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Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean

Optifood: A New Tool to Improve Diets and Prevent Child Malnutrition in Guatemala

This blog is part of a series to coincide with A Promise Renewed in the Americas: ”Reducing Inequalities in Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health Summit“ during September 10-12 in Panama.

What does it REALLY take to ensure young children get the proper nutrition to grow strong and healthy? This is an especially important question in poor rural communities in Guatemala, where about half of the children under five years of age are stunted (too short for their age—a sign of long-term deficits in the quantity and/or quality of food, including the right vitamins and minerals).  In some parts of western Guatemala, more than eight in ten young children are stunted.

Woman feeds her child. Photo credit: INCAP

Woman nourishes her child. Photo credit: INCAP

Now there’s a new tool to help answer the question:  Optifood is a computer software program, developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance III Project (FANTA), and Blue Infinity, that provides scientific evidence on how to best improve children’s diets at the lowest possible cost using locally available foods. Optifood identifies nutrient gaps and suggests food combinations the local diet can fill—or come as close to filling. It also helps identify local foods’ limits in meeting nutrient needs and test strategies for filling remaining nutrient gaps, such as using fortified foods or micronutrient powders that mothers mix into infant or young children’s porridge.

The Government of Guatemala is fighting stunting through its Zero Hunger Initiative, which aims to reduce stunting by 10 percent by 2015 and 24 percent by 2022 through nutrition, health, agriculture, and social safety net programs. The U.S. Government and USAID are supporting these efforts through Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives focused on the Western Highlands. USAID/Guatemala asked the USAID-funded FANTA/FHI 360 to help find strategies to improve the nutritional quality of children’s diets in the region. The challenge was to develop realistic and affordable diets for children that both meet their needs and are firmly based on scientific evidence. FANTA worked with its local partner, the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP), to collect the diet data needed for Optifood from communities in two departments of the Western Highlands, Huehuetenango and Quiché. FANTA then used Optifood to analyze the information.

The Optifood analysis found that a combination of locally available foods including tortillas, potatoes, beans, eggs, green leafy vegetables, and a fortified cereal known as Incaparina, along with mother’s breast milk, could satisfy children’s nutrient needs, except for two nutrients required for children 6-8 months—iron and zinc. Optifood results showed that adding a micronutrient powder, known locally as Chispitas, would help make sure these very young children get enough iron and zinc.  It is important to note that the Guatemalan Ministry of Health already provides Chispitas in some areas, but it does not yet reach all parts of the country where it is needed.

Woman tends to crops. Photo credit: INCAP

Woman tends to crops. Photo credit: INCAP

FANTA then found out how much this diet would cost and whether families in the Western Highlands could afford it. One feature of Optifood is it provides cost information and can identify the lowest-cost diet that meets or comes close to meeting nutrient needs. Optifood found that it would cost about 25 to 50 U.S. cents a day to give this improved diet to a child 6–23 months old in Guatemala. At first, this may not seem like much money, but for the 51 percent of the population in the Western Highlands who earn less than US$3.15 a day, it amounts to 8 percent to 15 percent of their daily earnings.

Next steps in the process include testing the diet to see whether mothers can really feed it to their young children. We’ll be asking questions like, “Do mothers have any difficulties? Is cost really a problem? Are the recommendations hard to understand or follow? Do children like the combinations of food?”

Once the diet is found to be practical, feasible, and affordable, FANTA will work with partners to develop a strategy and plan to promote the recommended foods in the right combination, quantity, and frequency to improve children’s diet intake as well as promote the use of Chispitas to help meet iron and zinc needs.

FANTA is also working with the Government of Guatemala, USAID, development partners, and the private sector to make fortified foods for young children even better and test their nutrient levels with Optifood. FANTA is collaborating with the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to develop extension messages and materials to support production of the nutritious foods identified by Optifood, disseminate messages and improve practices through USAID-funded Feed the Future demonstration sites, with support from INCAP. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, FANTA will also help health workers (through an e-learning program) and community health workers learn about and promote the Optifood diet, and as needed, FANTA will provide additional ongoing training and technical expertise.

