USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

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VIDEO of the Week: President Obama

Yesterday, President Barack Obama was the first sitting U.S. President to visit Burma. There, he officially opened the USAID mission after a 24-year hiatus. “Today, I was proud to reestablish our USAID mission in this country, which is our lead development agency,” said President Obama. The President affirmed the United States’ partnership  in helping Burma, “reestablish its capacity to feed its people and to care for its sick, and educate its children, and build its democratic institutions as you continue down the path of reform.”

To learn more about our efforts in Burma, visit www.usaid.gov/burma.

Watch the full video of the President’s remark’s at the University of Yangon:

Development Labs Launch at Seven Universities

View photos from the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) Launch at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC on November 9, 2012, and from the HESN meeting with Secretary Clinton.

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Last week, OSTP Director John P. Holdren joined USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in launching the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN)  – a groundbreaking partnership between USAID and seven top universities that is designed to harness the ingenuity and passion of university faculty and students  to develop innovative solutions to global development challenges.

USAID’s HESN was first announced at the White House in February 2012 and its formal launch marks the latest milestone in the Administration’s work to leverage US comparative advantages in science, technology, and innovation to accelerate progress toward global development goals. The effort is a direct response to the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development, which calls for investments in game-changing innovations with the potential to solve long-standing development challenges—such as vaccines for neglected diseases; drought-resistant seed varieties; and clean energy technologies.

Fully achieving this vision will require what the President has called an “all-hands-on-deck” approach. That is why we are so enthusiastic about HESN: it embodies a new way of doing business—one that empowers innovators around the world to tackle big development challenges (a model that Administrator Shah has dubbed “Open Source Development“).  We are also pleased that the HESN will leverage the stores of untapped energy and expertise that reside on university campuses. The seven HESN universities were selected from nearly 500 applications from 49 states and 33 countries.  And, the pulse of student interest on campuses across the country is nearly palpable.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah speaks at Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) Launch on November 9, 2012. Photo Credit: Rodney Choice

With financial support from USAID matched by private sector partners, each of the seven universities will establish a Development Lab with a unique focus. For example, the Development Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will publish a Consumer Reports-style series of evaluations that will help donors and policymakers invest in the best existing technological solutions; the University of California Berkeley will establish a new field of Development Engineering and shepherd a portfolio of specific development solutions – such as low-cost, solar-powered vaccine refrigerators – through the pipeline of research, field evaluation, translation, and scale-up; and the College of William and Mary will build a world-class research consortium of geographers, economists, epidemiologists, political scientists, computer scientists, and statisticians to collect, geo-code, and analyze data to enable USAID and developing country governments to make hard-nosed, evidenced-based decisions.  All seven of the Development Labs – including Labs at DukeMichigan StateTexas A&M, and Makerere University in Uganda – will work closely with USAID’s field mission experts and Washington staff at every step along the way.

Congratulations to USAID and to the university leaders, faculty, students, and staff that will be key to the success of the Higher Education Solutions Network.  By ensuring that faculty tenure- and promotion-policies encourage and reward social impact, interdisciplinary work, and international engagement; by pursuing Grand Challenges for global development; and by adopting humanitarian licensing strategies that increase global access to university-developed technologies– we hope all universities will embrace the critical role they can play in global development.

To learn more about the HESN, please visit: http://www.usaid.gov/hesn

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP

Robynn Sturm Steffen is Senior Advisor to the Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP

America Extends a Hand to Burma

Chris Milligan serves as mission director to USAID Burma Photo Credit: USAID

Yesterday, the streets of Rangoon were lined with huge crowds of enthusiastic well-wishers, holding signs welcoming President Obama as his motorcade sped to the last stop – Rangoon University – for a major speech.  The excitement, building here since the trip was announced, was now electric.

Even just a few months ago, this visit was likely unimaginable to the people of Burma.  In the President’s speech to a spellbound audience at the University’s historic Convocation Hall, he said, “When I took office as President, I sent a message to those governments who ruled by fear:  We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist… so today, I have come to keep my promise, and extend the hand of friendship.”

It was also unimaginable to me that I’d be standing by a U.S. President as he dedicated a USAID mission, a first time in the Agency’s history.  It’s been over 50 years since the inaugural U.S.-Burma Economic Cooperation Agreement was signed.  In the decades that followed, our two countries have shared a long and, at times, tumultuous history.  Yet, President Obama began a new chapter when he became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Burma, highlighting the country’s historic shift to democracy and the partnership of the United States in this effort.

Burma is in the process of a remarkable transition, moving from military, authoritarian rule to parliamentary democracy; negotiating ceasefires after decades-long conflicts; and shifting to a market-oriented economy.  And, as President Obama said, this remarkable journey has only just begun.

Yet, what an incredible start.  As a Foreign Service Officer for 23 years, I can tell you that helping countries chart a more prosperous future is not always easy. We know there is hard work ahead, but yesterday we got a huge lift. That momentum will only strengthen the optimism and resilience of the Burmese people.  I’ve never been prouder than when the President said to those listening all across Burma, “America is with you every step of the way.”

From the Field: Gender Equity through Education in South Sudan

Regina Anek, a deputy director for gender at South Sudan’s Ministry of Education in Eastern Equatoria, just saved a 14-year old girl from an early, forced marriage. She says she was empowered to intervene as the result of her participation in a USAID-supported mentor-training program for teachers and education officials aimed at encouraging girls not just to enroll, but also to complete, secondary school.

Mentoring is just one of the ways USAID is addressing financial, social and institutional barriers to gender parity in education through the Gender Equity through Education (GEE) Program.

School completion rates for girls in South Sudan are extremely low. Survey data indicates that the rate of completing the eight-year primary cycle is currently 30 percent for boys, while the girls’ completion rate lags far behind at 17 percent. Secondary school completion rates are even worse.  This cannot only be attributed to the long conflict in this country, which prevented many girls from attending school, but also to other unique cultural and financial barriers.

One rampant cultural barrier is early marriage. Persistent poverty has been cited as a major reason for parents marrying off their daughters in exchange for money. Moreover, cultural norms in some places dictate marriage readiness for girls as young as 13. Communities often stigmatize older girls in schools, causing them to give up their education.

With USAID’s mentoring support and some tuition stipend, many girls now stay in school, and some who were married at an early age are now able to return and complete their secondary schooling.

These rural schoolchildren participate in the USAID-funded Southern Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction project, which uses radio to broadcast interactive student lessons. / Karl Grobl, Education Development Center Inc.

These rural schoolchildren participate in the USAID-funded Southern Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction project, which uses radio to broadcast interactive student lessons. / Karl Grobl, Education Development Center Inc.

The GEE program’s three components include:

  • a scholarship program;
  • an advocacy, community mobilization, and mentoring program;
  • and an institutional support program.

Regina Anek was trained as a mentor, enhancing her skills to intervene in communities where girls face social pressure to leave school to get married.

“I was informed that a student from one of the schools in my state was about to be married off, and I hurried to convene a meeting with the family and community. Meanwhile, I asked the parents to allow me [to] accommodate the girl at my house so that she could continue attending school as we resolved her marriage case,” Anek said.

After weeks of negotiating and educating the community leaders and the girl’s parents on the importance of an educated girl to the family and society, the girl was allowed to return home and continue with school.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about our programs in South Sudan.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Namadi is an Education Management Specialist at USAID