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Free Press: The Cornerstone of Democracy

Today marks two decades since the United Nations General Assembly designated May 3 as World Press Freedom Day to celebrate press freedom and raise awareness about threats to media independence around the world.  A free press plays a vital role in democratic societies, enabling the open exchange of information and opinions among ordinary citizens, businesses, citizen associations, political parties, and governments. Free and open media systems give voice to citizens, truth test candidates and political parties during elections, inform policy debates in legislatures, investigate corruption, hold public officials accountable, enable democratic governance and facilitate more effective development.

Yet the global struggle for press freedoms remains a work in progress. According to the latest Freedom House reports, the sobering reality is that more than one-third of all global citizens live under highly state-controlled media and information environments classified as “not free”.

In Mozambique, USAID supports the five-year, $10 million Media Strengthening Program to promote a free, open, diverse, and self-sustaining media sector. Photo Credit: IREX

In nearly 35 countries, USAID provides media development assistance, tailoring initiatives to local conditions and prevalent challenges. Using a multi-pronged strategy, USAID aims to strengthen journalists’ skills, build economic self-sustainability of media outlets, and legally protect press independence.

Since 2002, USAID has been instrumental in building a freer, more professional media in Afghanistan. Once very isolated, the Afghan people now enjoy unprecedented access to quality local newscasts (such as the national radio news program Salam Watandar) and international education and entertainment media. With USAID support, a national network of nearly 50 Afghan-owned and operated radio stations has emerged, reaching virtually all corners of the country. USAID also provided the initial seed capital for the highly successful independent television network Tolo TV, which now reaches over two-thirds of the population.

In Burma, USAID has worked for over a decade with more than 1,000 Burmese journalists, starting with support on the Thai-Burmese border in 2001 and extending inside Burma since 2003. Journalists trained in the program’s early years have now gone on to become leaders of the media industry, as part of both the local print media and the media in exile. USAID’s media program responded to almost every major development in the country: it equipped Burmese journalists with training and key support to cover the Saffron Revolution in 2007, Cyclone Nargis in 2008, the constitutional referendum in 2008, and the elections of 2010-2012.

In Eastern Europe, the USAID-funded Regional Investigative Journalism Network helps connect practicing investigative journalists across borders who seek to uncover corruption, organized crime, and others engaged in the criminal services industry.

In eight countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the “Building a Digital Gateway to Better Lives” program empowers professional and citizen journalists, giving them hands-on experience with digital tools to design and implement multimedia projects that report on public service issues affecting citizens’ everyday lives. Almost 300 journalists have participated in the program so far, with results felt throughout the region. Gripping stories of the abuse of children with disabilities in Jordan, human rights violations in Lebanese prisons, corruption in the West Bank/Gaza, polluted drinking water in Iraq, and detecting unexploded landmines in Morocco have attracted significant public interest and response.

Today and every day, USAID applauds the brave work of journalists, editors, and the increasing millions of “citizen reporters” throughout the world in their common pursuit to freely gather, report, analyze, and share news. We also commend the media activists who advocate for media development and freedom despite challenging and sometimes dangerous conditions. We salute you.

Young Communicators Promote Climate Change Awareness

In recognition of Earth Week last week, we explore the connections between climate change and the environment we depend on to sustain us. 

Climate change is already impacting life in the Dominican Republic. Hurricanes, flooding, and dramatic changes in weather are all becoming more prevalent and severe. Throughout the country, rainfall is highly variable—in some areas, rain is becoming increasingly more extreme, while in other areas lower rainfall and high temperatures are bringing more prolonged droughts. This is threatening the already shaky livelihoods of farming communities whose soil, crops, and livestock are highly sensitive to the changing climate. In coastal communities, like Samaná, coral reefs and mangrove forests are rapidly being degraded by both climate and non-climate stresses, leaving communities without their natural buffers to protect their precious beaches from erosion and their property from storm surges and flooding.

