USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Human Capital

On the Road to Innovation in the West Bank

Recently I spent two action-packed days visiting the West Bank where I saw the tremendous impact that the USAID West Bank and Gaza Mission’s work has in many sectors and witnessed several innovative projects.

Students at the Al Haffasi Coeducational Elementary School in Kafr Al Labad. USAID recently renovated the school adding three floors and six new classrooms.

Students at the Al Haffasi Coeducational Elementary School in Kafr Al Labad.
USAID recently renovated the school adding three floors and six new classrooms.

The work we are doing in the education sector and with youth is among the most exciting. USAID is currently partnering with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education on a national reading campaign to raise the public’s awareness of the importance of reading and to encourage everyone to read. I told students at the Al Haffasi coeducational elementary school in Kafr Al Labad, in the Tulkarem Governorate what a gift reading is. The slogan for our campaign “Today’s Readers Tomorrow’s Leaders,” rings true and I encouraged all of the students to grab a book and spend time reading, dreaming and learning. At the school we distributed dozens of books to the students, including popular works of American fiction and non-fiction like “Colors in the Desert” and “Mystery at the Museum” translated into Arabic that I am certain the students will enjoy.

A Palestinian entrepreneur taking part in a mini-MBA program offered by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Tel Aviv University’s Recanati School of Management with support from USAID.

A Palestinian entrepreneur taking part in a mini-MBA program offered by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Tel Aviv University’s Recanati School of Management with support from USAID.

The ingenuity and creativity of young Palestinian entrepreneurs I met was very impressive. While these youth face many challenges, ranging from finding jobs to starting businesses, I am certain that they will find and seize opportunities for success. I told them about a USAID initiative that will provide support to early stage businesses to create and sustain jobs, encourage increased equity investment in early stage businesses, and advance and develop the investment environment. The young entrepreneurs I met specialize in fields ranging from software to agribusiness to energy, and so many things in between. They were passionate about their ideas and I am certain that they will help lead the Palestinian economy forward.

During my two-day stay, the USAID West Bank and Gaza Mission reached 100,000 likes on Facebook, an impressive milestone and a testament to the open channel of communication that the Mission has cultivated with its fans, most of whom are based in the West Bank and Gaza.  Check out the site – USAID West Bank/Gaza.  The Mission posts fantastic photos of its highly important activities and loves to hear from its fans.

While in the West Bank I also visited an innovative pilot project where wastewater is treated and then reused to irrigate crops. This initiative is extremely resourceful and I look forward to seeing the data on crop yields and freshwater resources saved. I hope that the success of this pilot program can be emulated at other locations in the West Bank. I also got a glimpse of the challenges that the mission faces, particularly with environmental issues. Visiting a polluted stream, a tannery, and a landfill, I saw the complexities of the proper disposal of waste and sewage.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Romanowski briefed at Beit Fajjar in the West Bank on environmental issues and proper disposal of waste and sewage.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Romanowski briefed at Beit Fajjar in the West Bank
on environmental issues and proper disposal of waste and sewage.

I was pleased to see that the mission’s implementation of the High Impact Micro Infrastructure Initiative, a $100 million initiative announced by Secretary of State John Kerry in November 2013, is advancing according to schedule, with more than 40 infrastructure activities underway, and more scheduled to begin in the near future. These infrastructure projects are coordinated with the Palestinian Authority and municipal authorities to support Palestinian national priorities and include construction or renovation of health clinics, road repairs, construction of community centers and school, and other similar projects.  This initiative aims to provide Palestinians with quick, tangible infrastructure improvements in dozens of communities throughout the West Bank.

The range of people and projects that I saw over the course of two days was impressive.  While the challenges that numerous people and communities face are serious, their innovation and ingenuity are incredible and inspiring.

Behind the Scenes: Interview with Valerie Dickson-Horton to discuss her 24 years in Foreign Affairs for USAID

In this edition of our “Behind the Scenes” Interview Blog Series, we chat with Valerie Dickson-Horton, former Senior Foreign Service Mission Director and current Senior Advisor for the Office of Human Resources Afghanistan and Pakistan Division.

