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From the Field in South Sudan: Mother of Nine Helps Rural Women Deliver Safely

At age 38, Mary Konyo has nine children, including a set of twins. She has been a traditional birth attendant since 1997, before South Sudan became independent, and has helped 23 women deliver children safely women in the last 16 years. Two years ago, she decided to stop having children so she could focus more on helping other pregnant women in distress.

I was touched by Konyo’s story when I heard it at a public forum in Juba (South Sudan’s capital), and I contacted her to learn more about her work to save the lives of pregnant women in her community.

Mary Konyo (right) testifies on the benefits of using misoprostol to reduce severe bleeding after childbirth.  Photo: Victor Lugala

Mary Konyo (right) testifies on the benefits of using misoprostol to reduce severe bleeding after childbirth. Photo credit: Victor Lugala

Her personal experiences with childbirth have inspired her. “When I delivered my first child, I bled excessively for three days. I was very weak,” Konyo told me.

A majority of rural South Sudanese women deliver at home, mostly without the help of a midwife, and some of them die from complications. Excessive bleeding after childbirth, or postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), is one of the leading causes of maternal death in South Sudan.

In recognition of her community work, Konyo was among a few women nominated from her community to attend a USAID-funded workshop on reducing PPH. Workshop participants gained knowledge and skills to help them talk with their communities about the importance of using misoprostol — a medicine that can prevent severe bleeding — to prevent PPH. They also learned what to do when a woman experiences PPH.

In addition to practical skills, the workshop emphasized the need for community outreach to help people understand the importance of giving birth in a health facility, where it can be easier to address complications. Konyo returned to her community as a home health promoter and started a door-to-door awareness campaign. She advises pregnant women to regularly attend antenatal clinic to help ensure that they have safe deliveries. “I particularly tell them about the dangers of excessive bleeding after birth,” Konyo said.

She is also able to give pregnant women misoprostol to take immediately after giving birth. But, she added, “I always tell women to deliver safely in the clinic.” Aware of rural poverty, Konyo advises pregnant women to save a little money for their transport to the hospital for delivery. In her community, women in labor are often transported to the nearest clinic on motorbike taxis, called boda-bodas.

Konyo told me she also encourages husbands to accompany their wives to the clinic, adding that men are expected to pay the hospital bills when their wives give birth.

She believes misoprostol will help drastically reduce severe bleeding immediately after childbirth in her community, pointing out that women who take misoprostol regain strength on the third day after delivery and can return to their everyday activities more quickly. Konyo says the men whose wives have used misoprostol are also happy: “Now they are asking for a ‘wonder medicine’ that will reduce birth pangs and hasten childbirth.”

Learn more about USAID’s work in South Sudan and follow USAID South Sudan on Facebook and Twitter (@USAIDSouthSudan)!

Video of the Week: Improved Potato Farming Yields Results in Bangladesh

Since 2008, farmers in the village of Bokundia in Bangladesh have increased their potato production by 800% and sales more than $500,000. How did they do it? USAID talks about their stories in this video. Stories of associations — association of business with technology, knowledge and markets.

Learn more about our Mission of the Month: Bangladesh.

Follow @USAID and @USAID_BD on Twitter throughout August and join the conversation with #MissionofMonth.

USAID in the News

The Tanzanian Guardiancarried a front page story on the harvest of the orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP), part of USAID’s support for improved nutrition through Feed the Future. Mission Director Sharon Cromer spoke at the event celebrating the harvest, calling OFSP “an ideal crop” to help vulnerable households fight malnutrition.

Smallholder farmers with their harvest - sweet potatoes. Photo by Fintrac Inc.

US News & World Report published an article about President Barack Obama’s Africa team and its members continued engagement on the continent. Administrator Shah and Earl Gast, assistant administrator for the Africa Bureau, are mentioned in the article.

Devex published an article about Nobel Laureate Muhammed Yunus’s visit to USAID where he signed an agreement with the Agency to promote entrepreneurship through his new venture Yunus Social Business and talked with Agency staff.

In a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, Mirza Jahani, the chief executive of Aga Khan Foundation USA, notes that the American government through USAID “is working with partners, including the Aga Khan Development Network, in Wakhan [Afghanistan] on better governance and services in health and education.” He said “more must be done” but again, “much is already taking place.”

