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Lessons of Financial Independence and Self-Sufficiency in Georgia

Working in 85 communities in 10 target municipalities across Georgia, the USAID/New Economic Opportunities (NEO) initiative enables highly vulnerable individuals to be self-sufficient through vocational training.

“Amazing, but I have to put some of my villagers on the waiting list,” smiles Shalva Grigalashvili, plumber and tile-setter from Kvishkheti community in Khashuri municipality. “More and more people in Kvishkheti feel a need to put appropriate tourism infrastructure in place and start to upgrade their houses to attract more visitors,’” explains Shalva. As a popular tourist destination in Georgia, the income of the Kvishkheti population significantly depends on the tourism revenues accrued each summer.

The twenty-two year old Shalva Grigalashvili was one of 20 students who graduated from the USAID-sponsored plumbing/tile-setting vocational training program at the Khidistavi Orienti Vocational College in Gori in September 2012. Along with other top students in his program, the USAID/New Economic Opportunities Initiative (NEO) awarded plumbing and tile-setting toolkits to encourage graduates like Shalva to start their own businesses and support income generation opportunities.

Shalva Grigalashvili, one of USAID/NEO beneficiaries, tiling a guesthouse bathroom in Kvishkheti village of Khashuri municipality. Photo credit: USAID/NEO

Unlike many of his friends and neighbors who travel to work in Tbilisi, Shalva decided to stay in his own village and help other residents improve their living conditions. After completing his training, Shalva started to renovate his neighbors’ houses in Bulbulistsikhe village in Kvishkheti community. Shalva also decided to help a less successful classmate who because of poor performance did not receive a plumber’s toolkit. Through their joint efforts, Shalva gave his friend the opportunity to build upon his training and better master their profession, gain employment and increase his income.  “Hard work,” Shalva admits, “but well worth the effort. It is so rewarding to have such a highly demanded profession that brings you money and respect.”

Shalva is just one of the 254 vulnerable individuals from NEO target communities in the Shida Kartli, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Racha-Lechkhumi, and Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti regions of Georgia that benefited from USAID-funded vocational training programs. Within three month of graduation, 168 graduates (66 percent) had already obtained new jobs or improved their employment status. Additional sessions of vocational training for NEO vulnerable beneficiaries in trades such as apparel-making, hair dressing, cooking and construction works are scheduled for early 2013.

Learn more about the USAID/New Economic Opportunities (NEO) initiative in Georgia.

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Video of the Week: Women Mobile Phone Users in Indonesia

Todaythe United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with partners Qtel Group and AusAID, announced the winners of the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge, which aims to redefine the smartphone user experience for resource-poor women in emerging markets.

The GSMA mWomen Design Challenge was created to simplify the smartphone user interface to help overcome reading and technical literacy barriers for women. Twenty-two per cent of women surveyed in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda who do not use mobile phones say it is because they do not know how to use them. Watch this video with women mobile phone users in Indonesia review the winning submissions to the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge.

Generate. Capture. Share. Apply Knowledge at the KM Expo

Effective knowledge management is crucial to achieving USAID’s mission of ending world poverty. Groups internal and external to the agency have been working on individual Knowledge Management (KM) initiatives to improve their processes and capture the impact their work is having on international development. The Knowledge Management Expo, hosted by USAID’s Knowledge Services Center KM Team, in conjunction with the KM Reference Group, will bring these groups together to share their innovative knowledge management practices, tools and solutions, and exchange best practices, lessons learned and the challenges.

Keynote Speaker Erin Elizabeth McKee is the Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning (PPL). Ms. McKee has played an integral role in PPL’s push to incorporate learning into all USAID programming by spearheading USAID’s Open Data Initiative. The Open Data Initiative was launched in response to the President’s call for a more transparent, collaborative, and participative federal government, and seeks to strengthen USAID as a platform where the world’s biggest development problems find the best development problem solvers.

