in literacy, they contribute to creating safer, more stable democracies, and are able to more effectively serve their families and communities.

If all students in low-income countries left primary school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty. That’s equivalent to a 12 percent drop in world poverty, a statistic too big to ignore.

USAID, World Vision, AusAID, and the U.S. Department of Education are leading the charge in finding early grade reading solutions. Photo Credit: Derek Brown.

That’s why USAID has partnered with AusAID, its Australia development counterpart, and the international NGO World Vision to launch a multi-year initiative designed to improve early-grade reading outcomes in low-resource settings.

All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development is leveraging the power of research, capitalizing on innovation, pursuing partnerships, and borrowing from cutting-edge science, technology and 21st century infrastructure to achieve substantial impact in increasing child literacy around the globe,” says Alexis Bonnell, chief of education engagement for USAID. One component of this initiative was the global competition to advance quality approaches to early-grade reading, whose winners were announced in September.

As the second of USAID’s multi-donor grant-making Grand Challenges, All Children Reading is engaging new actors to improve the design, production, distribution and accessibility of teaching and learning materials and education data. After putting out a call for proposals to improve early-grade literacy in poor countries, the competition received over 450 applications from foundations, corporations and individuals to work in over 75 countries.

“It was a huge early success, receiving so many proposals for the competition,” noted Anthony Bloome, campaign director of the All Children Reading Grand Challenge and senior education technology specialist at USAID. “This was a clear indication of how many motivated individuals and organizations are out there interested in doing extremely valuable work to advance early-grade reading around the world.”

Ultimately, 32 innovators were selected to help scale up or implement their projects. Over half of the submissions came from—and half of the awards were ultimately given to—local organizations in recipient countries, many of whom had never received funding from USAID.

“With all the Grand Challenges, and All Children Reading specifically, USAID is engaging new actors in the development world and supporting some of the most innovative solutions to a problem that has not been solved through traditional means,” explains Natasha de Marcken, director of USAID’s Office of Education.

On Sept. 7, as part of USAID’s International Literacy Day celebration, the innovators came together to share their approaches to improving early-grade reading outcomes. The DevelopmentXChange, held in Washington, D.C., showcased and traded ideas on cost-effective, scalable innovations grounded in science and technology that, with the support of USAID and its partners, will have a significant impact on the world.

Improving worldwide literacy rates won’t happen overnight, but with approaches like those of the Grand Challenge winners, PlanetRead, Drakkar Ltd. and Pratham, this latest international campaign appears to be headed in the right direction.

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