Ms. Dickson-Horton reflects on 24 years in Foreign Affairs for USAID, and offers advice to those interested in a Foreign Service career.

Q: What inspired you most about being in the FS?

The hope that USAID provides to the host country nationals for improving the quality of lives.

Q: Why did you decide to join the service?

I had applied to medical school, was working as a recruiter for Peace Corps and USAID was my backup if the medical school option did not pan out. The rest is history. I joined USAID, had a fabulous 24 years and had perhaps only four bad days during my entire career.

Q: What did you like most about your work?

Helping people, seeing the world and learning how important it is to put human upliftment above politics!

Q: What did you like least?

Whenever we would lose sight of how powerful our global standing becomes when we sincerely extend a helping hand to anyone who needs it regardless of who they are.

Q: Where have you lived and do you have  a favorite post?

Botswana, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Swaziland.  Sudan was the most professionally fulfilling and demanding job but I loved working in all of these countries and loved my work.

Q: What advice would you give to a person interested in becoming FS?

Start learning either Spanish, French, Arabic or Portuguese and consider joining the Peace Corps, becoming a UN volunteer or seek work with an international non-profit organization. Working overseas is an eyeopening experience that will serve you well, for it gives you a much deeper appreciation about what the world has to offer and it allows you to grow into someone with a broader understanding of the human race.  Keep exploring life and living!

 

For more information on the Foreign Service and other careers with USAID

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Want to Change the World? Invest in a Girl

Today, there are 850 million girls in the world.  Want to change the world?  Invest in a girl.  We know that investing in girls is not just the right thing to do, it’s also smart economics.  Girls who are more educated earn more income, have greater access to family health information and services, are more likely to delay early marriage and childbirth, and have healthier babies.  Research shows the benefits of an educated and empowered girl—not only for herself, but her family and community.

For instance, one extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent; an extra year of secondary school by 15 to 25 percent.  These gains can have incredible multiplying affects since women tend to spend more of their income on goods and services that benefit their families.

Yet, girls face many obstacles. 62 million primary school age girls are not in school.  Girls spend more time than boys on unpaid work and care for younger siblings, and that difference is substantial for those who are not enrolled in school.  Also, perhaps no other segment of society globally faces as much exploitation and injustice than girls.

That’s why we’re thrilled that last December, the United Nations General Assembly declared October 11th the International Day of the Girl to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.   Today is an exciting opportunity to educate others about the status of girls and the positive results that can be obtained by investing in them.  At USAID, we’re taking this opportunity to refine our efforts to tackle child marriage and promote secondary education to ensure that girls are not robbed of their human rights and can live to their full potential.

There are more than 60 million child brides worldwide.  Millions of young women around the world are married before the age of 18, one girl in seven in developing countries marries before the age of 15. Many marry against their will and in violation of international laws and conventions on women’s rights.

These young brides often are socially isolated and powerless in the relationship.  They have limited education and economic opportunities, and they are vulnerable to health complications that result from giving birth before their bodies are fully developed. One quarter to one-half of girls in developing countries become mothers before age 18 and complications from early and frequent childbearing is a leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19.

Today, we released Ending Child Marriage and Serving the Needs of Married Youth: The USAID Vision, which focuses on development efforts to combat child marriage in regions, countries, and communities.  We’re focusing on interventions to prevent and respond to child marriage where it’s most needed and most able to achieve results.  We’re also tackling child marriage on-the-ground, where it matters most.  In Bangladesh, we’re working with the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs to support a pilot program to test approaches to address child marriage, particularly efforts that promote community sensitization to this critical issue.

Also, recognizing that education can be the key to unlocking a girl’s potential, USAID and the Presidents’ Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) are working together to ensure thousands of adolescent girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) make successful transitions to secondary school.  Only 11 percent of Congolese women over age 25 have a secondary education; with an emphasis on leadership training this program, Empowering Adolescent Girls to Lead through Education (EAGLE), will seek to raise girls’ enrollment by tackling many of the barriers keeping girls from continuing their post-primary education – including cost and school safety.