A True Data Revolution

Tony Pipa is Deputy Assistant to the Administrator for the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning

“A true data revolution”: this is what the High Level Panel appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon described as necessary if we are to eradicate extreme poverty as part of the next generation of Millennium Development Goals. The panel’s emphasis was welcome recognition that improving the quality, opening up access, and making better use of data and statistics are fundamental to achieving transformative development results.

A key first step is expanding the accessibility of data about aid investments. On Tuesday, USAID published unprecedented amounts of financial information about how and where we spend our dollars. The data contains USAID’s financial obligations and disbursements by transaction, along with qualitative information that describes the “how”, including award titles and vendor names.

The transactions can be found on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, which is managed by the Department of State, in line with the requirements set forth in the OMB Bulletin 12-01 (PDF). They have also been converted into the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) format, so they are comparable to data reported by other countries and donors.

As Administrator Shah pointed out, the 30 fields and 53,000 records represent several firsts for USAID. Not to mention that the data is coming directly from our corporate financial system of record – in that sense we are exposing the inner workings or “guts” of the Agency’s systems, warts and all.

Yet making reams of data available has limited impact if it is seldom used. The power of the Dashboard lies in its ability to present the data visually in a way that is intuitive and easy for a user who is familiar with point-and-click technology to ask questions and get real-time answers.

That’s also why USAID is collaborating so closely with the other U.S. agencies that deliver foreign assistance, to ensure a consistent application of the IATI standard and a coordinated submission to the IATI registry. Just as IATI’s standard format makes foreign assistance comparable from different countries, a consistent application ensures comparability across US government agencies.

Our ultimate goal is development impact. We are seeking to make the data useful and be used to help partner countries more effectively manage the resources from USAID-funded commitments, and to improve our coordination and harmonization with other donors, both public and private. Usefulness also increases accountability, so that citizens, both in partner countries and here in the United States, can use the information to question and hold their governments to account.

We recognize that this data set isn’t perfect and are committed to refining it. As it is mashed up with other data and analysis is performed, we look forward to learning how we might increase our impact. Whereas money is the currency of our financial capital (and the primary preoccupation of the aid community), data is the currency of information, learning and knowledge – our intellectual capital. As a community, there is still enormous potential in understanding and deploying data and determining how it can be most useful, and we at USAID look forward to pushing ourselves to maximize its impact.

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Why did you decide to join the service?

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

Q: What did you like most about your work?

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

Q: What did you like least?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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What’s to Learn from a Nobel Laureate?

Dr. Muhammad Yunus—Nobel laureate, founder of the Grameen Bank, and currently chairman of Yunus Social Business—recently visited USAID to address Agency staff about Lessons in Leadership. After his talk, he met with a small group of USAID leaders for a candid, open-ended conversation.

Dr. Yunus while visiting USAID. Photo Credit: USAID

Dr. Yunus is an inspiring man—he created Grameen Bank in 1974, when, as a professor of economics at the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh, he noticed with dismay the predatory loan-sharking that kept those in the nearby community in debt and poverty. After  walking around the village next to campus, he compiled a list of everyone trapped in this cycle; then, out of his own pocket, he paid off their debts in full—it cost him only $27. The bank that emerged from this small but transformative act became a pioneer in lending to the poor. To date, Grameen has disbursed $13.9 billion in 81,387 villages, to more than 8.4 million people —96 percent of them women. The overall repayment rate is 97 percent.[1]

At USAID, we are working to respond to President Obama’s challenge to end extreme poverty within the next two decades. The world has seen unprecedented progress in the last 30 years, with more than 700 million people rising above $1.25/day. The global extreme poverty rate was cut in half between 1990 and 2010, achieving the first Millennium Development Goal five years ahead of schedule. Still, more than 1.2 billion people are living in extreme poverty today.

But the revolutionary contributions of Grameen Bank and other civil society actors, such as BRAC, have made Bangladesh, in particular, a model for large-scale poverty reduction. Even without the sky-high growth rates of countries like China and India, Bangladesh has made comparable inroads against extreme poverty. Since 1990, for instance, India’s per capita GDP has grown at 4.8 percent per year, compared to only 3.5 percent per year in Bangladesh; yet Bangladesh has cut its extreme poverty rate more quickly than India has—2.3 percent per year versus 2.2 percent per year.