Optifood, which will soon be available for free download on the WHO website, is a truly powerful tool that can strengthen Guatemala’s ability to help its children thrive and reach their full potential.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDGH from September 10-12 for live tweets and Facebook content from the conference. Follow the hashtag: #PromiseRenewed or #PromesaRenovada.

The Issue of Inequalities: A Look at the Underlying Causes of Maternal and Child Death in Latin America and the Caribbean

This blog is part of a series to coincide with A Promise Renewed in the Americas: ”Reducing Inequalities in Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health Summit“ during September 10-12 in Panama.

In the past decade, most economies in Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) have grown at a rapid pace, which has allowed an approximate 70 million people to rise out of poverty and approximately 50 million to join the middle class. Despite the recent global economic slowdown, the World Bank expects the region to see a 3.5 percent average GDP growth rate this year.

PromiseRenewedUnfortunately, this growth has not benefited everyone in the region. Household living standards and availability of social services, including health and education, are still low for millions of people. This in turn, is reflected in major variations in health indicators, both between and within countries in the region. Among disadvantaged groups, the chance of death or permanent ill-health is much higher than for the middle- and upper-classes. Eliminating preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths globally is an overarching goal of USAID’s work, so we must address the underlying causes.

There has been significant progress in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent decades. Many countries have reached or exceeded their Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 levels, reducing maternal deaths by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015. Most LAC countries will meet the MDG 4 goal of reducing under-five deaths by two-thirds over that period.

Moreover, many countries have or will soon achieve the new global goal of ending preventable child deaths (defined as an under-5 mortality rate of 20 deaths per 1,000 live births) by 2035. Currently, ten other countries in the region have under-five mortality rates between 20 and 30. Only Haiti (70), Bolivia (51) and Guyana (36) have an above 30 mortality rate. However, nationally averaged numbers mask health inequalities within many of the region’s countries, so variations among population sub-groups must be taken into account to understand that risk of death is not evenly distributed. In Latin America and the Caribbean, over 180,000 children under 5 years old and nearly 9,000 mothers still die annually — most of them among poor, indigenous, and marginalized groups.

The impact of sub-group disparities on key health indicators, such as under-five mortality is well established – but it is telling to compare LAC with other regions. This indicator is higher in rural than in urban areas across the world, but the largest gap is in Latin America. Overall, in developing countries, under-five mortality is 50 percent higher in rural areas, whereas for Latin America under-five mortality is 70 percent higher in rural areas. Similarly, under-five mortality in LAC is almost three times higher among the poorest quintile than the richest quintile, which is the worst ratio worldwide; the average among developing regions is less than two times higher among the poorest quintile.

Another area where inequities lead to stark differences in health status is in regard to nutrition. According to estimates based on household income, 13 percent of LAC’s population lives in households with incomes insufficient to satisfy their basic nutritional needs. Given that the 2013 Lancet series on nutrition found that “undernutrition is responsible for 45 percent of deaths of children younger than 5 years,” addressing these inequities with regard to basic needs is critical to reducing child mortality in the region. According to the Lancet, “[t]he effect on maternal and child health outcomes and health-care provision is striking, regardless of the indicator used to measure inequity. For example, maternal mortality ratios are 10-44 times higher in the poorest provinces of several countries in Latin America. The poorest quintile of the population showed 3-10 times the prevalence of stunted children than the richest quintile in nine countries.”