Girls should be engaged in society. They should have the opportunity for friendships and mentoring so that they can participate in the decision-making and be prepared to lead.  They should have access to education and health information and services.  Girls should be protected from sexual and other physical and emotional abuse. Their voices should be amplified and their active citizenship encouraged and supported for generations to come.

An investment in girls will pay dividends for generations to come. Let’s all keep that in mind as we celebrate the first-ever International Day of the Girl.

Equal Futures Partnership Advances Global Women’s Opportunities

Sarah Mendelson is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Credit: USAID

I am excited to have just returned from the kick-off of the Equal Futures Partnership to expand women’s opportunities around the world. The event was held in New York City and part of a number of events USAID is participating in during the United Nations General Assembly this week.

The world has made significant strides in expanding opportunity for women and girls; in the U.S., we just celebrated 40 years of Title IX, an act of Congress that changed the lives of many in my generation by enabling girls to have equal access to education playing sports. Equal access to sports in schools, particularly, taught many of us how to be fierce competitors and learn valuable lessons in team building.

Yet more work is needed to tackle the global gender inequality. Last week, I met in London with donors on this very topic where researchers discussed a number of startlingly facts:

  • In 2011, women held only 19 percent of parliamentary seats worldwide, while less than five percent of heads of state and government were women.
  • While in the past 25 years, women have increasingly joined the labor market, the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report describes “pervasive and persistent gender differences” in productivity and earnings across sectors and jobs.
  • Though women are 43 percent of the agriculture labor force and undertake many unpaid activities, they own just a tiny fraction of land worldwide.

These realities demand an urgent response.

Building on President Obama’s challenge a year ago at UNGA, the United States government has partnered in a new international effort to break down barriers to women’s political participation and economic empowerment. The goal of the Equal Futures Partnership is to realize women’s human rights by expanding opportunity for women and girls to fully participate in public life and drive inclusive economic growth in our countries.

Through this partnership, the countries of Senegal, Benin, Jordan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Peru, Denmark, Finland, Australia and the European Union are all making new commitments to action, and will consult with national stakeholders inside and outside government, including civil society, multilateral organizations including UN Women and the World Bank, and the private sector, to identify and overcome key barriers to women’s political and economic participation.  This partnership promises to be groundbreaking not only for the countries involved but also for those who are watching its implementation.

USAID and its Center for Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance stands by to provide assistance to these countries as well as many others throughout the world as they work to advance women’s political participation and economic empowerment.

This is thrilling work that helps make the promise of development real for everyone–not just a privileged few.

Fundación Saraki Helping Advance Labor Rights and Inclusion for People with Disabilities in Paraguay

Worldwide, it is estimated that 15% of men and women have some kind of disability. The worldwide unemployment rate for people with disabilities is estimated to be close to 80%.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and during my recent trip to Paraguay I wanted to highlight a group that I met with, called Fundación Saraki. The non-profit specializes in helping advance the labor rights of those with disabilities and strives for inclusion in Paraguayan society.

Members of Fundacion Saraki, a non-profit that is dedicated to laboral inclusion for those with disabilities. Photo Credit: Laura Rodríguez/USAID

Although Congress in Paraguay passed a law in 2004, which provides mandatory labor inclusion of People with Disabilities (PwD) in public institutions, there has been little compliance with the law up to 2009. Also, there is no legal requirement for private companies in Paraguay to hire PwD.

In May 2009, Fundación Saraki was granted a Cooperative Agreement for the “Effective Labor Inclusion” of People with Disabilities within the public and private sectors. With this agreement, Fundacion Saraki has started working with many private companies including McDonald’s and Supermercados España (a local supermarket chain in Paraguay).

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The Role of Honor Related Violence in Sex Trafficking

In many societies, maintaining family and personal honor is integral to upholding cultural norms.  The burden of upholding such honor codes weighs more heavily on women and girls.  In countries such as Iraq, programs designed to combat human trafficking must address severe cultural stigmas about honor in conjunction with protection and prosecution efforts.