One of Dr. Yunus’s most illuminating insights was that “All human beings are entrepreneurs.” Grameen, for instance, has a program that targets Bangladesh’s poorest, who survive by begging. The Struggling Members Program has a simple proposition: rather than soliciting donations, members can use a small loan to buy merchandise and are offered an option: charity or trade. Grameen doesn’t set deadlines for repayments and allows the borrowers determine how much they need.  Interestingly, none asked for more than $20. Within a couple of years, 100,000 people had joined the program; 25,000 have since stopped begging all together. People, everywhere, are full of creative ideas and ingenuity, Dr. Yunus reminded us —sometimes we just need to figure out how to unlock this potential.

In tandem with a Yunus adage that “Everything starts with a seed,” USAID is working to sow the seeds through major creative initiatives like Feed the Future and Power Africa, by supporting bright new thinkers and entrepreneurs through Development Innovation Ventures and the Grand Challenges for Development, and by reimagining how we finance development and funding small-scale enterprises, such as in the new Pakistan Private Investment Initiative.

But we can do more. Dr. Yunus’s newest venture, Yunus Social Business (YSB), is looking to scale the ‘social business’ model—i.e., companies that are businesses in every respect, except they don’t seek a profit and have solving social problems as their core mission. “There is a business solution to every problem the poor face,” Yunus observed.

Before his talk, USAID and YSB signed a Memorandum of Understanding. “Our collaboration with Yunus Social Business is emblematic of our new model for development,” Administrator Shah said at the signing. (It is ) “…a model that harnesses partnership and innovation to advance sustainable solutions to some of the toughest challenges we face.” No challenge is tougher than ending extreme poverty.

USAID’s investments in health care and education, in protecting human rights and providing humanitarian assistance are essential. Our assistance can also be a spark—by partnering with social businesses, by partnering with the poor themselves.  We as an Agency have the ability to ignite the kind of catalytic, grassroots growth that could help eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetimes.

There is much we all can learn from the intense creativity and compassion of a Dr. Yunus, Nobel laureate.

 

[1] The accuracy of Grameen’s internal statistics has been questioned by some—e.g., David Roodman, of the Center for Global Development. He finds, for instance, a higher default rate, of 10.9 percent.

Keeping our Promise on Aid Transparency

I am proud to announce a significant step forward in our efforts to deliver development results more transparently and effectively than ever before. For the first time ever, you can visit the Foreign Assistance Dashboard and check out how our partners have spent our dollars.

Rajiv Shah serves as Administrator at USAID

Today’s unprecedented release of new financial data  includes over 30 database fields and nearly 53,000 records—all from the first three quarters of fiscal year 2013. Never before has our Agency published spending data so comprehensively and so soon after the close of the quarter.

This release is just the latest in a series of important changes we have made to advance President Obama’s unparalleled commitment to transparency and our own USAID Forward reform agenda. Under President Obama’s leadership, the United States has created foreignassistance.gov, signed onto the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), which showcases our data in an open, timely, and internationally compatible format. The data that we are adding today will be converted to this format and reported to the IATI registry, helping the U.S. government meet the commitments that we made at the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan in November 2011.

Our commitment to transparencyhas not only helped strengthen accountability and improve communication; it has also had a direct impact on the way we work every day. A few months ago, we opened up some of the data behind our Famine Early Warning Systems Network, which monitors factors like rainfall, market prices, and incomes around the world. Within weeks of making that information public, small businesses in Kenya were using the data in a new way—empowering farmers in remote villages with the information they need to negotiate better prices for their crops.

With today’s unprecedented release of new financial data on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, you can see timely information about what, where, how and with whom we spend our development dollars.

Most importantly, we want our data to be easy to understand, use, and share.  In May, President Obama signed an Executive Order making government information

open and machine readable as the new default. In support of this vision, we have created apps for the iPhone and iPad so you can explore our high-quality project evaluations, Demographic Health Surveys results for more than 80 countries, and a USAID map of our programs around the world.  In fact, I recently had the opportunity to show these apps to President Obama while we were traveling in Africa, and he was excited about the even greater potential we have to open our wealth of data to millions of entrepreneurs, innovators, and students around the world.