High schoolers in Samaná, Dominican Republic learn about climate change so they can help educate others in their community, in a USAID mission funded adaptation project. Photo credit: Nora Ferm, USAID

USAID is supporting programs in the Dominican Republic to help people of all ages not only understand the effects of climate change, but also communicate those changes to their fellow citizens, creating new leaders in this critical area.

As part of this effort, USAID and partners—The Nature Conservancy and the Center for the Conservation and Eco-Development of Samaná Bay and its Surroundings (CEBSE)—are holding workshops about climate change adaptation for local youth. Youth in Samaná are now fired up and eager to put into practice the knowhow they have picked up from their recent training. They are reaching out to other members of their community and teaching them about the dangers of climate change and ways to adapt to these changes locally.

Workshop participants Ulrich and Vanessa say that they want to hit the ground running: “We’re going to communicate in schools and colleges what we learned in the climate change workshops so that young people in our communities get to know the environmental problems that face us…and realize that part of the solution is that we have to adapt and that this in turn requires a change in our attitudes to our environment.”

The focus on youth is essential—more than 60 percent of the population of the province of Samaná is composed of young people. They have an important role to play in solving problems affecting their environment, and bringing this awareness of how to act in a climate-sensitive manner into the future.

Leani and Deliz, two other workshop participants, are eager to get started by using twitter and blogs to “communicate on the internet about climate change, not only with our peers but also with a view to exchange ideas with young people from other areas of the Dominican Republic as well as from neighboring islands facing the same threats.”

According to one participant, “I did not really understand what global warming and the greenhouse effect meant. Now I know how they relate to climate change…but more importantly, I learned about mangroves and coral reefs. Although we live so close to them we were not aware how they protect our coast and what an important role they play in our livelihoods.”

The youth benefitting from this workshop are already becoming leaders in their community by leading conservation efforts as volunteers with CEBSE, working in their local Mayors’ offices, and seeking learning opportunities on climate change outside of the program. Fifteen-year-old participant Daniel Aurelio Reyes Gomez has grand aspirations to keep his momentum going and eventually become a great political leader for his nation. The program will continue to support these future Dominican leaders by expanding to
education centers and fifteen high schools, training 20-50 students at each school.

USAID is also helping smallholder farmers in the Dominican Republic to access and use new methods to deal with climate risks, such as adjusting planting cycles, and better managing natural resource inputs. Farmers are being instructed in ways to take full advantage of climate and weather forecasts and market-based insurance products that complement risk reduction efforts. Such efforts help ensure that farm productivity is sustainable into the future.

This not only reduces the impacts of shocks that farmers themselves face, but also improves the environmental condition of resources downstream, such as the mangroves and coral reefs in coastal communities like Samaná, which are degraded by an onslaught of negative impacts, from upstream agricultural pollution to climate change-induced alterations in ocean chemistry.

By working with those whose livelihoods are currently impacted by the effects of climate change, and by engaging the youth in impacted communities, USAID is promoting multigenerational awareness of and engagement with climate change resiliency.

Rebuilding Haiti One Concrete Block at a Time

This originally appeared on the OPIC Blog.

“You can’t build a country without concrete.”

The statement has particular relevance in Haiti, where, more than three years since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake resulted in extensive death and destruction, the country is still working to repair and rebuild and assume a path of sustained economic vitality.

Luis Garcia (pictured), spoke about the importance of basic building materials like concrete when he described his work in Haiti to an OPIC delegation in February. As Vice President for Planning at Haiti 360, Garcia oversees  projects that not only produce badly-needed concrete, but also highlight the critical role of the private sector in addressing urgent developing world needs such as modern infrastructure.

Luis Garcia describes his work in Haiti to an OPIC delegation in February 2013. Photo credit: OPIC

Haiti 360 – one of multiple OPIC-supported projects that were initiated after the 2010 earthquake – has used a $6 million OPIC loan to support startup costs of two plants producing high-quality concrete used to rebuild homes, roads and even an airport runway. In 2012, more than 500 homes were built with concrete from the new plants. Some of the homes, like those pictured below at the Cabaret housing settlement, were built to tap into the country’s sunny climate. They have solar panels on the windows and come with ATM-like machines, where residents can swipe cards to keep track of the power they use. Haiti 360 is now one of Haiti’s largest concrete producers, and is establishing a series of micro-mixing sites around the country so it can better meet the demands of local builders in different regions. The company is also planning to donate a percentage of its profits to local charities.

