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International Day of Democracy: Engaging Young People on Democracy

The theme of this year’s International Day of Democracy – Engaging Young People on Democracy – is an opportunity to reflect on our Agency’s efforts to protect, support and empower young people across the globe, especially as they engage in democratic processes. Youth play a critical role in humanitarian assistance and reconstruction efforts, and are often at the forefront of people’s movements, such as the “Arab Spring.”

Despite being the majority of the population of many of the countries in which USAID operates, youth are frequently excluded from the political process, due to members of older generations who expect subservience and offer no respect to youth voices. Studies have shown that not effectively engaging disaffected youth can result in instability in communities and nations in the long term, and foment unrest that may ultimately hinder – not assist – the advancement of peace and democracy. If not engaged in efforts to advance positive change, youth can easily lose faith in the democratic process, become disillusioned or apathetic, vulnerable to extremist groups or gangs, and, in the worst case,  become perpetrators of violence.

Alumni of the 4th edition of the Certificate in Leadership and Political Management course, Matagalpa, Nicaragua. / Corina Fuentes

Alumni of the 4th edition of the Certificate in Leadership and Political Management course, Matagalpa, Nicaragua. / Corina Fuentes

However, strengthening youth capacity will enhance their resilience and their communities. Investing in young people will also pay sustainable returns; youth may indeed be the primary hope for a reform-minded leadership. This was noted by President Barack Obama, who launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in 2010 to support young African leaders as they work to spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across the continent.

USAID is working to incorporate youth through strengthening youth programming, participation and partnership in support of Agency development objectives, as well as integrating youth issues and engaging young people across Agency initiatives and operations.

 Opening ceremony of the District youth Forum in Oecusse in Timor Leste on April 23, 2013. A total of 40 youth representatives from across the country participated.  / SFCG Timor Leste

Opening ceremony of the District youth Forum in Oecusse in Timor Leste on April 23, 2013. A total of 40 youth representatives from across the country participated.  / SFCG Timor Leste

In Nicaragua, USAID’s Young Civic and Political Leaders Initiative, implemented by National Democracy Institute (NDI), supports a Certificate on Leadership and Political Management program which equips young Nicaraguans with skills and knowledge to govern effectively and become community leaders.  The program specifically aims to create a space where youth representing different political ideologies and from different backgrounds can come together to learn about democratic leadership.

In East Timor, USAID’s Youth Radio for Peace Building (YR4PB) project, implemented by Search for Common Ground, is aiming to transform the way in which youth engage with government and community leaders  to promote peace and reconciliation, and prevent election-related violence through civic education, leadership training and media programming.

In Kenya, USAID’s Inter-Party Youth Forum, implemented by NDI, is promoting inter-party youth leadership and engagement through working with political parties, and nominated party youth to establish the Inter-Party Youth Forum (IPYF).  The Youth Forum focuses on clean elections, implementation of youth provisions in the constitution, and campaigning against negative ethnicity.

To date, the IPYF has expanded to the country level, engaged more than 1,500 youth through outreach sessions, held a national youth peace conference attended by 950 young people, and conducted a peace campaign around the 2013 election.

In Egypt, USAID’s LEAD-Women and Youth Program, implemented by Creative Associates, is a $1.3 million project with the objective to encourage and support the active participation of women and youth in political dialogue and debate. This includes during key transitional democratic processes through voter education, civic outreach and the establishment and expansion of civil society advocacy networks.

As USAID continues to adapt our democracy, human rights and governance programs to the changing global context, we remain committed to continuing to empower and support young people to become active, engaged and passionate leaders and democracy supporters.


Jessica Benton Cooney is the Communications Specialist for the USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance in the Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.

Ending Extreme Poverty: Frontiers in Development Photo Contest Top 5

On September 18-19, 2014, USAID will host the second Frontiers in Development Forum in Washington, DC., which will convene a dynamic community of global thought leaders and development practitioners to address the question: How will we eradicate extreme poverty by 2030? The Forum will bring together some of the brightest minds and boldest leaders on ending extreme poverty, and lay the groundwork for a broad coalition of partners committed to achieving this goal.

In an effort to include overseas missions in the Forum, USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning invited USAID staff and partners to participate in a photo contest showcasing the many ways communities and individuals around the globe are working towards ending extreme poverty.

With more than 200 submissions from over 32 countries, we are pleased to share the top five winners of our Frontiers in Development: Ending Extreme Poverty photo competition.

Thank you to all who submitted their images and captions.

#1 – Photo by: Karen Kasmauski/MCHIP. Submitted by: Cole Bingham

Photo by: Karen Kasmauski/MCHIP. Submitted by: Cole Bingham

In Nigeria, USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program, led by Jhpiego, supports women’s savings clubs. These clubs allow women to give money or borrow it when needed for medical expenses or business initiatives. Financially empowering women to make wise decisions about their health and that of their family, and launch initiatives in their community, is an important step in eradicating extreme poverty.

#2 – Photo by: Balaram Mahalder/WorldFish Bangladesh. Submitted by: Balaram Mahalder

Photo by: Balaram Mahalder/WorldFish Bangladesh. Submitted by: Balaram Mahalder

A mother spreads out fish on a fish drying matt. In the village of  Bahadurpur, there are about 30  family-run fish drying facilities. In traditional fish drying methods, these families would get low prices for their fish at the market. After USAID and WorldFish trained them to produce higher quality dried fish, they are now getting better prices and their incomes have increased.

