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USAID @ UNGA: Science and Technology Forum Preview

Submitted by Ellis Rubinstein
President and CEO, The New York Academy of Sciences

USAID and its Administrator, Rajiv Shah, are onto something big: science, technology and innovation dedicated to the challenges of the Developing World.

During my decade as Editor of Science followed by another eight years at the New York Academy of Sciences, I have heard more than my fill of speeches about the value to the world of “curiosity-driven research”—the endeavors by basic scientists to answer puzzles that excite them without the slightest sense of whether they will have an application in the world as we know it.

There is no question that such research has not infrequently revolutionized our understanding of things that led, in turn, to advancements applicable to the challenges of society at large. But because this sort of fundamental inquiry deserves funding and because young people should be encouraged to follow their curiosity doesn’t mean that there is no place for—or no satisfaction in—research dedicated to the big problems of our planet.

One of the most personally moving experiences I have had in the last decade is to see how many young scientists, engineers, and clinicians are purposely applying their time and energy to make a direct difference to the world.

On Wednesday, September 22, from 2-5 p.m., USAID and the New York Academy of Sciences are partnering to present the “Science, Technology and Innovation Forum” —a celebration of the success of a set of brilliant and dedicated innovators who have developed ingenious, high-impact, affordable, and sustainable solutions to Developing World problems.

In addition, the New York Academy of Sciences will describe the new open-innovation platform it is creating on its Scientists Without Borders website so that individuals, governments, NGOs, and companies can launch challenges that would incentivize solutions that could make a pronounced difference in  the lives of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.

An extraordinary group of experts and leaders have signed up to participate in this event, and it is my greatest hope that the blog postings that USAID and others develop after the event will trigger more challenges and more solutions to the Developing World.

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Pipeline to Prosperity: Creating Sustainable Partnerships for Minority Businesses

Submitted by Mauricio Vera

Today I spoke at the Congressional Black Caucus conference on a panel entitled “Pipeline to Prosperity: Creating Sustainable Partnerships for Minority Businesses”. The event was hosted by Congresswoman Barbara Lee and the audience consisted primarily of small and minority business owners. I enjoy participating in these events to hear from the firms about their experiences working with USAID or to share information with new firms about the nature of our development work.

At today’s session, I provided a brief overview of USAID and then talked about how we contract out for goods and services. I spoke about the services that my office, the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) provides. We are the advocates for small, minority, women-owned, HUBZone, and veteran owned businesses who are seeking to do business with the agency. USAID follows the Federal Acquisition Regulations and most of our work is performed overseas through task orders off of large Indefinite Quantity Contracts. OSDBU has an aggressive outreach program, we organize monthly vendor outreach sessions where small businesses spend a half day with us learning how to do business with USAID. We also constantly look for other opportunities to meet and dialogue with small businesses and this is an integral part of our internal outreach plan.

“USAID Forward” is a series of new operational reforms undertaken by our leadership and includes Procurement Reform as one of its key strategies. A key objective of the procurement reform strategy is to increase competition and broaden our partner base which includes increasing the use of U.S. small and minority businesses both as prime and subcontractors. We’ve set aggressive targets for both our domestic as well as our overseas contract awards. Transparency and accountability are key components of this reform strategy. Finally, our Mentor Protégé Program assists small businesses in formalizing collaborative partnerships with our large prime contractors

USAID’s Afghanistan Director to lead Egypt Mission

James A. Bever, formerly the Director of the Independent Office of Afghanistan-Pakistan Affairs for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was sworn in today as the Director of the Agency’s Mission to Egypt by Administrator Shah. Photo Credit: USAID/Patricia Adams

James A. Bever, formerly the Director of the Independent Office of Afghanistan-Pakistan Affairs for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was sworn in today as the Director of the Agency’s Mission to Egypt.

“This is a key time for our mission in Egypt,” said USAID’s Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah.  “Our relationship with Egypt is an important one so we are sending one of our most talented leaders to oversee this program.

Bever holds the rank of Minister Counselor in the Senior Foreign Service, and has extensive experience in international development in the Islamic belt of the Middle East, North Africa/Sahel, South Asia and East Asia.

Previously, Bever served as Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East, providing leadership for $2.5 billion in U.S. assistance to the Middle East and North Africa where he lead the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

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USAID Eases Hardships of Haiti’s Earthquake Survivors

After the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, an estimated 1.5 million people were displaced from their homes. Approximately 100,000 earthquake survivors fled Port-au-Prince to Haiti’s Central Plateau.

While the area was one of the country’s poorest regions even before the earthquake, it’s seen an influx of survivors who’ve come to live with family and friends, straining already limited resources.