My work in international development has led me to Haiti several times but when I visited the country in February with an OPIC delegation led by OPIC President and CEO Elizabeth Littlefield, it was my first visit since the earthquake three years earlier. Today there are about 300,000 Haitians living in tents, down from almost three million who were left homeless after the earthquake. Long a poor country facing multiple development challenges, Haiti today faces the immediate challenge of housing and feeding a large displaced population, and is hoping to do so in a sustainable manner.  Construction underway throughout the country is aimed not just at repairing damage, but extending roads, bolstering infrastructure and fostering new industrial development beyond the capital city of Port au Prince, which is overcrowded with displaced people and job seekers.

The work I witnessed during my visit in February also underscored how governments, private businesses and NGOs all have an important role in this country, which U.S. Ambassador Pamela White has described as “too rich to be poor.” Indeed, Haiti is rich in talent, youth, innovative spirit and land. All of these resources were on display when our delegation visited the Cabaret Housing Settlement, where about 156 houses will be built with the support of Development Innovation Group (DIG). A Maryland finance and development firm, DIG is using a $17 million OPIC loan, together with grants from USAID and the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, to support lending in amounts as small as $1,000 for mortgages and home repairs for low-income borrowers. Builders at the Cabaret site are sensitive to the urgency to construct more housing and have organized a friendly-yet-fierce competition between two construction teams to see who can complete the most homes.

Development Innovations Group offers a good illustration of OPIC’s ability to form partnerships to achieve a greater developmental impact. As the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, OPIC helps private businesses invest in frontier markets and often collaborates with other agencies or NGOs to channel additional investment into projects addressing major social and environmental needs. As the builders’ contest illustrates, DIG and other OPIC-supported projects have responded quickly to the need in Haiti. [continued]

Read the rest of this post.

Embracing Innovation and Discovery to Accelerate Global Health Progress

Ariel Pablos-Mendez, PhD, serves as assistant administrator for Global Health

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 1-10, we will be featuring the role that Science, Technology & Innovation plays in Global Health.

Improving women’s and children’s health is critical to the development of successful economies and stable communities. It not only saves lives, but it helps communities move themselves out of poverty. Yet every year, 6.9 million children die of preventable causes and more than 287,000 women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

In his State of the Union Address earlier this year, President Obama set forth a vision to, within the next two decades, achieve some of the greatest contributions to human progress in history– eliminate extreme poverty, ensure an AIDS-free generation, and end preventable child and maternal deaths.

To many, these goals seem impossible. They seem like nothing more than a catchy statement, in a political speech. But in reality, these goals are achievable, and we’ve already begun to see tremendous progress.   For example, we’ve supported the scale up of a simplified newborn resuscitation program, “Helping Babies Breathe” through a public-private partnership. The partnership has trained and equipped 100,000 health providers in 50 countries in the last two years. This past year, USAID reached more than 84 million women with family planning information and services. By enabling women to delay and space pregnancy, this helped to prevent 15,000 maternal deaths and save the lives of more than 230,000 infants. These are just a couple examples of the recent advancements we’ve made.

But while we have tools and knowledge that can save and improve lives today, we must also look toward the future. Millions around the globe still do not have adequate access to reproductive, maternal and child health services. There is no guarantee that today’s tools will meet tomorrow’s challenges. We must not become complacent.

USAID and the broader global health community invest in innovation, science & technology to find game-changing solutions. Solutions that will help accelerate the goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths, and creating an AIDS-free generation.

Through the Grand Challenges for Development, Development Innovation Ventures, and the Higher Education Solutions Network, USAID is helping to drive breakthroughs in science and technology that can transform development challenges. Recently, we launched the Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact in Global Health to help promote and discover innovative, business-minded approaches to address key bottlenecks in the development, introduction and scale-up of global health technologies and interventions.