Fortunately, LAC has developed a number of tools to address inequities. For example, the region pioneered to use of conditional cash transfers. Starting in the late 1990s, Brazil and Mexico began experimenting with these programs, which aimed to reduce poverty and improve health and other outcomes through provision of incentive payments for certain behaviors. The innovative approach spread throughout the region, so that by 2011 eighteen countries had a CCT program, with a total of 129 million beneficiaries. Rigorous program evaluations have found CCTs to increase demand for health services and reduce poverty, although they should be carefully targeted to the poor to reduce inequities and often require improvements in the quality of care to maximize health impact. Conditional Cash Transfers are a successful example of the benefits that can be gained through consideration of the broader context to health. In addition, the region has pioneered cost-effective approaches to infant and child health, such as integrated management of childhood illness and Kangaroo Mother Care, which can be used to improve health in a variety of settings, particularly resource-constrained ones.

The regional Promise Renewed event taking place in Panama this week aims to build momentum for countries and partners in the region to address inequities that impact health status. It’s too early to declare victory in the area of maternal and child health in the LAC region. We must work together to address remaining pockets of need in order to continue to reduce maternal and child mortality, and we should do so by building upon the region’s experience, expertise, and sense of solidarity.

Please join us via Livestream to learn more about the A Promise Renewed in the Americas: ”Reducing Inequalities in Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health Summit.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDGH from September 10-12 for live tweets and Facebook content from the conference. Follow the hashtag: #PromiseRenewed or #PromesaRenovada.

The LAC Effect: Addressing Inequalities to Save Lives

Ariel Pablos-Mendez, PhD, is the Assistant Administrator for Global Health

Ariel Pablos-Mendez, MD, MPH, is the Assistant Administrator for Global HealthThis blog is part of a series to coincide with A Promise Renewed in the Americas: “Reducing Inequalities in Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health Summit” during September 10-12 in Panama.

This blog is part of a series to coincide with A Promise Renewed in the Americas: “Reducing Inequalities in Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health Summit” during September 10-12 in Panama.

I’m in Panama City, Panama for the A Promise Renewed in the Americas: “Reducing Inequalities in Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health Summit“, where 19 ministers and vice ministers of health from 17 countries throughout the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region are gathering together to figure out a game plan on how to further progress in ending preventable child and maternal deaths.

But before I launch in to what I think would be one significant contribution from USAID and others in the donor community, I’d like to brag a bit. Being from Mexico, I’m immensely proud of what the region has been able to accomplish in a relatively short period of time. Almost all LAC countries have reached or are close to reaching their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5, which address child and maternal health respectively.

The LAC region has led the way with innovative solutions. The concept of Kangaroo Care originated in Colombia in 1982, and is a simple, no-cost intervention that involves skin-to-skin contact between parent and newborn, is responsible for saving newborns by keeping them warm and encourages exclusive breastfeeding. Latin America’s storied success in immunization and polio eradication inspired the rest of the world. Starting in the late 1990’s, Brazil and Mexico began experimenting with conditional cash transfer programs, which has reduced poverty and improved health and other outcomes through the provision of incentive payments for certain behaviors. The approach has since spread throughout the region and now 18 countries have a CCT program with nearly 130 million beneficiaries. The LAC region was also one of the first to adopt the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) approach, which builds on existing efforts to integrate child survival programs at the community level.

Then there is my favorite topic…Universal Health Coverage, which is defined as access for all to appropriate health services without incurring financial hardship. The region has made tremendous strides in UHC with significant health reforms that include the Unified Health System in Brazil, The Social Health Insurance program in Chile, and coverage for 50 million Mexicans under the Popular Health Insurance Program. This fall, Brazil will host the Global Forum on Human Resources for Health dedicated to sharing experiences with the world on how to move towards UHC.

The LAC region should feel deep pride in its health accomplishments, country graduations from assistance and many, many other success stories. But if it were all good news, all these ministers, global health leaders and donors would not be coming together for a summit.  We still have work to do.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 180,000 children under 5 years old and nearly 9,000 mothers still die annually, most of them poor, indigenous and marginalized groups.  Despite two decades of development gains and recent economic growth in LAC countries, a large health disparity remains among and within countries with regard to access and quality of health services. This is especially true for voluntary family planning services which we know dramatically improves maternal and child health and can more broadly contribute to economic and social development and stability.  And on average, countries in the region only spend 3.5 percent of their GDPs on health, and out of pocket expenditures remain high at nearly half of national health expenditure overall.  This is a recipe guaranteed to drive a low- to middle- class family back into poverty with one catastrophic health episode.