To ease the hardships in the Central Plateau, USAID partner Mercy Corps is providing immediate financial assistance through cash-for-work programs for both the displaced earthquake survivors and the families who took them in.

With USAID/OFDA support, Mercy Corps is providing livelihood opportunities to 2,000 people per week in the Central Plateau. An additional 20,000 people are on track to benefit from the cash-for-work program.

These projects give a member of each household 30 days of employment on a community-selected project geared at improving infrastructure or agricultural production, such as rehabilitating roads, farmland or irrigation systems. Some have used their salary and tools from the programs to start more sustainable small businesses.

Under USAID’s Food Security Program in Haiti, Mercy Corps will also provide food vouchers to 100,000 in the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite region. This new initiative provides grants, cash or vouchers to buy desperately needed food.

In the town of Mirebalais, Mercy Corps employs Haitians to clear debris from canals and other public spaces to mitigate flooding during hurricane season. Watch a video on this important program.

View photos of Mercy Corps’ work in Mirebalais on Facebook and Flickr.

This Week at USAID – September 13, 2010

Administrator Shah will participate in the State Department’s Conversations with America webcast series.  Dr. Shah and the president and CEO of the advocacy group ONE, David Lane, will talk about  global development opportunities and challenges on the eve of the Millennium Development Goals summit.

Agency officials will take part in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Foundation Annual Legislative Conference.  On the 17th, Administrator Shah will speak to CBC Africa Braintrust.  Other speakers include: Paul Weisenfield at the Forum “Haiti:  Finding the Path to Redevelopment”, Sharon Cromer at the Panel “Africa Command and U.S. Relations” and Mauricio Vera at the Minority Business Development session.  This conference is open press.

From the Field

  • In Albania, we are supporting competitiveness in the fashion industry.  USAID’s business development project will hold a series of workshops in September on competitiveness-related topics following a USAID-sponsored trip in August to the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair.  The timing of these workshops also coincides with the launch of 5 websites and other communication materials supported by USAID that will increase awareness of Albania’s garment industry and the potential for investments.
  • Also in Albania, we are opening Albania’s first Underwater Park. With the help of the U.S. Navy, Albania is sinking some of its rusting, Communist era ships off its touristic Southern coast in an effort to attract divers and tourists.  USAID’s Competitive Enterprise Development program will work with local businesses to capitalize on this unique opportunity to build marketable tourist attractions and support Albania’s tourism industry.
  • In Nepal, we are launching a five-year Countering Trafficking in Person (CTIP) program.  Coinciding with National Anti-trafficking Day, USAID’s new anti-trafficking program will be launched amidst a field-based event in a trafficking prone district. The program is designed to prevent trafficking, protect victims, and prosecute traffickers in six high-volume trafficking districts in Nepal.
  • In the Dominican Republic, the Major League Baseball Dominican Development Alliance (MLB-DDA), teamed up with the Major League Baseball Players Trust on September 9 to help provide medicine and vitamins for children, organize a network of 36 health promoters, and establish pharmacies in 20 impoverished sugar cane communities in the Barahona province. The health promoters will work to support the health and wellbeing of all community members.

USAID in the News

It was a lively week for USAID in the media as several prominent outlets featured our work in different regions of the world, showcasing the great variety of ways in which which the Agency helps bring hope to people around the globe.

National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” featured a piece on efforts to assist in building up the civil service “surge” in Afghanistan that prominently featured Mission Director Earl Gast in Kabul and AfPak Office Acting Director Alex Their.

Fox News reported on USAID’s job-creation program for Iraq and how it benefits security. The story quoted USAID’s Mission Director in Iraq, Alex Dickie, and several beneficiaries of the program.

MarkWard, Acting Director of the Office of Disaster Assistance, took part in a round-table for Pakistani media concerning the ongoing flood response, where USAID continues to play a key role.  Among those who covered it were the Associated Press of Pakistan and the widely-read English-language Daily Times.

And Nature Medicine magazine published a full-page Q&A with Administrator Shah covering food security, agriculture, science and technology, lessons learned in Haiti and the importance of the Millennium Development Goals — a particularly timely topic in the lead-up to the crucial MDG discussions to be held at the UN General Assembly later this month.

Our First “Evidence Summit”: Tackling Tough Challenges of Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism

Submitted by Ruth Levine, Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning

Today is the launch of USAID’s first “Evidence Summit,” where scholars and practitioners will put their heads together to ensure that state-of-the-art research and evaluations are used in what we do as an Agency every day.  During the next day and a half, USAID staff, faced with making tough calls about how to design and implement development programs, will have a unique chance to learn from and share ideas with world-class scholars who are collecting and analyzing data, testing hypotheses about what works and what doesn’t, and synthesizing findings across disciplines ranging from economics to anthropology and political science.

