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The $1 Trillion Market Opportunity: Taking Innovations to the Next Level

BioLite conducts a nighttime training on its low-cost biomass Homestove

BioLite conducts a nighttime training on its low-cost biomass Homestove. /BioLite

Next week, 11 USAID-supported innovators will join a delegation from the U.S. Global Development Lab in San Francisco at the 7th annual Social Capital Markets Conference (SOCAP). This diverse group of innovators includes, among others, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, the founder of a Sikh civil rights organization, a computer engineer, a Burmese-American lawyer, and the author of a book about a road trip from Maputo to Tunis.

Joining 2,000 fellow entrepreneurs, investors, philanthropists and venture capitalists at SOCAP — the largest annual gathering on impact investing in the world — these innovators will discuss their successes, celebrate their failures and engage with their peers and mentors on how their businesses can deliver financial returns while serving the needs of vulnerable communities. Most importantly, they will seek to connect with potential impact investors and attract capital in what is considered to be a $1 trillion market opportunity.

Events like SOCAP address one of impact investing’s primary challenges: capital to incubate innovators often isn’t available for early-stage entrepreneurs in developing countries. USAID has an important role to play here. By providing a limited amount of public capital through initiatives like the Development Innovation Ventures fund, the LAUNCH open innovation platform and the “Priming the Pump” Global Development Alliance (GDA) with Echoing Green, we can develop a pipeline of investment-ready social enterprises that can then attract private capital and scale.

One of the 12,800 Tanzanian homes Off.Grid has connected to energy over the past year

One of the 12,800 Tanzanian homes Off.Grid:Electric has connected to energy over the past year / Off.Grid:Electric

We invite you to meet this diverse and exciting array of innovators the Lab is supporting at SOCAP:

Niokobok: Senegal
The problem:  Thirty million African migrants send $60 billion back home annually. Africans pay the highest charges for money transfers in the world, costing them billions.

The solution:  Senegalese company Niokobok is an online retailer offering food and goods such as solar lanterns for delivery in Senegal. The company bypasses high transfer charges by giving Senegalese abroad the opportunity to order essential goods for their relatives rather than send cash directly. McKinsey estimates the African online retail market will be worth $75 billion by 2025.

Koe-Koe Tech Co. Ltd.: Burma
The problem:  A data-deprived health sector in Burma.

The solution:  Koe-Koe, in Yangon, creates software for hospitals, labs, and government and has created a mobile health app for the general population. Koe-Koe’s software has been installed at several major Burmese health institutions. The company’s goal is to develop a nationwide health information exchange where health information can be shared between health institutions.

Off.Grid:Electric: Tanzania
The problem:  85 percent of Tanzanian households operate without electricity. The alternative, kerosene, is costly and dangerous, and solar devices are often cost-prohibitive.

The solution:  Tanzanian-based start-up Off.Grid:Electric realized they could approach solar lights as telecom companies do cell phones: as services, not as products. With this unique approach, Off.Grid has connected 12,800 homes to energy over the past year and attracted investment for expansion.

Pixatel: India
The problem:  Low-quality teaching and absenteeism in India are major obstacles to improving student performance.

The solution:  Pixatel’s business model is based on evidence that computer-based learning is effective in supplementing varying teacher quality and responsive to student needs. The company created an adaptive, tablet-based learning platform that tailors content to each student. Teachers and administrators are provided with visibility into individual student performance as well as reports at a class and school level.

Eco-Fuel Africa: Uganda
The problem:  Many Ugandans cook food over wood or charcoal fires, causing chronic illness and death from smoke as well as deforestation.

The solution:  Ugandan firm Eco-Fuel Africa combined a unique business model with simple, low tech machines to convert agricultural waste into clean cooking fuel briquettes, which are sold as healthier cooking alternatives. The briquettes burn cleaner and longer and are cheaper than charcoal from wood. Over 10,000 Ugandan households are now using Eco-Fuel’s briquettes.

Sanergy: Kenya
The problem:  Contact with human waste in Kenyan slums is a leading cause of diarrheal disease, resulting in thousands of deaths each year.

The solution:  Nairobi-based Sanergy collects and recycles human waste into organic fertilizer, which is sold to the region’s commercial farmers. The company serves 18,000 Nairobi residents with hygienic sanitation daily.

Stromme Foundation: Peru
The problem:  Women in remote regions of the Andes often spend eight hours a day herding a flock of sheep, yet make just $120 a year. Overgrazing by livestock is the primary cause of environmental degradation in these areas.

The solution:  The Stromme Foundation uses a technique called Hydroponic Green Forage (HGF), which allows Andean region residents to grow grass at home. The technique uses less water and produces higher yields than other methods. It also saves time, allowing residents to engage in other, income generating activities.