I encourage you to explore the data, download our apps, and think creatively about ways you can help us harness the power of information to end extreme poverty around the world.

Study Highlights Way Forward for African Higher Education Institutions

What do leadership, governance and management have in common? According to a recently released study by the Association of African Universities (AAU) commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International Development through the Higher Education for Development (HED) program they are three main obstacles to growth and sustainability in African Higher Education Institutions.

The Sub-Saharan Africa Higher Education Leadership Development (SAHEL) Study maps a strategy for institutional capacity building in senior- and middle-level management and leadership. The study identified the following challenges:

  • Lack of clear strategy for leadership development
  • Differences across countries and institutions regarding government appointments versus merit-based appointments
  • Poor or lack of succession plans
  • Lack of policies and/or commitment to implementing gender policies that support the advancement of women in leadership roles

Students in the Tabia Debre Abay community at an Alternative Basic Education Center in Tigray, Ethiopia. The community is now actively involved in the education of their youngsters. Photo by Nena Terrell, USAID

“Leadership and administration capacity are the most critical challenges in the effort to make higher education in sub-Saharan Africa more effective and responsive to development, while ensuring its quality and relevance,” stated Teshome Alemneh, Africa program officer at HED. “Access to higher education in sub-Saharan Africa is expanding. This study has reaffirmed the importance of leadership and administration capacity and proposes several mechanisms of developing such capacities in Africa.”

The SAHEL study offers an analysis of AAU’s Leadership and Management Development programs and recommends strategies to build upon achievements by designing new elements that draw from the experiences of regional and international leadership training organizations.

AAU and HED presented the findings during AAU’s 13th General Conference held in Libreville, Gabon in May 2013. USAID and HED commissioned the study in an effort to gain a better understanding of the causes and current climate of leadership and management inefficiencies in tertiary education.

Read the complete Sub-Saharan Africa Higher Education Leadership Development (SAHEL) Study Report.

Fixing A Broken System: A Conversation With Nobel Peace Prize Winner Professor Muhammad Yunus

“Whatever banks did, I did the opposite. If banks lent to the rich I lent to the poor. If banks lent to men, I lent to women. If you had to go to the bank, my bank went to the village.” Maybe these sound like the words of a man who doesn’t know business. But they are in fact the words of one of the world’s greatest social businessmen, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Congressional Gold Medal winner, and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Muhammad Yunus.

Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize visited with USAID staff on July 22, 2013 to discuss how to ‪end extreme poverty‬. Photo credit: Pat Adams, USAID

On July 22, 2013, the USAID community had the privilege of hearing Mr. Yunus speak. He spoke about starting his various businesses, the Grameen Bank in particular, and about the difficulties faced when trying to help those in need. Grameen bank is a microcredit lending bank, founded in 1983 but with origins dating back to 1976.

That year, Yunus went into the poorest rural communities in Bangladesh and saw what he calls “a desperation”; to escape poverty, to escape the violent loan sharks who ruled the areas, a desperation for a better way of life.

Without a thought to the positive global impact that Grameen bank would one day have, he decided he could fix the problem or at least he could make a difference here in this small area. He began using his own money for microcredit loans in these rural regions, taking the place of the loan sharks. He believed that if you used business as a tool to produce more money, not for profit but to continue the cycle of lending then it would help the greatest number of people possible.

Today Grameen bank has branches all over the world, including several in the United States. He has been dubbed one of the greatest global thinkers of our time and there is a lot that can be learned from him and his style of aid.

At the end of the day, said Yunus, the real issue is the system in its entirety, as it produces poverty and unemployment: “Should the system condemn the people and put the people in the trash, or should the people condemn the system and put the system in the trash?”

To remedy this, Yunus believes USAID should invest more in local civil society and less in foreign governments when it comes to aiding native populations. In fact, as Administrator Shah noted, this is one of the many initiatives USAID Forward is taking on.

In addition, Yunus said that although the Agency is dedicated to the betterment of humankind it is still a part of the U.S. government and therefore like most governments, not as adept at innovation as it could be. The more lithe and adaptable the organization, and the less restricted by protocol and procedure, the more effective it will be at producing the necessary change.