And since 2011, Saving Lives at Birth has supported 39 exciting and potentially transformational solutions to women’s and newborns’ health. The innovative ideas include an instrument-free, low-cost, rapid point-of-care CD4 test; a postpartum intrauterine device simulation training model; a counterfeit and substandard drug detector device for use in the developing world; and a low-cost, sustainable health cooperative.

At USAID, we are committed to finding innovative solutions to global health  problems (PDF) and if the global health community can harness science, technology and innovation for the poorest communities in the world, we can leave an unparalleled legacy in global health in this next decade. Over the next few days, we will be blogging about some of the latest cutting-edge solutions that are changing the global health arena. By working together to discover and build new solutions, we can maximize our impact and expand what is possible in development.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Money & Microfinance

What does having access to savings and credit have to do with disaster risk reduction? What does having access to savings and credit have to do with disaster risk reduction?In this next installment of the USAID Pounds of Prevention series (PDF), we discuss the important role that financial services play in reducing vulnerability to disasters and facilitating post-disaster recovery. We travel to Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean where USAID supports a number of efforts that increase people’s access to finance and also strengthens the preparedness capacity of the providers themselves. Photo by USAID.

A New Partnership with South Sudan, A New Way of Promoting Development in Fragile States

Earl Gast serves as assistant administrator for Africa

Last month, USAID helped to spearhead a New Partnership between the government of South Sudan and the international community—including donor nations, the African Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank—based on mutual commitments to focus international assistance and host country resources on strengthening governance, political inclusiveness and sustainable development in South Sudan.

As the world’s newest nation, South Sudan is also one of the least developed countries and therefore, has been highly reliant on donor assistance. Following its independence in July 2011, the international community’s high hopes for the new nation’s future were quickly tempered by an escalation in tensions between South Sudan and Sudan that led to the January 2012 suspension of oil production from South Sudan and transit through Sudan. Given that oil represents 98 percent of Juba’s revenue, the impact of this cessation was immediate and devastating.

The last year of living in austerity and diminishing government services has been a difficult time for the people of South Sudan, who have suffered high food and fuel prices, inflation, displacement from internal conflict and floods. South Sudan also hosts 200,000 refugees from Sudan, who fled fighting and a severe humanitarian crisis in that country.

In early April 2013, Sudan and South Sudan resumed cooperation on oil production, and oil is beginning to flow again. Nonetheless, South Sudan would do well to remember the tough lessons learned over the past year without oil revenues. Despite the hardships, this time of austerity has also been an opportunity to put in place tough, but necessary, economic reforms and fiscal discipline that will help grow the economy and improve transparency.

To help get South Sudan on a sustainable path for development, more than 40 governments and international organizations attended the South Sudan Economic Partners Forum in Washington on April 16. This year, donors have committed to provide approximately $1.3 billion to South Sudan—part of the continuing effort to help the new and underdeveloped nation get on its feet and provide emergency humanitarian assistance where needed. They also indicated a willingness to add new support—up to $300 million—to their existing assistance to South Sudan should the government continue on the right path. The United States is South Sudan’s largest donor. In fiscal year 2012, USAID and the State Department provided $680.4 million in assistance to South Sudan, including emergency (PDF) and development assistance, as well as peacekeeping and security sector programming.

However, donor assistance alone cannot be the solution to South Sudan’s long-term challenges—good governance and private sector growth are equally critical for sustaining the new country’s future. We know, based on decades of hard-earned experience in other parts of the world, that coun­tries with strong economies and sta­ble gov­ern­ments tend to pro­vide more access to ser­vices for cit­i­zens, and oppor­tu­ni­ties for employ­ment. As part of the New Partnership, South Sudan’s partners—including the United States, United Kingdom, Norway, European Union, the World Bank and others —agreed to help the government of South Sudan organize a Private Sector Investment Conference in Juba later this year. As a critical first step, USAID organized a South Sudan Investment Forum in Washington on April 17, 2013 to introduce U.S. companies in South Sudan’s priority sectors (agriculture, petroleum, energy, infrastructure and mining) to government ministers to explore potential investment opportunities. Demonstrating U.S. Government’s commitment to supporting private sector investment in South Sudan, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) signed an Investment Incentive Agreement supporting U.S. private sector investment in South Sudan.