Female victims of sex trafficking are often detained and charged with prostitution. They generally spend six months incarcerated before their cases are heard. Photo Credit: Kamaran Najm/ Metrography

Vian* was 14-years old when her neighbor Ahmed, an 18-year old police officer, persuaded her to have a relationship with him by promising to marry her.  Their relationship only lasted a short period before Ahmed ended things, threatening Vian that he would kill her if she told anyone about them.  When Vian’s father became suspicious, he beat her and demanded to know if she was in a relationship.  Fearing for her safety, because the relationship, if discovered, would damage her family’s honor, Vian asked for Ahmed’s help in running away.   Ahmed tried to take Vian to Iran, but she escaped by taxi to another city to look for her friend’s house.  The taxi driver drove her to a brothel where Vian was forced into prostitution.  Several months later the police arrested and detained her and charged her with engaging in prostitution. Once in jail, Vian learned she was pregnant.

Iraqi women and girls are expected to uphold the honor of the family and tribe by adhering to rigid sexual and social norms.  Though not an exhaustive list of reasons, common breaches of these norms include perceived or real actions such as premarital sex, adultery, divorce or exercising freedom of choice in selecting a marriage partner.  Honor related violence is widely viewed by Iraqi society and the law as justified when it’s in response to what is deemed immoral behavior.  Retribution takes the form of ‘honor’ killings, forced marriage – including to rapists, – and severe restrictions on the mobility of women and girls.

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Bringing Science and Technology Expertise to USAID

Recognizing the Importance of Science & Technology in Development, USAID attended The Space Coast Job Fair and Hands-On Training Event in Cape Canaveral, Florida on July 26th. This event was part of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) continuing effort to promote Federal hiring in areas most adversely affected by current economic conditions. OPM is supporting the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in its efforts to assist aerospace workers impacted by the ending of the Space Shuttle program.

“We’re looking for people who are fundamentally entrepreneurial, and who can bring a ‘Yes we can approach’ to USAID.” Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah

The conversation always begins with “why aren’t you working for the United States Agency for International Development?” The replies were always different.  Most people never heard of us; some did not know why; and there was an occasional “you never asked.”

On July 26th, 2011, we traveled to Cape Canaveral for a NASA Job Fair where we spoke to well over a hundred very talented people from a wide variety of disciplines–engineers, contract specialists, and IT specialists to name a few– who had devoted decades of their lives to the space program.  Our give-aways were USAID pens; jokingly, we told our visitors that they were designed by NASA.  We told them that they could write underwater, upside down, and in space, for comic relief, but with all sincerity we asked that their next job acceptance letter be signed with this pen.

One NASA employee, Jill, was ending her military career in the Air Force as a lawyer.  Dennis told her of the benefits and opportunities for veterans at USAID, including the Veterans Recruitment Appointments (VRAs) and other special hiring authorities that are available for women and men of service.  For more information on these authorities, visit  http://www.fedshirevets.gov/job/shav/index.aspx and http://www.usaid.gov/work-usaid/careers/veterans-opportunities.

There was Anna, who was once an assistant school principal, but left her love of education for her love of space, to work as a Human Resource Administrator at NASA. We told her of the work the agency performs in global development and that we have a need for education specialists all over the world, as well as in Washington, and that she should look at our agency to rekindle her interests in teaching.

The person that we were impressed with the most was a portly fellow named Victor.  He had a great suit, but was sweltering through his shirt because he stopped to change the tire of stranded motorist.  He told us of his volunteer endeavors with the community and his work with all of the Space Shuttle launches as an IT Program Manager.  His character and sincere devotion to helping others stood out; we told him that he would be a tremendous asset for USAID (or any agency) that he wanted to serve with.

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Eva Biaudet, 2011 TIP Hero, On Finland’s Work to Combat Trafficking

This week, I traveled from Washington, D.C.—where I was honored to be named a 2011 TIP Hero—to Vilnius, Lithuania, where I have had the opportunity to discuss modern day slavery with prominent women from all over the world. As I listened to the Ghanian Minister of Women’s Affairs speak passionately about the forces that make women vulnerable to trafficking in her country and the need to rescue victims and hold perpetrators accountable in destination countries like Finland, I was reminded of how important it to share our knowledge about trafficking and coordinate our response.