DrinkWell: Bangladesh
The problem:  In Bangladesh, 20 percent of deaths are due to arsenic in the water supply.

The solution:  Bangladesh-based DrinkWell’s filtration technology delivers 60 times as much water, is 17 times more efficient, and reduces waste by seven times compared with existing solutions. DrinkWell uses a local franchise model, creating jobs and income.

Buen Power Peru: Peru
The problem:  In Peru, 6.7 million people don’t have access to electricity.

The solution:  Buen Power Peru provides affordable, renewable solar lighting products to rural communities through unique distribution channels including rural teachers and radio station distribution hubs.

BioLite: India
The problem:  Cooking on open fires results in 4 million premature deaths each year and contributes to climate change.

The solution:  BioLite has created a low-cost biomass Homestove that, by converting waste heat into electricity, reduces smoke emissions by 90 percent, reduces fuel consumption by half, and delivers electricity to recharge mobile phones and provide an evening’s worth of light.

Carbon Roots: Haiti
The problem: Ninety‐four percent of the Haitian population relies on charcoal and wood as a primary source of energy, resulting in health problems and deforestation.

The solution: Carbon Roots International has been refining “char” technology, which converts biomass-like agricultural waste into cleaner cooking fuel as well as an alternative to fertilizer.


Jill Boezwinkle is a Senior Program Manager in the Office of Development Innovation Ventures, U.S. Global Development Lab.

An Opportunity of 300,000 Lifetimes

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” The Greek physician Hippocrates wrote this in about 400 BC. Of course, when Hippocrates practiced medicine, opportunities to heal were scarce as he and his peers understood relatively little about anatomy and physiology, much less biomolecular science. In Hippocrates’ era, some percentage of young children were expected to succumb to illness. Over the last 2,000 years, however, developments in medical science have allowed for the previously unthinkable. The collective brilliance and hard work of scientists and healers have ensured that many of the maladies that afflicted Hippocrates’ patients took a one-way trip to the history books.  Children, for the most part, can be expected to reach adulthood.

Alas, some exceptions stubbornly remain.

There is no clearer example than pediatric HIV. A single generation has seen the rise of a devastating epidemic and, though there have been breakthroughs in the fight against the virus, 3.2 million children currently live with the virus and an estimated 700 children are infected daily. The recent, sudden viral rebound in the “Mississippi baby,” the first child believed to be functionally cured, was the latest punch to the gut in the long, drawn out brawl to protect children from the virus. In low-resourced regions, children living with HIV are often among the last to be tested and treated. Initiating children on treatment early, which allowed the Mississippi baby to remain virally suppressed for years, is exceptionally rare.

A baby receives life-saving drugs. / Anna Zeminski, AFP / Getty Images

A baby receives life-saving drugs. / Anna Zeminski, AFP / Getty Images

Now for some good news. Earlier this month, as part of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR),in partnership with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), launched Accelerating Children’s HIV/AIDS Treatment (ACT). ACT is an ambitious $200 million initiative to double the total number of children receiving life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART) across 10 priority African countries over the next two years. This investment will enable 300,000 more children living with HIV to receive life-saving ART.

At the onset of the HIV epidemic in the early 1980’s, an HIV diagnosis was equivalent to a death sentence. Failing to treat a child remains just that, as half die by 2 years of age. Up to three people die of AIDS every minute and an estimated 190,000 children died of AIDS in 2013 alone.


An HIV-positive mother holds her child after visiting an HIV clinic. For children who are born HIV-positive, life-saving antiretroviral therapy is critical to protecting their health. / AFP

Hippocrates was right: Healing is indeed both a matter of time and opportunity. Time does not heal HIV, however, and deaths continue to mount, a disproportionate number of them among children.

So, now is the time to act. Thanks to PEPFAR and CIFF, we have an unprecedented opportunity to do just that.


Dr. Benjamin Ryan Phelps is a Medical Officer who focuses on Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) and Pediatric AIDS. Follow him at @BRPhelpsMD.
Joella Adams is a Global Health Fellows Program intern working with PMTCT programs.

Are you using USAID’s data? We want to hear about it!

The Feed the Future Project is linking markets in Mozambique with mobile phones

The Feed the Future Project is linking markets in Mozambique with mobile phones / CNFA

USAID’s commitment to development innovation by leveraging data extends throughout the history of the Agency. However, this has become more recognizable with the introduction of new technologies. You can now access Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC) documents and a map of USAID’s global development work as iPhone applications.

The U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants, Obligations and Loan Authorizations or “Greenbook” is one of the most accessed Agency datasets available to the public.

From efforts to facilitate humanitarian aid to Kathmandu, Nepal; to crowdsourcing the locations of USAID loan data, USAID and its partners are leveraging open data to advance global development.