 

Behind the Scenes: Interview w/ Tjada McKenna on Feed the Future’s progress

In this edition of our “Behind the Scenes” Interview Blog Series, we chat with Tjada McKenna, Feed the Future’s Deputy Coordinator for Development, about global hunger and Feed the Future’s progress.

Tjada McKenna serves as Feed the Future's Deputy Coordinator for Development

Q: How was Feed the Future born?

In 2009 at the G-8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, President Obama addressed global leaders on the need to reverse the decades-long decline of agricultural investment and called on them to harness collaboration between donors, partner governments and civil society to strengthen global efforts to reduce poverty, hunger and undernutrition. Feed the Future is President Obama’s U.S. Government initiative and contribution to this global effort to advance food security and nutrition. Driven by the belief that global hunger is solvable, we’re seeing some great results from farms to markets to tables.

Q: What does success look like for Feed the Future?

Success equals results — the number of individuals who have access to better nutrition, the number of farmers who have benefitted from improved agricultural technologies, and the number of new partnerships that work collectively to improve food security, to name a few. We just released our FY2012 Feed the Future Progress Report and just looking at the numbers is pretty jaw-dropping when you think of the individuals whose lives have been directly impacted by the initiative. In 2012, Feed the Future programs reached more than 9 million families; our nutrition programs reached more than 12 million children under five; we helped nearly 7.5 million farmers and other food producers adopt improved technologies or management practices (30 percent of whom were women); we helped boost the sales of agricultural products by more than $100 million, which, in turn, helped increase their incomes; we forged more than 660 public-private partnerships to improve food security from a community level to a global level; and increased the value of agricultural and rural loans overall by more than $150 million.

Q: What is Feed the Future’s approach for achieving success?

We know that meeting our Feed the Future objectives will only happen with true partnerships at every level. We use a combination of multiple approaches that involve collaboration among government partners, agricultural researchers, civil society and community members, the country’s own leadership, in-country and international companies, and other organizations that champion the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger around the world. When we implement Feed the Future programs, we want them to deliver cost-effective results, align with the focus country priorities, see opportunity in innovative partnerships, encourage private investment, and we want to ensure that our programs are deeply ingrained in the culture and business model of the country, so they are equipped to respond to food crises in the future.

A great example is Mercy Chitwanga’s story. Mercy is a dairy farmer in Malawi and Chairperson of the Chitsanzo Dairy Cooperative, a group of smallholder dairy farmers that was awarded a $95,000 Feed the Future grant through the United States African Development Foundation (USADF) in 2011. She received capacity building training through the grant, and now is one of more than 1,000 female dairy farmers in Malawi who are increasing their earnings and accessing more nutritious food for their children with support from Feed the Future.

Q: What’s in Feed the Future’s future?

Reducing poverty and undernutrition through agricultural development remains our anchor. Despite the progress we’ve made already, there is still more to be done. Approximately 870 million people in the world remain hungry today (that’s one in eight people) and 98 percent of them live in developing countries. And the world’s population keeps increasing. It’s projected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, requiring at least a 60 percent increase in global food production. So, we have a lot of work to do.

We will continue striving to make Feed the Future even more effective, to produce more results, and increase the impact and reach of U.S. food assistance to the places that need it most. We’ll also be working toward reducing the prevalence of stunted children under five years of age by 20 percent in the areas where we work. We’ve seen the transformative power of agricultural technologies and we’re looking forward to seeing how innovation will further change and improve the agricultural space, allowing even greater access to nutritious food for people everywhere.

Q: How can people get involved with Feed the Future?

There’s a social media campaign right now inviting our partners, the public, and anyone interested in the issues of hunger and poverty to respond to the question “How will you feed the future?” We welcome responses and ask participants to highlight why they’re involved in the fight against hunger and poverty, and offer suggestions on what others can do to help feed the future too. All ideas are welcome — a blog post, a video, a photo, etc.! You can follow and join the campaign on Facebook and Twitter too using the hashtag #feedthefuture. Visit the Feed the Future website for more information.

You can also visit the “Partner With Us” section of the Feed the Future website to view opportunities to get involved, whether you’re a university student, researcher, civil society organization, or private company.

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