In 2010, Finland issued the first national report on human trafficking, and it has already had a significant impact on our work combatting modern day slavery. First, the report has given decision makers and authorities an evidence-based analysis of our response to the problem, including the success of police in identifying victims of trafficking and exploitation. Second, the report examines the extent to which victims have been able to access assistance available to them and how well their rights have been protected as they move through the system.

Eva Biaudet is the Ombudsman for Minorities of Finland. Photo Credit: Eva Biaudet

The report recommended that the threshold of accession be lowered and that the assistance process be separated from the crime investigation process. Drawing on lessons learned , the report noted that police sometimes focus on gathering evidence against perpetrators at the expense of protecting the victim (or considering what will happen to her once the investigation is complete) The report also highlighted the importance of gender throughout the process, demonstrating how prejudice and stigma can influence authorities and courts.

To combat such prejudice, we use a victim centered approach in our antitrafficking work; this is also the starting point for the The Finnish National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings. The task of the National Rapporteur is to analyze and evaluate the implementation of legislation and activities to combat trafficking in human beings, and to issue recommendations to Parliament on making the action against human trafficking more effective.

The Parliament’s discussion of the National Rapporteur’s recommendations have deepended our understanding of trafficking in Finland and enabled us to repond more effectively to this crime. The National Rapporteur’s work is essential for the legislators and budgetmakers, as it enables them to make decisions on resources and to allocate them effectively.

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USAID Commemorates National Freedom Day and Advocates to Combat Human Trafficking

On February 1, 1865 President Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery and sent it to the States for ratification.  February 1st was later established as National Freedom Day.  A very complex form of “modern slavery” currently pervades across society and affects men, women and children.  Through human trafficking, individuals and families are entrapped in complicated schemes of debt bondage that may continue from one generation to the next, and countless numbers are forced into some form of sexual slavery, where victims are coerced into prostitution and humiliating, often brutal situations that result in physical and psychological trauma.  USAID continues to be committed to not only preventing trafficking but protecting and assisting victims, and strengthening the capacity of governments to prosecute and convict traffickers.

Radiohead, one of the world's top bands, is a part of the MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) campaign, a partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and MTV to raise awareness about human trafficking. The collaboration takes the Asia MTV EXIT campaign to a global audience, reaching as many as 560 million households worldwide.

Today, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah will attend the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.  The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 authorized the President to establish the President’s Interagency Task Force (PITF), a cabinet-level task force to coordinate federal efforts to combat human trafficking. The PITF is chaired by the Secretary of State and meets at least once a year.

USAID assistance works to prevent trafficking, protect and assist victims and strengthen the capacity of governments to prosecute and convict traffickers. This direct anti-trafficking assistance is reinforced by USAID programs that support economic development, good governance, education, health and human rights.  As part of that assistance, USAID has partnered with MTV having some of the biggest stars of popular music and culture lend their voices in the fight.

Below are links of our work with respect to Human Trafficking through our Women in Development office and partnership with MTV’s EXIT End Exploitation and Trafficking Campaign.

Long-Term Investments to Bring Real-Life Improvements to People of Pakistan

A summary map on the activities announced or underway in Pakistan.

During Dr. Raj Shah’s whirlwind two-day visit to Pakistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the ongoing Strategic Dialogue between the two countries, the U.S. announced more than $500 million in new development assistance for Pakistan. 

The new projects include the completion of two hydroelectric dams in South Waziristan and Gilgit-Baltistan that will supply more than 34 megawatts of additional power to 280,000 residents in those areas, the renovation and construction of three medical facilities, economic growth programs and seven projects to improve water distribution and efficiency in the country. Much of the assistance will be delivered by USAID.

The United States shares with Pakistan a vision of a future in which all people can live safe, healthy, and productive lives. Dr. Shah spoke with press about USAID’s role in Pakistan, saying that “Our commitment is broad and deep,” and one that encompasses programs ranging from health and energy to economic growth and agriculture. 

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