We have spent the past year developing governance, policy, and technological approaches to open its data for public use and continues to expand and enrich its Open Data Listing.

So, how are you using USAID data?  Whether it’s for a school project, non-profit assistance, research, or private enterprise, we want to hear from you!

USAID is increasing community engagement for open data to inform best data practices and ensure that we are meeting the demands of our data users. Whether we can improve your user experience or provide the community with data that supports new tools and technology, we are committed to the digital revolution and we want you to be a part of it.

Please fill out our short questionnaire or contact us at We look forward to hearing how you are using USAID data and how USAID’s open data efforts can better serve you.


Alana Marsili is a Management and Program Analyst in the Performance Division of the Bureau for Management’s Office of Management Policy, Budget, and Performance.

Making for a Stronger Africa

This post has been cross-listed with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog

This month, the first class of the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Mandela Washington Fellows converged on Washington, D.C. for their inaugural Presidential Summit. During the Summit, many of the Fellows joined the US Global Development Lab and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy at Fab Lab DC to discuss the role of making in Africa’s economic and community development.

Mandela Washington Fellows gather to discuss how making will help shape Africa’s future. / Mike Star

Mandela Washington Fellows gather to discuss how making will help shape Africa’s future. / Mike Star

The Maker Movement is transforming the way we design and produce things – both here at home and overseas. At this year’s first-ever White House Maker Faire, President Obama described making as “a revolution that can help us create new jobs and industries for decades to come.” In recognition of the potential of young African visionaries to advance the Maker Movement, YALI is working to equip change-makers with the tools they need to foster progress across the continent.

 Community maker spaces are already springing up around the world, providing public access to tools and technologies like 3D printers, laser cutters, and low-cost modular electronics, which dramatically change the rules of invention – anyone with an idea can bring that idea to life. By democratizing the means to create, digital manufacturing lowers the barrier to entrepreneurship around the world, including in developing regions like Sub-Saharan Africa.

WoeLab inventor Afate Gniko with his e-waste 3D printer. /

WoeLab inventor Afate Gniko with his e-waste 3D printer. /

 In 2012, Togolese entrepreneur Sename Koffi Abdojinou founded WoeLab, a bootstrapped maker space and business incubator built on an ethos of community design and open-access hardware in low-resource settings. Illustrating the power of this philosophy in action, WoeLab member Afate Gnikou invented a 3D printer made primarily from discarded electronics, or e-waste, scrapped from landfills. The invention’s design has been openly published, so makers across Africa and the rest of the world can leverage his ingenuity to sow the seeds of digital fabrication in their own communities. This year at the Fab10 maker conference, WoeLab’s e-waste 3D printer was awarded the Global Fab Award.

Maker spaces like Abdojinou’s WoeLab promote hands-on STEM education; they empower ordinary people to develop local solutions to the challenges faced in their communities; they encourage entrepreneurship.  In October 2013, Togo celebrated its ten most promising young entrepreneurs. Three of them came from WoeLab.

The maker movement paves a clear path toward local problem solving and entrepreneurship, both hallmarks of the Mandela Fellowship, as we learned firsthand:

Fellow Abibatou Banda Fall helps women develop products to improve their livelihoods, like a low-cost thermal basket to keep goods warm as they’re taken to markets, in Senegal.

Lukonga Lindunda operates a co-working space to support innovative tech entrepreneurs in Zambia.

Selma Neves helps struggling single mothers lift themselves out of poverty through self-employment training and support in Cabo Verde.

Ruth Lukwaro pairs inventors with business students to build sustainable social enterprises in Tanzania.

Mutoba Ngoma turns agricultural waste into consumer goods like biodiesel fuel for local markets in Zambia.

Tatiana Pereira runs a business incubator for early-stage startups in Mozambique. “I can have greater impact on people’s lives by sharing knowledge and strengthening the ones around me,” she said.  “Success is the entrepreneurs that start and succeed.”

 The Fellows also had an opportunity to speak with Emeka Okafor, founder of Maker Faire Africa, who encouraged them to cultivate a culture of making. “Making is central to leading Africa where it needs to be: a developing, problem solving region,” he said. “It’s imperative that communities from Cairo to the Cape unfetter their populations with tools from within. Making is pivotal if this is to occur.” Maker Faire Africa showcases makers’ ingenuity and strengthen their pan-African network. Started in 2009, the organization has hosted events in four different African countries. The next Maker Faire Africa will be held later this year.