But there are things we can do as a global health community, even as we evolve our role as partners in the LAC region.

Here’s the good news. Due to the years of rapid growth, the World Bank estimates that 70 million people in the region have risen out of poverty and 50 million have joined the middle class during the past 10 years. With this transition of economic growth, most low-income countries are reaching middle-income status and it makes sense that international donors would reduce bilateral grants for program implementation and shift toward providing more technical assistance to support government priorities and country ownership. And the LAC region has shown that social inequalities can be generated by economic growth but also tackled with political will.

Governments have led or are currently leading the effort to sharpen and refine their national action plans with costed strategies for maternal, newborn and child survival, and by setting and monitoring five-year milestones. Development partners, in turn, can support national targets by pledging to align their support with government-led action plans and priorities. Private sector partners can spur innovation and help identify new resources for child survival. And through action and advocacy, civil society and faith leaders can support the communities and families whose decisions profoundly influence prospects for maternal and child survival.

Regional solidarity can also play a key role. Region-wide collaboration and exchanges of ideas and knowledge will be a magic ingredient that contributes markedly to the reduction of inequalities. Several countries, including Brazil and Mexico, have already been reaching out with their own know-how and funding, and have begun to forge their own approach to development assistance. This meeting in Panama, like the global Call to Action last June, is but another step in this important effort.

Although USAID LAC will have only two bilateral health programs in Haiti and Guatemala as of 2014, we will continue to provide technical assistance through regional programs aimed at building country capacity on key health issues: health systems, TB control, family planning, and maternal, newborn and child health.  We will continue to coordinate with other U.S. government agencies in-country to maximize the full breadth of our resources and collaborate with country Ministries of Health and other partners “on the ground” to integrate programs and build health systems that support quality care. And we will work to improve information for accountability, and encourage expanded participation in decision-making for better problem solving.

Zero child deaths are hard to attain even in rich countries, but the world as a whole can indeed reach the low mortality levels enjoyed in those countries. And this milestone for our civilization can be attained by our generation. No one government, donor, organization, or campaign will end preventable child and maternal deaths, but together, this IS an attainable goal. I’m looking forward to the outcomes of this Summit over the next few days and look to continue USAID’s deep and successful relationship with the LAC region, understanding full well that success means our eventual departure. As stated in USAID charter by President Kennedy, “We intend during this coming decade of development to achieve a decisive turn-around in the fate of the less-developed world, looking toward the ultimate day when all nations can be self-reliant and when foreign aid will no longer be needed.”  LAC is leading the way.

Resources:

Follow @USAID and @USAIDGH from September 10-12 for live tweets and Facebook content from the conference. Follow the hashtag: #PromiseRenewed or #PromesaRenovada.

Photos of the Week: AID in Action: Delivering on Results

Driving human progress is at the core of USAID’s mission, but what do development results look like?

USAID is measuring our leadership in results — not dollars spent — implementing innovative, cost-effective strategies to save lives. Through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing new partners and young minds to transform more lives than ever before. Our new model for development embraces game-changing partnerships that leverage resources, expertise, and science and technology to maximize our impact and deliver real results.

Take a look at the Agency’s top recent and historical achievements in promoting better health; food security; democracy and good governance; education; economic growth, and in providing a helping hand to communities in need around the globe.

Read the stories behind the results in the special edition of FrontLines: Aid in Action: Delivering on Results.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDpubs for ongoing updates on the best of our results!