The KM Center allows an exchange of ideas to provide solutions for people around the world, such as Ojok's family who was displaced from their land during a former war in Uganda. Photo credit:USAID

The KM Expo features presenters from both inside and outside the agency, reflecting the strength of knowledge management throughout the development community. Presentations topics include how to integrate knowledge management into daily work and project management, how to use social media as a learning tool, and USAID’s premiere KM initiative, the Program Cycle. Each presentation topic is specifically related to knowledge management for development and how to better use it in daily work and strategic planning. The broad range of topics within this framework reflects the importance of knowledge management in all aspects of development and ensures a rich and beneficial dialogue among attendees.

In addition to presenters, various exhibitors will be showcasing their KM initiatives during the Expo. Exhibitors including the M/CIO’s Knowledge Services Center, the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy, USAID’s GeoCenter, Economic Analysis and Data Services, and USAID’s Applying Science to Strengthen and Improve Systems (ASSIST) project, among others, will have the opportunity to share what they have been working on as well as contribute to others’ projects.

The KM Expo will bring knowledge management and the development community together to share projects, ideas, challenges and inspiration, enabling USAID and its partners to become stronger, more agile and better able to achieve the ultimate goal of ending world poverty.

Can’t attend the Expo? No problem. Follow along on Twitter at #KMExpo.

Empowering Women with Mobile Money: The Tanzania Report

This originally appeared on Mobile Payments Today

Tanzania’s first mobile money service, M-PESA, was launched less than a year after it started in neighbouring Kenya, but adoption has been much slower in Tanzania. Consumers, especially women, face a myriad of barriers to mobile money uptake and regular usage.  During my fieldwork in Tanzania, I met with a number of women, both mobile money non-users and users, to learn more about these barriers. I also explored opportunities for the mobile money industry to overcome these challenges and develop a compelling case for women to use mobile financial services.

A message confirms the deposit of a new customer who is signing up for mobile banking. Photo credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

The women users I spoke with were using mobile money mainly for remittances of under TSH 20,000 (approximately US$13). Some used the service for business, but most transactions were personal.  Many of the women who reported receiving remittances had married men from other towns or villages and had thus moved, and were receiving money from family at home. The frequency of mobile money usage varied from every two months to as many as seven times a month.

The women I spoke with suggested that using mobile money has improved their lives because of its ease and convenience. However, they also shared stories about agents charging more than the commission rates set by the operators, forcing users to pay more than they should to withdraw and deposit their money.  For some, this extra cost was acceptable because it was still lower than the costs of travelling to obtain the money by other means; for others, they did not have agents nearby so they incurred this fee on top of the time and cost to reach the closest agent.

In rural areas, respondents suggested that families live so close together that there is less need for remittances. However, learning more about women’s lifestyles and money management practices still highlights the potential role of mobile money in this context. For example, nearly three quarters of the population relies on agriculture-related activities for income; people keep crops such as maize as savings, liquidating only when there is an immediate financial need. One group of women acknowledged that they may not get the best price when they sell their crops like this, but they also feared the money would be misspent if they sold sooner.

Key questions we are continuing to probe include: How could mobile savings impact the families in these areas? What would be the best way to structure such services and how could mobile operators best communicate about the service to potential users? The answers to these questions – and more – will be reflected in the final report to be released later this month.

Kristy Bohling, an associate with Bankable Frontier Associates, conducted qualitative fieldwork in Tanzania. A video of Ms. Bohling discussing her research is also available.

Empowering Women One Mobile Phone At a Time

This originally appeared on Mobile Payments Today

Today, half the world’s adult population — 2.5 billion people — lacks access to basic financial services and the majority of them are women. Being financially excluded means relying on cash, where a simple task like paying a bill or receiving money from a family member can be risky, costly and time consuming. This exclusion from financial services also reinforces the cycle of poverty and slows economic growth.

From Kenya to Haiti to Indonesia, mobile phones already have begun playing an important role in expanding access to financial services, including ways to send, receive and save money. At the end of 2012, an estimated 1.7 billion people in the world will have a mobile phone but not a bank account, but thanks to advances in mobile banking technology, these are no longer mutually exclusive.