 Looking forward, makers in Africa are faced with a spectrum of challenges, ranging from amplified versions of those familiar to American entrepreneurs like gaining access to venture capital and low-cost manufacturing, to more frustrating hurdles like inadequate electricity and supply chain infrastructure. Daunting though these challenges may be, the gritty determination of young African leaders like Abdojinou is unwavering. Africa’s makers and entrepreneurs will help shape the future of the continent.  “Growth,” said Pereira, “comes from people who act and make things happen – entrepreneurs. Africa is full of opportunities and young people with great potential.”


Eric King (@eric_m_king) is an Innovation Specialist at the U.S. Global Development Lab.
Stephanie Santoso is a Researcher at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Kate Gage (@kategage) is an Advisor at the U.S. Global Development Lab at U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Power of the Classroom

In certain parts of the world, how many things have to go right in order to get a girl into a classroom?

And what type of life can that education can provide her?

As the senior gender coordinator for USAID, these questions fill my mind constantly as I seek to carry out my mandate – helping empower women and girls to participate fully and benefit from the development of their societies.

Last month, I traveled to Zambia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Dr. Jill Biden, USAID administrator Raj Shah, and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell where I was able to see them answered firsthand.

Girl students at Shalom Community School, Lusaka, Zambia

Girl students at Shalom Community School, Lusaka, Zambia / Susan Markham

The decision to allow a child to go to school is fraught with obstacles. Some are material: uniforms, socks, shoes, notebooks and pencils. Some reflect the economic and cultural realities of poverty-stricken families. But these concerns also often pale in comparison to the serious danger that many women and girls face every single time they step out of their homes to pursue an education.

In the eastern part of the DRC, I met a young woman who was kidnapped from her own home and taken into the jungle for six months by an armed militia. She had no idea where she was, who had taken her, or if she would ever see her family or home again.

In Sierra Leone, I met two younger girls from a rural area, around 10 years old, who were given to an “Auntie” in the city with the promise that they would attended school. Instead, they were held hostage in her home and made to do all of the household chores with little food and water. They suffered for months until they finally managed to escape.

But in Zambia, a young woman named Martha, orphaned by HIV/AIDS, was still trying to find a way to stay in school. Despite extreme poverty, little existing educational infrastructure, and the loss of her parents, she explained how her greatest goal was to finish her education.

In the DRC, Therese, an incredibly talented local entrepreneur who worked in restaurants for years, managed to save enough money for engineering school. With her degree, she created several surprisingly effective traffic robots that have become functional icons around Kinshasa. The robots are the centerpiece of her company, Women’s Technologies, that she runs alongside several other women. As if that weren’t enough, she also owns a successful chain of local restaurants.

Girl students at St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone await the arrival of Dr. Biden

Girl students at St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone await the arrival of Dr. Biden. / Susan Markham

Everywhere I went, people seemed to intuitively understand that educating their daughters was the most important thing they could do for their future.

They might not know the statistics:  That an educated girl has a “ripple effect” in many ways. That a girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 percent more as an adult, or that a girl who completes basic education will invest 90 percent of her earnings back into her family. These effects might be invisible for the time being, but women, children, and community members are still willing to take great risks and make incredible sacrifices to stay in school, or to help their friends, daughters, and wives do the same.  Whether or not we can see it now, these benefits amplify across families, towns, cities, countries and generations.

This is why, in line with our mission to end extreme poverty and promote resilient democratic societies, USAID invests $1 billion every year on education programs around the world – on programs like WASH, designed to improve clean water and sanitation facilities in schools, and EAGLE, to help girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo make the transition from primary to secondary school. And to help raise awareness on the importance of girls’ education, we launched Let Girls Learn earlier this year with the help of our friends from the arts and entertainment industry.

Ultimately, it is stories like the ones I heard throughout my trip that drove home the necessity of programs like these. We do this because around the world, from Afghanistan to Zambia, individuals and families understand that both the risks and the payoffs to women’s education are huge. Despite putting themselves in the line of fire, sometimes quite literally, mothers continue to send their daughters to school, and their daughters keep going. Teachers continue to show up everyday to pass on their hard-won knowledge and expertise to the next generation. Communities, on their own and with our help, continue to build the infrastructure, even though it risks destruction.

The resilience and bravery of the girls and women that I met is humbling and inspiring. They certainly keep me going, and I’m glad that we are here to help turn that determination and perseverance into a lasting reality.


Susan Markham is USAID’s Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. She tweets from @msmarkham

Mobile Agriculture: A Lifeline for Pakistan’s Farmers

A ‘connected’ farmer is sharing information with a ‘non-connected’ farmer in his community. / USAID/Pakistan

A ‘connected’ farmer is sharing information with a ‘non-connected’ farmer in his community. / USAID/Pakistan

Spend five minutes on any busy street in Pakistan and you will think that you are in one of the most connected countries in the world. Most people, regardless of economic class, have a mobile phone, and farmers are no exception. Most of these farmers live in isolated remote communities which can be prone to major natural disasters and violence from militants. These communities have extremely poor infrastructure, almost no public transportation, and little access to basic financial services. Mobile phone coverage, however, penetrates into some of the most remote areas of Pakistan, reaching otherwise isolated rural communities.