A New Partnership to Support Colombia’s Coffee Farmers

As the largest purchaser of high quality Colombian coffee, Starbucks has spent over forty years building relationships with farmers throughout Colombia. Around the world, we proudly serve Colombian coffee as a single origin coffee, in many of our blends, and feature Colombian coffee as part of our Special Reserve program which brings the world’s most exquisite small lot coffees to the global spotlight. At the heart of this success, are smallholder farmers who for generations have cultivated a vibrant coffee industry and culture.  We are very proud to expand support for smallholder farmers with the tools and resources they need to maximize productivity and deliver the quality that has made Colombian coffee famous.

Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz meets with USAID Administrator Raj Shah on partnership. Photo Credit: Starbucks

Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz meets with USAID Administrator Raj Shah on partnership. Photo Credit: Starbucks

Today is another important step in our ongoing commitment to Colombia. Starbucks and USAID just announced an innovative new public-private partnership to help increase Colombian coffee yields and enhance livelihoods of Colombian farmers. Building on the long history of the FNC (Colombia’s Coffee Federation), this $3 million commitment over three years will come in the form of technical assistance from our Farmer Support Center in Manizales to deliver training and agronomy support to farmers in some of the most vulnerable regions. Together, USAID and Starbucks have the opportunity to scale the impact of this investment and reach an additional 25,000 farmers across the region. We call that using our scale for good – a recognition that our global footprint offers opportunities to reach out and have a positive impact on the one million people around the world in our coffee supply chain.

With access to the right information and tools about responsible growing practices, we believe farmers will be able to improve their farming capabilities and business acumen to become more resilient in the long run. Specifically, we’ll be able to expand the delivery of a soil and foliar analysis tool, one that has repeatedly proven to dramatically improve yields and reduce farmer input expenses. Farmers that didn’t previously have access to this information will now have tools to become more productive. We expect this positive impact to reverberate across our Colombian coffee supply chain.

While nearly all of the coffee Starbucks purchases from Colombia is verified under our buying program, C.A.F.E. Practices (Coffee and Farmer Equity), our partnership with USAID will allow us to significantly expand our ethical sourcing efforts in the country. We’re proud to work with USAID, an organization that shares our vision for improved farmer livelihood in Colombia and has the expertise and track record to take this program to vulnerable communities throughout the region.

At Starbucks, we know the best results come when we collaborate with governments, entrepreneurs, suppliers, and nonprofit organizations at the local level to build sustainable and scalable solutions. USAID is offering companies like ours the opportunity to partner with an organization that understands what it means to work at the nexus of these issues, approaching big challenges with creative solutions. We are excited to launch this partnership in Colombia, the first of its kind, and will continue to explore opportunities in other regions as we continue our pursuit of high-quality, ethically sourced coffee.

USAID Scholarships: Forming Lasting Bonds among Nations through Youth

Phyllis M. Powers serves as U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua.

Phyllis M. Powers serves as U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua.

In June, I met 17 young Nicaraguans who were heading to the U.S. as part of USAID’s Scholarships for Education and Economic Development (SEED) program. This program provides training opportunities to young community leaders from disadvantaged and historically underserved populations. The students go to the U.S. to pursue an array of two-year technical degree programs related to the needs of their home communities — programs ranging from small business management to environmental technology.

These courageous young Nicaraguans, mostly from humble backgrounds in rural Nicaragua, leave family, friends, culture and country to embrace new opportunities and receive an education which can dramatically change their futures.

Marling García, who is studying entrepreneurship and leadership for youth development at Northcentral Technical College in Wisconsin, talks to U.S. Ambassador Phyllis M. Powers about activities she intends to carry out when she returns from her studies. Photo credit: USAID

Marling García, who is studying entrepreneurship and leadership for youth development at Northcentral Technical College in Wisconsin, talks to U.S. Ambassador Phyllis M. Powers about activities she intends to carry out when she returns from her studies. Photo credit: USAID

These youth spoke to me candidly about their hopes and plans to support their communities when they return. In turn, I spoke to them about their dual responsibilities, not only for their courses and classes, but also to learn as much as possible about U.S. culture, customs, traditions and our way of life, while sharing with Americans stories of Nicaragua’s rich culture, delicious foods and beautiful countryside. In short, I urged them to form the bonds that have united our two countries for so many years — “Estamos Unidos” (We Are United), as our Embassy slogan declares. These types of exchanges establish strong, enduring relationships between our countries.