Speakers at Panel "Learning from USAID Learning Efforts" left to right: Leah Werchick, USAID/OTI Nathanial Christie, USAID/Colombia, Angela Martin, UISAD/AFR,Harry Bader, USAID/OCR Photo Credit: USAID

Our newly launched Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning expects to hold several such summits over the course of our first year. These summits will instill more rigor and discipline into how the development entrepreneurs at USAID chart the Agency’s future.

This first Evidence Summit focuses on one of the biggest challenges we face in this Agency:  How to make sure we’re making the most effective possible contribution to the national security goal of countering insurgency and combating terrorism.   It is hard to imagine a more timely and important set of questions than the ones being posed at this event today: How and why does radicalism emerge?  What strategies that are effective – or not – in countering the formation of terrorist organizations? And what impact does development have on the effort to counter insurgency?

The researchers at the Evidence Summit, including Dr. Eli Berman of the University of California San Diego and Dr. Jacob Shapiro of Princeton University, will bring new empirical research to help us think through these questions.  Some of these findings will force us as development practitioners to ask difficult questions about our way of doing things.

The Summit’s full conclusions will be shared in-house through briefings, video and other means.  And the results will be borne out for all to see in improved, high-impact programs in the field.

USAID in the News – August 30-September 3

USAID partnered with the Uganda Electoral Commission to post Uganda’s voter registry online.  The system is designed to make the process more accessible and transparent. East African Business Week reports the program was supported through a USAID grant to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

In an interview with the Washington Post Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams cited his experience as USAID Mission Director in South Africa as providing him with the leadership tools of vision and humility.

USAID is seeking to expand its clean energy project in the Philippines as detailed in News Today Online

Saving Mothers and Newborns in Afghanistan

Submitted by the USAID Maternal and Child Health Integrated Project (MCHIP)

Every 27 minutes, a woman in Afghanistan dies from complications due to pregnancy or birth. Across the country, midwives are the frontline health care providers working day and night to save these women. Educated with USAID support, Sadiqa Husseini, 24, is among the more than 2,000 new midwives who are helping to significantly reduce Afghanistan’s maternal mortality rate, which is among the highest in the world. Sadiqa was featured in a recent BBC audio slideshow on a day in the life of an Afghan midwife. The piece is a moving portrayal that demonstrates how USAID contributes to empowering women, rebuilding essential networks of skilled health care providers, improving health care services for women and families, reducing deaths of mothers and newborns, and strengthening communities.

Sadiqa had wanted to become a midwife ever since her sister nearly bled to death giving birth to her first child. At the time, Sadiqa and other family members relied on traditional means and home remedies to try to stop the bleeding. Ultimately, Sadiqa’s sister had to be taken to a hospital some 20 kilometers away. She and her newborn daughter survived, but Sadiqa’s sister never fully recovered and had no more children. The experience had a profound impact on Sadiqa.

“When I saw this happen in my own family, I wanted to become a midwife,” Sadiqa said. “I didn’t want other women to suffer like my sister and her family.”

Najiba Fazzay, a 35-year-old Community Health Worker (far right), gives a talk on maternal health care to expectant mothers in the village of Aquachanoy near Jawjzan, Afghanistan. USAID-funded programs have helped train 8,500 community health workers in Afghanistan. CREDIT: Jhpiego

USAID’s Health Services Support Project, in partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Health, allowed Sadiqa to realize her ambition. Through the project, accredited midwifery schools have been established in nearly every province of Afghanistan. These schools, assisted by USAID with partner organization Jhpiego, provide essential training for midwives like Sadiqa, helping increase the number of trained midwives to more than 2,000 (from about 450) since the fall of the Taliban.

Local health committees are involved in identifying and selecting candidates, a unique aspect of the program that builds support for midwives who return to their communities to work. Villages and communities have directly benefited from the increase in midwives: The number of Afghan health centers that are staffed with more than one midwife has increased from 10 percent (2002) to 61 percent (2009) since USAID began focusing on maternal and child health in Afghanistan in 2003.

The success of USAID-funded projects in Afghanistan has also led to the training of 8,500 community health workers and the formation of a professional midwife’s association, which includes 1,600 members. The impact of this expanded force of maternal health specialists is reflected in the increasing number of Afghan women who give birth with skilled care, a key intervention to reducing maternal and newborn deaths. According to the most recently available data, deliveries assisted by a skilled birth attendant in Afghanistan increased from 8 percent in 2003 to 19 percent in 2006.

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