For these communities, mobile phones are a lifeline. Recognizing this, USAID Pakistan has partnered with the regional government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Telenor, an international mobile network operator in Pakistan, to create and deliver tailored mobile solutions to get information to peach and potato growers as well as fisheries in Swat Valley.

By delivering real-time information about market prices and new techniques, weather forecasting, and diversified financial services via mobile technology, the service helps Pakistani farmers and hatchery managers improve productivity and get better returns on their investments. As their incomes increase through more informed decision making, they are able to invest in better quality inputs and equipment.

Around 1,500 people are included in the pilot project, which is focused on testing and scaling up what works to ensure that the program’s digital development tools meet participant’s needs.

A farmer participating in the USAID pilot program is reading a text alert on best farming practice. / USAID/Pakistan

A farmer participating in the USAID pilot program is reading a text alert on best farming practice. / USAID/Pakistan

The project provides two basic services. First, it sends alerts to mobile phones to provide farmers with tips and advice in their local language, helping them to increase the quality and quantity of their production. Participants can also use their mobile phones to access recorded advisories from an interactive voice response (IVR). In a country where the literacy rate is low, voice-based services address the difficulties faced by those unable to read or write.

These text and voice services provide a wide range of information. Weather forecasts help them decide when to plant, irrigate and harvest. Information on market prices and consumer trends help them understand which products will yield the highest returns for their efforts. Farmers also receive technical advice on how to fight pests or diseases, improve farming practices for more sustainable agriculture, and apply processing techniques that reduce food wastage. They can learn about regulations, available subsidies and local fairs.

Fresh potatoes from the farms in Swat / USAID/Pakistan

Fresh potatoes from the farms in Swat / USAID/Pakistan

Initial feedback from the pilot is promising. More than 90 percent of the participants who received the messages said that they were well-timed and useful, and three quarters have adopted the service’s recommended practices. Subscribers also reported that they shared the information with non-subscribed farmers, underscoring the value of the information and quadrupling the project’s reach.

As a corollary to the project, mobile financial services, including remittances, mobile banking and value-added services like crop insurance are also being introduced. This will help boost food production, improve livelihoods and incomes and introduce technological solutions to improve efficiency in the agricultural supply chain.

By analyzing calls Pakistani farmers place to the IVR service, agricultural specialists and research organizations can build an accurate picture of the challenges rural farmers face and the evolving trends in Pakistani agriculture.

At its core, mobile agriculture is about putting information into farmers’ hands and empowering them through sustainable and scalable solutions. The hope is that the success of this partnership will encourage and enable other private sector players to enter the market, contributing to a well-informed and more prosperous farming community throughout the country. It is also expected that these innovations will create new economic opportunities in this politically sensitive region, where financial stability is an essential factor in the region’s overall resilience.


Shehla Rizwan is Development Outreach and Communications Specialist for USAID/Pakistan

Haiti’s High-Tech Revolution: The ‘New Model’ in Action

Workers at Haiti’s Surtab factory carefully assembly tablets.

Workers at Haiti’s Surtab factory carefully assembly tablets. / A. Thier, USAID

Creating an environment that encourages inclusive growth amidst instability is both necessary and extremely challenging. Nevertheless, on a recent visit to Haiti, I saw some ways that USAID is helping to create local partnerships that provide a path out of poverty.

In a country where two thirds of the population live on less than $1.25 per day this is no small task.

The refurbished Sonapi Industrial Park, an unexpected beehive of activity just outside of Port-au-Prince, is a perfect example. We visited the site  to explore the Surtab tablet factory. Literally humming with activity, the plant is a case study in USAID’s “new model” of development: one that promotes local ownership, leverages private investment, spurs innovation, harnesses scientific and technological advances, and demand the results and accountability that enable us to meet today’s critical development challenges.

In September 2013, USAID awarded a $200,000 grant to Surtab through the Leveraging Effective Application of Direct Investments (LEAD) program. With an additional $250,000 of private investment, the company built an assembly plant and launched their very first tablet, SURTAB 7. These tablets compete with  Apple and Samsung products in quality and functionality, and they make several versions, with the cheapest designed to be affordable to a broad array of Haitians.

The company has been a huge boost to the technology sector in Haiti, creating a highly skilled local workforce of 56 Haitian employees. Their recruitment practices are interesting – paying no regard to gender, prior work experience, or levels of education. Instead, they select their employees based on how they perform in a series of tests and trainings.