#3 – Photo by: Kevin Ouma/TechnoServe. Submitted by Natalya Podgorny

Photo by: Kevin Ouma/TechnoServe. Submitted by Natalya Podgorny

Thousands of Maasai women now have a reliable market for their milk thanks to a pioneering cooperative in Kenya. Women are typically the milk traders in Maasai families, with income from milk sales going toward daily household needs. Yet Maasai women in Kenya face numerous challenges in providing for their families. They often cannot sell their milk because they lack transport. Their cows are less productive because of a lack of adequate fodder. And, they face a scarce supply of water, their most precious resource. TechnoServe, an organization that implements numerous USAID-funded projects, helped the women establish Maasai Women Dairy, the first dairy plant in Kenya owned almost entirely by Maasai women. The cooperative has grown to more than 3,200 active members and nearly quadrupled its sales in 2013.

#4 – Photo by: Ahmad Salarzai/Stability in Key Areas (SIKA)-East program in Afghanistan. Submitted by: Ryan McGovern

Photo by: Ahmad Salarzai/Stability in Key Areas (SIKA)-East program in Afghanistan. Submitted by: Ryan McGovern

In Baraki Barak District of Logar Province, Afghanistan, a local Community Development Council utilized a grant from USAID to repair a dilapidated irrigation system (karez), which now supports 150 families from three villages, who rely heavily on agriculture as their primary source of income. In the past, conflict over scarce resources resulted in bad blood between the villages. Communal projects such as this help improve food security and livelihoods, while simultaneously bringing feuding parties together to promote stability.

#5 – Photo by: Karen Kasmauski/MCHIP. Submitted by: Cole Bingham

Photo by: Karen Kasmauski/MCHIP. Submitted by: Cole Bingham

USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program, led by Jhpiego, supports the HoHoe Midwifery Training school in Ghana. Students experience a simulated birth while their instructor advises them through the process. A trained midwife helps ensure a safe delivery, provides essential newborn care, and can deliver comprehensive reproductive health services, ensuring healthy mothers and strong families, helping to eradicate extreme poverty.


Sharon Lazich is a program analyst in USAID’s Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning working on communications. Follow her @SLazich

A Thank You to our Partners in Literacy

Students using tablets during a lesson at a classroom in the Ban San Kong school of Mae Chan, a town located in Thailand's northern province of Chiang Rai. / AFP, Christophe Archambault

Students using tablets during a lesson at a classroom in the Ban San Kong school of Mae Chan, a town located in Thailand’s northern province of Chiang Rai. / AFP, Christophe Archambault

We partner because we recognize that none of us can reach our goals alone. But, building and maintaining partnerships requires hard work. Partnerships require focusing on common goals while allowing give and take, different strengths and weaknesses, and attention to equity and fairness, especially in contractual partnerships like marriage or a business.

I know because I’ve been married for 41 years and my husband engaged in a law practice with my father and brother for over three decades. In my personal and professional life in education, I’ve had the opportunity to work collaboratively with talented, strong-minded family and colleagues. Such partnerships are simultaneously challenging and stimulating.

At USAID we work in partnership with host country governments, as well as non-governmental and civil society organizations who implement many of our education development programs on the ground. As a bilateral donor we enter into partnership agreements with other donors, and contribute to the Global Partnership for Education, a growing multilateral donor organization. More and more, through our Agency’s ambitious reform agenda, USAID Forward, we create innovative partnerships with the private sector and work in tandem with governments and ministries to identify barriers to education and to remove them. We work across cultures, languages, and communicate through time zones.

We also partner with advocacy groups, civil society and with universities whose students and faculties share our passion for making the world a safer, more prosperous place. Through the Let Girls Learn campaign, we even partnered with Hollywood celebrities to send out a common message that young girls everywhere have the right to an education and a safe learning environment. Let Girls Learn has a ripple effect. The more people who learn about our work, the more partners we have to get it done.

As education partners, we have common goals driven by the Education for All movement and the Millennium Development Goals. As a sector, we are ready to re-commit to ambitious global goals, along with goals specific to our organizations. We all want more children in schools–particularly girls—and want quality learning to happen once a child gets there.

A Pakistani school girl attends class in Mingora, a town in Swat valley, on October 9, 2013, the first anniversary of the shooting of Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban. /AFP, A. Majeed

A Pakistani school girl attends class in Mingora, a town in Swat valley, on Oct. 9, 2013, the first anniversary of the shooting of Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban. / AFP, A. Majeed

We all want children to stay in school and agree that it’s important to provide opportunity for meaningful employment that will build prosperity and security around the world. Some of us may focus on early childhood or STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), some may invest in technology or higher education, but in the end we all want the next generation to fare better than this generation and those that came before us.

We divvy up responsibilities. We maintain mutual respect for people of all nationalities, religions, races, ages and gender identities. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we revise. Together we keep trying to make each program a little better.

International Literacy Day highlights the work the world community is doing to give the next generation a chance at opportunity through education. Those of us at USAID within the Office of Education would like to take time on this day to thank the people within our partner organizations who help us to do our jobs better to improve opportunities for children.

I, for instance need to thank Ed Gragert and the folks at the Global Coalition for Education for helping introduce me to contacts at the colleges and universities I visited in April. I need to thank my husband, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for agreeing to partner with USAID on aligning school feeding programs in countries where USDA and USAID work. I thank Maureen McLaughlin from the Department of Education who helped coordinate a trip for Secretary Duncan to travel to Haiti to visit our reading programs and announce additional resources. I thank April Mora from the Basic Education Coalition who worked with me to create messages that the education sector can use to educate Main Street audiences. I thank former Prime Minister Gordon and Sarah Brown for bringing Malala Yousafzai to the United Nations a year ago to inspire the global education community.

If you receive thanks on this International Literacy Day from an education officer overseas or a program director here at the Ronald Reagan Building in D.C., please know that it is heartfelt and personal. Thank you for all that you do!



Christie Vilsack is USAID’s Senior Advisor for International Education. Follow her @ChristieVilsack

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

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