To complement these efforts, USAID has offered its expertise to help the government of South Sudan complete investment agreements based on transparency and responsible stewardship of South Sudan’s public resources, to grow and diversify the economy, and to help the people of South Sudan realize their potential. With this assistance, we believe USAID and other donors’ collaboration in South Sudan in close partnership with the government will put South Sudan on a better path to deliver on its independence promise.

Light Above Darkness – The Global Struggle for Democracy & Human Rights

Sarah Mendelson serves as deputy assistant administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

Two years ago at the Community of Democracies (CD) in Vilnius, Aung San Suu Kyi appeared via video message, addressing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, foreign ministers, presidents, and human rights activists from under house arrest in Burma. While she wasn’t physically present, her grace and strength were felt even from thousands of miles away. I remember she said she was “full of hope and full of anticipation for what the not too distant future will bring us.”

Those were telling words. This week, in Ulaanbaatar, at the seventh ministerial of the CD, Aung San Suu Kyi once again addressed the audience – this time in person. Back straight, regal, and elegant with flowers adorning her hair, Dau Suu said she never lost faith that humans “desire light above darkness.” She walked among the other dignitaries and yet always stood apart. As one official noted, she seemed like “the next Mandela.” Her moral force reminded all of us that we have a duty to remember those who do not live free and to work tirelessly to ensure that one day they can.

Dau Suu’s remarks were followed by Tawakkol Karman, a brave young Yemeni woman who won the Nobel Prize for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and women’s rights in peacebuilding work in Yemen. Her emotional appeal to “stop the killing in Syria and the killing of Muslims in Burma” was blunt, forceful, and a sharp contrast to the more diplomatic speeches that such gatherings inevitably generate.

Deputy Secretary Burns delivered a powerful message from President Obama about generating the “new technologies and tools for activism.” It is our hope that the information technology revolution means we will continue to open governments and transform the global struggle for democracy and human rights. For innovation not only makes hiding corruption even harder, it can help governments listen and respond to their citizens.

And we are already seeing results. One of the most interesting and informative presentations was from an Indonesian leader proudly showing how her government is using technology to empower citizens to hold governments accountable in ways that even the world’s oldest, most established, democracies would do well to replicate. Mongolian officials, our hosts, were talking of transparency, open societies, shared lessons on democratic transition and cooperation with emerging democracies.

At USAID, we are embracing this virtuous cycle through Making All Voices Count, the Open Government Partnership, and by supporting game-changing innovations from governments, partners, organizations, and change agents around the world. We believe these efforts will help new democracies deliver to their citizens, empower civil society activists, and challenge authoritarians everywhere. We have seen a lot of progress since the last CD in 2011 but we have also seen a backlash in many places. Governments attempt to rule by laws designed to close space around civil society and activists. While many of us have hope that such efforts do not have a bright future in the hyper-connected 21st century, we met many activists that live daily with security services trailing and jailing them. I must remind myself that change is possible and hope that when I see them at the next CD, their lives are transformed by freedom.

Video of the Week: Nancy Lindborg Speaks at InterAction Forum

Yesterday, Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator, USAID Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance joined the InterAction Forum’s opening plenary panel, “Facing Vulnerability in a Changing World,” to talk about the importance of resilience in addressing the current crises and challenges that we face.  Following the panel, Nancy sat down with Joel Charny of InterAction to discuss in greater detail USAID’s work to address some of the word’s humanitarian crises. Video is from InterAction.

Learn more about how USAID works in crises and conflict.

Follow Nancy Lindborg on Twitter @nancylindborg.