In combination with extensive on-site instruction, this process has yielded three remarkable results. First, 95 percent of the production line employees are women. Second, many of them come from much poorer educational backgrounds than one would expect in Haiti’s highest-tech factory. Third, the pride of workmanship is so strong that their quality assurance testing rate is unusually high compared to the electronics industry standards.

This is also due to the fact that each tablet is assembled from start to finish by one employee. Surtab pays its employees at two to four times the minimum wage, giving them skills and income that provide a sustainable path out of poverty.

After having been in business for just a little over a year, Surtab manufactures 3,000  to 4,000 tablets each month and sells its products within the Caribbean and Africa. In the future, Surtab hopes to be able to double production and to export them to the United States, Canada and Europe. Their growth was recently featured in a story on NPR. This bold start is already spawning new efforts, like the upcoming launch of an app lab, and likely production of smart phones to meet the burgeoning local market.

Surtab is just one project. But it is a clear cut example of how USAID is focusing partnering with local organizations while also utilizing the private sector to transform the face of development. Haiti will require much more, on a grander scale, to provide the basic level of opportunity and human dignity its people deserve. However, the last decades, and success stories like Surtab, have taught us that such progress can happen even in the most challenging environments.


Alex Thier is the Assistant to the Administrator in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning. He tweets from @Thieristan

Celebrating Eid and Reflecting on How Faith Works

School girls in Sana’a gather for their lesson. Since many girls in Yemen do not attend primary school or graduate from it, recent USAID-backed measures have ensured all girls a right to attend school and increase literacy.

School girls in Sana’a gather for their lesson. Since many girls in Yemen do not attend primary school or graduate from it, recent USAID-backed measures have ensured all girls a right to attend school and increase literacy. (Clinton Doggett / USAID)

Eid Mubarak. As Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Fitr, we share our warmest and joyous wishes with them and their families. Earlier this month, we hosted our Agency’s 12th annual Iftar dinner. It was—as always—a welcome pause from our daily responsibilities and a reminder of the mission we serve. As President Obama said, Ramadan is a time for spiritual renewal and devotion—a chance to honor a faith known for its diversity and commitment to the dignity of all human beings.

We came together in reflection at a time when our mission—and our values—are being tested. Across the globe, millions of children, especially girls, face daunting threats. Syrian children continue to endure relentless dangers, from barrel bombs to extremist militias. Girls in India risk their lives simply by fetching water or visiting latrines. Children in Nigeria attend schools that are targets for terrorists rather than a sanctuary for learning.

Girls at the newly refurbished Al-Jeel Al-Jadeed School in Sana'a, Lebanon, begin their exams on test day. Recent USAID improvements to the infrastructure and teaching practices have opened the doors for more girls to attend school and receive an education.

Girls at the newly refurbished Al-Jeel Al-Jadeed School in Sana’a, Lebanon, begin their exams on test day. Recent USAID improvements to the infrastructure and teaching practices have opened the doors for more girls to attend school and receive an education. (Malak Shaher / USAID/YMEP)

Our work together is more critical than ever. Several years ago, we announced a new policy to put innovation and partnerships at the center of our work with women and girls around the world. To uphold that commitment, we recently launched Let Girls Learn, a powerful movement to call attention to the importance of investing in girls—in their education, in their health, in their potential.

Every day, we work to put the power of science and innovation into the hands of those who live their faith and serve this common purpose—a message I shared when I spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year. Today, in Nigeria, we’re helping get half-a-million children, including 250,000 girls, into school and actually learning. In Jordan, we’re providing emergency education to 150,000 child refugees—including 60,000 girls—who have been forced to flee violence in Syria. And in Afghanistan, 3 million girls and 5 million boys are enrolled in school—compared to just 900,000 when the Taliban ruled by terror.

Afghanistan - 2002

Afghanistan – 2002 (USAID)

As we broke bread together at our Iftar, we were honored to hear from Parniyan Nazari, who spoke poignantly about her experiences growing up in Afghanistan under the Taliban. When girls were forbidden from attending school, she cut her hair like a boy. While they wanted to let her learn, the teachers told her that it could put everyone at risk​. She used faded books from the International Rescue Committee to teach herself, and today, she is leading  Women for Afghan Women​ working to provide education for girls and women.

​Parniyan’​s story of courage and compassion inspires us to draw strength from her example as we work to end extreme poverty in our lifetime. This Friday, our Agency is proud to host the first official event of the African Leaders Summit—one that brings together a diverse community to highlight the importance of faith organizations in development. Called Faith Works, it serves as another meaningful opportunity to celebrate the values that unite humanity and inspire us to reach towards extraordinary goals.

Can Private Financing Answer Uganda’s Health Care Woes?