The program also matches scholarship recipients with alumni, who mentor and encourage the next generation of exchange students and, in doing so, hone their own leadership skills. I have gotten to know some of these alumni mentors, such as Jaime García, who returned in 1998.  I heard Jaime speak to a group of outgoing students about the struggles of adapting to a new culture, of being away from home and family, of the rewards he gained from the experience and how the friends and knowledge he acquired continue to play a role in his life. Jaime graduated from an Agriculture and Aquatic Food Products program at Santa Fe Community College in Florida and now works as head of food safety in Sahlman Seafoods, a shrimp factory in Nicaragua that won the Award for Corporate Excellence in 2011.

Jaime García, alumni of a previous USAID scholarship program and head of food security for Sahlman Seafoods, shares his experience studying abroad with the group of outgoing SEED candidates and U.S. Ambassador Phyllis M. Powers. Photo credit: USAID

Jaime García, alumni of a previous USAID scholarship program and head of food security for Sahlman Seafoods, shares his experience studying abroad with the group of outgoing SEED candidates and U.S. Ambassador Phyllis M. Powers. Photo credit: USAID

These types of programs are extremely successful. Of the more than 1,000 alumni of USAID scholarship programs, 100 percent have returned to Nicaragua, and nearly 100 percent are currently employed. My interactions with private sector partners confirm how much they value SEED alumni for their English skills and U.S.-based education.

It is my belief that our support to these young Nicaraguans helps them have a positive impact in their communities and creates a lasting positive impression of the U.S. as a friend and partner in helping them — and their country — on the path to development.

Refurbished Police Stations Mean Happy Cops, Better Cops in Guatemala

Police Benefit from Public-Private Partnership

The before-and-after pictures are startling. Shattered windows, bullet-riddled doors, broken down sewage and plumbing systems and damaged roofs, were all part of the deteriorating conditions at many police stations where members of Guatemala’s National Civilian Police (PNC) live and work. However, as part of a broader strategy to “dignify” the police career in this Central American nation, a range of actors, including USAID, joined forces to improve the living and working conditions of policemen and policewomen.

USAID-Guatemala Director, Kevin Kelly (center), cuts the symbolic ribbon at the official reopening of the Villalobos II police substation in Villanueva, Guatemala. From left, National Civilian Police (PNC) Director, Telémaco Pérez; Police Reform Commissioner, Adela de Torrebiarte; USAID’s Kevin Kelly; BANTRAB President, Sergio Hernández; Minister of Government, Mauricio López Bonilla; and Villanueva Mayor, Edwin Escobar. Photo credit: USAID

USAID-Guatemala Director, Kevin Kelly (center), cuts the symbolic ribbon at the official reopening of the Villalobos II police substation in Villanueva, Guatemala. From left, National Civilian Police (PNC) Director, Telémaco Pérez; Police Reform Commissioner, Adela de Torrebiarte; USAID’s Kevin Kelly; BANTRAB President, Sergio Hernández; Minister of Government, Mauricio López Bonilla; and Villanueva Mayor, Edwin Escobar. Photo credit: USAID

A private bank, the Worker’s Bank—or BANTRAB—signed a Memorandum of Understanding last year with Guatemala’s Police Reform Commission and USAID’s Violence Prevention Project to pool resources and refurbish five police stations around Guatemala City in the Mixco and Villanueva municipalities. And last week, the public-private partnership began to bear its fruits with the reopening of two stations.

Police personnel at those stations can now live and work out of installations that have been repainted, where roofs, floors, and walls have been repaired, the living quarters of agents have been revamped, and the electrical wirings and connections have been fixed and secured. The office space to serve the public has also been renovated. The premise behind this initiative is that a happy cop is a better cop, that working under better conditions boosts morale and productivity.