Photo of the Week: Department of Choco in Colombia Celebrates 200 Years of Independence

On February 1, 2013, the Department of Chocó (Pacific Coast), one of the Colombian departments with the largest Afro-Colombian population, celebrated 200 years of independence (1813-2013).  The United States Agency for International Development supported this commemoration as well as the development of several initiatives aimed at improving the living conditions of the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous population in the region.

On April 29-30, Administrator Shah travels to Colombia with Mark Feierstein, Assistant Administrator for Latin American and the Caribbean to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos and other senior government officials to discuss economic and social development initiatives and aspects of the ongoing peace process.

Read more about the Administrator’s trip to Colombia.

Visit USAID Colombia for more information about USAID’s work in Colombia.

Follow @rajshah on Twitter for updates of his trip.

Who Stole My Cow? Open Data and Praedial Larceny

On December 23, 2012, thirty-two cows were stolen from a farm in Trelawny, Jamaica. By the time the story was picked up by a national newspaper three months later, the farm had been practically shut down, with only six of the original twenty-two workers still employed. Praedial larceny — the theft of agricultural produce and livestock — is widely acknowledged as a major threat to agricultural production and food security in developing countries. It robs legitimate producers, stifles incentives for farming entrepreneurs and adversely affects the poor. In Jamaica, this scourge deprives farmers of more than JA$5 billion (US$52 million) each year. The Rural Area Development Authority (RADA), an agency of Jamaica’s Ministry of Agriculture, has demonstrated a strong commitment to using open data to combat this economic drain and improve the resilience of the island’s agricultural industry.

Stanford Political science professor talking with farmer in Cornation Market in Kingston, Jamaica about praedial larceny. Photo credit: Matthew McNaughton

At its core, praedial larceny thrives on information asymmetries that limit coordination between stakeholders, such as farmers, law enforcement, and buyers of produce. The free flow and accessibility of information about registered farmers, their production, incidences of theft and linkages between production and market are all a part of the information ecosystem that is needed to combat this challenge.

It is within this context that I am excited by the G-8 International Open Agriculture Data Conference and the U.S. Government and USAID’s commitment to supporting agriculture open data. While the value of data is derived from its usage, the principle of ‘openness’ is founded on access and participation. Having more relevant and timely access to data for not only policy makers and data scientists, but also farmers, innovators and other intermediaries, will help to create the solutions needed to prevent threats to food security.

Over the last three years RADA has collaborated with universities, NGOs, and entrepreneurs, including the Mona School of Business & Management, the Caribbean Open Institute, and the SlashRoots Foundation, to publish agriculture open data through APIs and develop a number of proof of concept applications and visualizations to improve extension services and policy making. They partnered in Developing The Caribbean, a regional open data conference and code sprint that spanned six islands this year, where they released data and helped define problem statements to development challenges, along with government agencies from across the Caribbean. The event attracted over 200 volunteers software developers and domain experts in agriculture, tourism and data journalism, who generated over twenty-five prototypes in response to thirty problem statements.

Testing low tech prototypes in largest market in Jamaica after two day workshop to collaborative build solutions with users. Photo credit: Matthew McNaughton

Looking forward to further collaboration with RADA focused on specific development challenges, such as praedial larceny, one thing is clear: open government data in agriculture will be critical to breaking down the silos that typically create governance bottlenecks. This requires focusing not aggregate macro datasets, but instead opening small, service level indicators, originating from any development partner, that can provide “just in time” data to inform decision making. Early program prototypes include employment opportunities as data collectors for at-risk youth, and mobile farmer ID verification for law enforcement and buyers of produce.

To this end, we’re embracing open data that not only helps to catalyze innovation outside of government, but also lowers the barriers for RADA and the farmers they serve, to explore new ways of collaborate to solve the problems that impact them both.

Matthew McNaughton (@mamcnaughton) is an Open Innovation & Development Consultant at the World Bank, and Director of the SlashRoots Foundation, a Caribbean Civic tech non-profit, aiming to accelerate the evolution of the technology ecosystem in the region. SlashRoots is collaborating with the Caribbean Open Institute to launch the Code For The Caribbean Fellowship program. CftC is a member of the Code For All Network, Code For America’s International Program.

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