Early this year, the U.S. and Swedish ambassadors went on a joint site visit to Rhona Medical Center, a medium-sized health clinic in Kampala. Site visits by the U.S. ambassador are not uncommon in Uganda where the health sector makes up the lion’s share of the aid budget. But this joint visit was unusual because it was to a private health facility that a year ago had received a loan co-guaranteed by USAID and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).

Uganda’s adoption of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February this year and the Ugandan president’s dismissal of the value of the U.S. Government’s development assistance to the country has prompted a review of our 50-year-long efforts in Uganda. In his February 24 speech, after signing the anti-homosexuality bill into law, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni stressed, “Uganda is a rich country that does not need aid, because aid is in itself a problem…”

Indeed, Uganda has made much smaller gains in key health indicators than its neighbors despite receiving larger aid inflows per capita, amounting to three quarters of all public health spending. I have spent some of my last three years at post pondering how we might be effective in improving the health of Ugandans when, despite the critical support provided by USAID and our implementing partners, the government fails to adequately enforce accountability and performance in the public health system. Uganda has had nominally free health care since 2001, yet a recent World Bank survey found that 51 percent of public sector health workers were absent from their posts and drug stock-outs also remain a problem.

An obvious answer to me was to invest in the emerging private sector, rather than continuing to unsustainably prop-up the public system. While USAID continues to support the public sector to ensure that the poorest Ugandans continue to access vital health care services, we can also ensure that people have additional health service options outside of the public sector, even when those options require payment. By distributing our aid across the public and private sectors, we hoped to continue to reach the poorest Ugandans while also helping increase the quality of health services through private sector development.

A nurse works in southwest Uganda's Kabwohe Clinical Research Center, a facility that received a $35,000 loan guaranteed through USAID's Development Credit Authority, and was able to hire more staff and provide life saving AIDS treatment to 4600 patients as a result. / USAID, Morgana Wingard

A nurse works in southwest Uganda’s Kabwohe Clinical Research Center, a facility that received a $35,000 loan guaranteed through USAID’s Development Credit Authority, and was able to hire more staff and provide life saving AIDS treatment to 4600 patients as a result. / USAID, Morgana Wingard

Over the last three years, with invaluable support from USAID’s Development Credit Authority, USAID/Uganda has built a portfolio of risk-sharing guarantees with local banks to open $10 million in private lending for Uganda’s health sector, at a cost of only $315,000 to USAID. The financing was made available for everything in the health sector from small drug shops to hospitals in Kampala, with an emphasis on facilities that serve rural areas – a segment that banks previously considered too high-risk to qualify for commercial loans.

Thanks to the risk-mitigating guarantees, private clinics can now access commercial loans to purchase medical equipment and expand their facilities to serve more clients. The results so far are impressive – Centenary Bank has utilized 50 percent of a five-year guarantee in a little over a year, reflecting the pent-up demand for credit. One of its loans – of around $25,000 – went to Rhona Medical Center and was used to purchase a dental x-ray, a scanning machine, a clinical chemistry machine, a hematology analyzer and six desktop computers.

Accompanying the U.S. and Swedish ambassadors on this site visit, Rhona’s director, Dr. Edward Bemera, shared with us that the clinic was able to get much better terms on its loan thanks to the USAID guarantee facility.

Along with the new medical equipment, he used his loan to hire additional nurses and to make renovations to the facility. As a result, the Medical Center’s revenues more than doubled, and the number of clients receiving better services quadrupled.

Dr. Bemera explains Amb. DeLisi, Amb. Andersson and the rest of the team about how he used the loan to scale up activities at his clinic.

Dr. Bemera explains to Amb. DeLisi, Amb. Andersson and the rest of the team about how he used the USAID-backed loan to scale up activities at his clinic. / USAID, Roberta Rossi

The contribution of the private health sector will grow significantly in years to come as banks realize that this segment is credit-worthy. This is evidenced by the fact that there have been no defaults to date under the guarantee. Increased competition will gradually reduce prices for patients, making private health care more affordable and of better quality.

USAID/Uganda has embraced the value of this private partnerships approach in other areas of our work. For example, since girls’ secondary enrollment is a strong predictor of improved maternal and child health outcomes, we are about to launch a new loan guarantee for girls’ school fee loans, that will be managed as part of our Orphans and Vulnerable Children program.

For me, to be given the opportunity to champion innovative approaches to development, and to see those translated into tangible results is a dream come true.



Daryl Martyris is a Health Development Officer in USAID Uganda’s Office of Health, HIV/AIDS and Education.

If You ‘Let Girls Learn,’ You Save Lives Too


Oppression and prejudice toil in a cage of ignorance and cruelty.  Before the U.S. Civil Rights movement altered the course of history, Jim Crow laws and terror imposed segregation and licensed discrimination, casting a pall of shame over America.