At the official reopening of the stations, BANTRAB president, Sergio Hernández, made a public call for other banks and private sector actors to engage in citizen security issues and support efforts like the police station refurbishing initiative. “Its only fair that we take care of those who take care of us,” he said.

USAID has also focused on improving the trust between police and the communities they serve. The Violence Prevention Project worked to strengthen PNC units on effective community policing. Last year, the project helped establish the Officer’s School at the Police Academy and supported the design and implementation of a new bachelor’s degree program in police sciences, with an emphasis on community-based policing, which provides relevant university-level education to officers for the first time in the country’s history.

Similarly, USAID Guatemala’s Security and Justice Sector Reform Project is providing technical assistance and support to the PNC and the Police Reform Commission to establish a merit-based career path system for the police. USAID also works to strengthen the PNC’s financial and management systems.

Guatemala, no doubt, faces daunting citizen security challenges. However, the participation of the donor community and the private sector, coupled with strong governmental efforts to strengthen its public security institutions, can help make the police force a more responsive and effective institution.   

Photo of the Week: Empowering Afro-Colombian Communities

USAID works with the private sector in Cali, Colombia to promote Afro-Colombian employment and inclusion. Photo is by Lawrency Rubey, Deputy Mission Director of USAID/Colombia.

Protecting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

While indigenous peoples represent approximately five percent of the world’s population, they make up 15 percent of the world’s poor, according to a 2009 United Nations (UN) report. An estimated one-third of the world’s 900 million extremely poor rural people are indigenous peoples. Facing the consequences of historic injustices, indigenous peoples also continue to be over-represented among the world’s illiterate and unemployed.

Today, USAID celebrates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (IDWIP) as part of the agency’s commitment to inclusive development that empowers and elevates the protection of indigenous peoples and communities globally.

Photo credit: USAID/Guatemala

Photo credit: USAID/Guatemala

The U.S. Government’s announcement in 2010 that it would support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples spoke to a stronger commitment to protecting the human rights of indigenous peoples and ensuring their needs could be better addressed through policies and programs that would uniquely benefit their communities. As part of this commitment, USAID is appointing a Special Advisor for Indigenous Peoples this year to ensure that its development programs are addressing the needs of these historically marginalized groups.

Lessons from Guatemala

Current USAID programs that address some of the most pressing needs in the indigenous world focus on human rights including issues of access to justice, land tenure and capacity for political participation. In Latin America, USAID funds resource centers for at-risk youth, creates partnerships with universities to increase indigenous enrollment, trains healthcare workers who speak indigenous languages, and funds democracy programs that aim to increase indigenous representation in local political leadership.

In Guatemala, where an estimated 51 percent of the population is of Mayan descent, USAID programs that benefit indigenous peoples have emphasized protecting human rights and access to justice. Indigenous peoples in Guatemala experience disproportionate degrees of violence, particularly among women who find themselves not only victimized, but unable to find justice in an overburdened and often inefficient legal system.

Between 2009 and the end of 2012, USAID in Guatemala funded the Project Against Violence and Impunity (PAVI). One of the most ambitious and effective initiatives of the $7.1 million dollar project was designed to strengthen the justice sector in Petén, Guatemala’s largest state and home to a majority indigenous population.  While the program assisted the Public Ministry in developing more effective judicial processes, it effectively built links between the justice sector and civil society to reduce and prevent violence and strengthen services to assist victims, including people who served as witnesses in trials.

PAVI brought together victim service providers in the capital to ensure that assistance for crime victims met high quality standards. As a result of this collaboration, victim service providers adopted agreed upon guidelines for actions, behaviors, and conduct towards victims, victim-sensitive criteria for judicial performance, and justice administered with respect toward victims. The guidelines were also designed to be culturally relevant and appropriate for indigenous peoples. The PAVI quality standards have been adopted by Guatemala’s National Civil Police and civil society organizations such as the Human Rights Ombudsman in the city of Cobán.