Today, the inhumane degradation and culturally sanctioned abuse of girls in many parts of the world is a shockingly similar shame. Denied the most basic universal human rights, girls have limited access to health care, nutrition, education and job skills training, as well as productive resources, such as water, land and credit.

The kidnapping of 300 Nigerian girls by the extremist group Boko Haram focused global attention, issuing a clarion call that girls’ education and health are civil rights worth fighting for, leading to benefits, not only for girls, but for entire communities and nations. In low income countries, mothers who have completed primary school are more likely to seek appropriate health care for their children. A child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5.

  • In low income countries, mothers who have completed primary school are more likely to seek appropriate health care for their children.
  • A child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5.
  • Women with some formal education are more likely to seek medical care and ensure their children are immunized.
  • Women with some formal education are more likely to be better informed about their children’s nutritional requirements, and practice better sanitation.
  • An educated girl is three times less likely to contract HIV.

Segenet Wendawork was 5 years old when her mother died. After her father moved away, she bounced around, living with her grandmother for a while, then an aunt who kept her home from school to help with chores.  Thanks to a USAID scholarship program, Segenet was able to return to school in Ethiopia and complete her education. “Before the scholarship, I was unable to dream about the future,” she said.

Sixty-two million girls are not in school, and are also unable to dream about their future. And millions more are fighting to stay in school. The U.S. Government invests $1 billion each year through USAID in low-income countries to ensure equitable treatment of boys and girls, to create safe school environments, and to engage communities in support for girls’ education.

According to the Working Group on Girls (WGG), a coalition of over 80 national and international non-governmental organizations, schoolgirls of all ages report sexual harassment and assault, ranging from gender discrimination to rape, exploitation and physical and psychological intimidation in school.

Last week, a new effort was launched by the U.S. Government, and led by USAID, to provide the public with meaningful ways to help all girls get a quality education. Let Girls Learn aims to elevate a conversation about the need to support all girls in their pursuit of a quality education. In support of the effort, USAID also announced over $230 million for new programs to support education around the world.

Thomas Staal, a senior leader with USAID, said education is essential to fight poverty and all its corollaries: hunger, disease, resource degradation, exploitation and despair. “Women are the caretakers and economic catalysts in our communities. No country can afford to ignore their potential.”

Since education level has the greatest effect on the age at which a woman has her first birth, and adolescent mothers are more likely to die in childbirth, education both empowers young people directly and affects family planning choices and labor force participation.

 “Education is essential to fight poverty and all its corollaries.” In this photo, school children in Haiti. / Devon McLorg, USAID

“Education is essential to fight poverty and all its corollaries.” In this photo, school children in Haiti. / Devon McLorg, USAID

Conversely, a healthy start in life and good nutrition are essential for children to thrive, develop and spend more time in school. Last month, USAID launched a new global nutrition strategy  aimed at reducing the number of chronically malnourished or stunted children by at least 2 million over the next five years. Every year, under-nutrition contributes to 3.1 million child deaths—45 percent of the worldwide total.

In the strategy, USAID is prioritizing the prevention of malnutrition given the irreversible consequences of chronic under-nutrition early in life. Under-nutrition inhibits the body’s immune system from fighting disease and impedes cognitive, social-emotional and motor development.

In addition to focusing on good nutrition in the first 1,000 days for mother and child, USAID is also saving newborns from severe infections, protecting young children from the risks of diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria, and helping women space the births of their children to protect their health and that of their children.

This week, USAID, the governments of Ethiopia and India, in collaboration with UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and others will hold a high level forum to take stock of recent efforts aimed at reducing child and maternal deaths and plot a new course that will ensure progress continues.

USAID will refocus the majority of our maternal and child health resources toward specific, life-saving tools in 24 countries where the need is greatest and empower our partner countries to lead with robust action plans and evidence-based report cards to save an unprecedented number of lives by 2020.

USAID Assistant Administrator Ariel Pablos-Mendez said by coupling family planning investments with policies supporting child survival, girls’ education and job creation – especially those targeting women – countries can be positioned to realize substantial economic growth that lifts everyone out of poverty.

Doing so will allow girls and boys to follow their wildest hopes and dreams and live productive lives.


Chris Thomas is a communications advisor in the Bureau for Global Health. Read more from the author in the latest FrontLines, which features articles about the Agency’s work in maternal and child health: In Health Research Fueled by USAID Is Fielding Innovative Solutions, he writes about innovative, cost-effective and life-saving health care solutions whose research and development were aided by USAID; and in Your Voice: Frontline Health Workers are the Unsung Heroes of Global Health Progress, he describes just how essential community health workers are to rural and other underserved communities in developing nations.

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