USAID’s earlier strategies for assisting indigenous Guatemalans in accessing justice also included substantial support for the exhumations and reburials of victims of atrocities stemming from Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war, as well as psycho-social services for indigenous survivors.  You can learn more about USAID programs that assist indigenous Guatemalans.

La Idea Initiative Seeks Entrepreneurs with Business Partnerships in Latin America

Last month, I sat in front of a crowd of over 240 aspiring entrepreneurs in Bogota, Colombia, to help facilitate a three-hour session on how to apply to start and scale up innovative businesses with the support of La Idea and the La Idea Business Competition. I was thrilled to be joined by our La Idea partners Susan Amat, Founder and CEO of Venture Hive; Arnoldo Reyes, Head of Market Development for Ebay/PayPal for Latin America and the Caribbean region and Paula Cortes of Accion International. We were blown away by the participants’ excitement about La Idea and their spirit of entrepreneurship.

La Idea connects entrepreneurs within the Latin American diaspora throughout the Americas to each other and to local and regional small business support centers, to provide resources and connections to help entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level. It promotes partnerships between businesses throughout the Americas and launched the La Idea Business Competition, an opportunity for innovative social entrepreneurs with breakthrough ideas to turn their business visions into reality.

Bogota, Colombia is not the only place where La Idea has convened eager entrepreneurs to learn more about its Business Competition. At business advising events it organized throughout the U.S. and Latin America, entrepreneurs have learned about a variety of ways to grow their businesses and partner across borders. Photo credit: La Idea

Entrepreneurs convene in Bogota, Colombia to learn more about its Business Competition and ways to grow their businesses and partner across borders. Photo credit: La Idea

Through the competition, ten businesses—which must represent a collaboration between a U.S.-based entrepreneur and a Latin America-based entrepreneur—will receive a coveted spot in the Finalist Showcase televised by Univision Media, where they will pitch their business ideas live in front of a panel of celebrity judges. Winners will receive a prize of $50,000 and tailored support services to help get their businesses off the ground.

In order to attract even more great business ideas, La Idea recently extended the deadline for applications to 5:00 pm EDT on September 20, 2013. More details on the application process and eligibility are available at www.laidea.co.

In the United States there are over 2.3 million Latino entrepreneurs opening businesses at twice the national rate—making them the fastest growing entrepreneurial segment in the country. Moreover, many countries in Latin America are on the rise. La Idea hopes to unleash the potential of Latino entrepreneurs to promote economic development that transcends borders. By supporting Latino entrepreneurs in the U.S. and throughout the Americas, La Idea aims to translate their knowledge and capital into tangible improvements in Latin America, as well as build on the emerging strength of networks and markets in Latin America.

La Idea is a public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Boom Financial, Inter-American Development Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Small Business Administration, Univision News, WellSpace, Accion, and FHI 360. It builds on the unique strength of each of the partners, including the U.S. Department of State and USAID’s experience coordinating similar business competition plans focused around diaspora communities.

These business plan competitions have included the African Diaspora Marketplace (ADM), Caribbean Idea Marketplace, and Libya Diaspora Marketplace (LDM). Each of which tapped the power of diaspora communities in the United States—and their strong ties to their countries of origin or heritage—to develop innovative enterprises that support USAID’s development objectives and grow small and medium-size businesses as drivers of economic growth.

Already, the winners of these competitions are making good on their businesses’ potential for development impact. Sproxil, a winner of the 2011 African Diaspora Marketplace, was recognized by Fast Company earlier this year as the seventh most innovative company of 2013 for its product that fights prescription drug counterfeiting in Africa. I cannot wait to see who wins the La Idea Business Competition and the innovative businesses they will bring us for 2014 and beyond.

To learn more about application and eligibility requirements for the La Idea Business Competition, visit www.laidea.co and join the La Idea community on Facebook

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