Mobile banking saves women time and money. With mobile services, women no longer have to make all-day treks to and from the bank. Photo credit: USAID

Mobile technology in the hands of women can help enable entry into the financial mainstream and provide access to life-enhancing services such as savings, payments, healthcare, education, and entrepreneurship. But as research has shown, there’s a gender gap in mobile phone ownership and usage, in part because of the lack of products designed for the wants and needs of women. In order to achieve the full potential of the role mobile technology can play in women’s empowerment globally, it is critical that service providers understand what women need and design products that effectively reach this audience.

Toward that goal, the GSMA mWomen Programme and Visa Inc. have partnered with Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA) to conduct groundbreaking research in five key countries: Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania. Building on the results of GSMA mWomen’s Striving and Surviving, which was prepared as part of Visa and GSMA’s partnership with USAID and AusAID, the BFA research will provide a deeper dive into how best to reach these women and what services and products will directly meet their needs – offering important lessons for mobile operators, financial institutions, governments, and other partners.

Consider Pakistan, where field work already is underway. In Pakistan, only 12 percent of the total population has a bank account — and those who do are primarily men. However, mobile phone penetration hovers around 70 percent, offering a unique opportunity to provide access to more formalized financial services via mobile phone. Our early field work indicates that while Pakistani women are remarkably sophisticated and adept at managing their household finances, they don’t have access to formal financial tools. Instead, they save in money boxes in their homes or via savings groups, both of which can carry significant risk. Given the increasing presence of mobile phones in the country, mobile financial services – if designed properly – can provide an accessible and convenient avenue for women to enter the financial mainstream.

To hear more about the work underway in Pakistan, please click here to view a video from one of the field researchers, the first in a series that will highlight the work being done in all five countries.

“Through this research, we aim to uncover the challenges women face in their daily and longer term financial management and to suggest ways of easing those burdens with mobile money,” says Daryl Collins, co-author of the seminal work, Portfolios of the Poor, and a director at BFA. “Poor people of both genders manage their money with a complex portfolio of financial instruments. However, the evidence suggests that women are doubly burdened, given that they are often responsible for making ends meet, yet are less empowered to make full use of the options available.”

Our hope in this effort is to help women realize the promise of mobile financial services. In order to do that, we need to learn more about women’s attitudes towards mobile services, including barriers to frequent use and whether mobile financial services offer an entry for women who previously did not value or know how to use mobile technologies.

As our research continues over the next few months, we look forward to sharing with you the voices of these women from around the world.

Aletha Ling is chief operating officer for Fundamo, a Visa company. Chris Locke is managing director of GSMA Mobile for Development Department.

USAID In the News

This week Secretary Kerry defended foreign aid spending amid budget cuts in a Reuters report, saying “Foreign assistance is not a giveaway. It’s not charity. It is an investment in a strong America and in a free world.”

In Africa, The New York Times reports USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah met with Somali leaders in Mogadishu on Thursday, and announced $20 million in new American food aid for the country. Dr. Shah said that “after two decades of conflict, famine and terrorism, it was necessary not only to address Somalia‘s ‘critical emergency needs’ but also to promote stability and recovery.”

Administrator Shah announces partnership in Somalia on February 21, 2013. Photo credit: USAID

The Washington Post notes that Shah is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Somalia in years. Meanwhile Somali diaspora came together in Hargeisa to launch infrastructure investment strategies for the country, which Suleiman Mohamed from USAID’s Partnership for Economic Growth attended according to The Somaliland Sun.

And Maura O’Neill gave NextGov a “sneak peak at the jobs available for the next round of Presidential Innovation Fellows at USAID during a Social Media Week event on Tuesday.” If you are a private sector innovator with experience in big data, venture capital or crowd-sourcing technology, check it out!

USAID Announces #Popcorn + International Development Winners

At the end of January, we asked our partners for videos that showcased the creative ways digital space is used for development. The call for submissions was In participation with the global Social Media Week 2013 at which USAID participated for the first time this year.

Beny, a peer educator in the DRC uses Facebook to educate society about HIV prevention.

We received more than 50 videos from around the world, and we selected 20 that best illustrated how technology directly advances development and social good. We welcomed participants and others interested in social media to our headquarters at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington this afternoon, and shared a dynamic dialogue about the approaches organizations used, the successes they experienced, and the challenges they faced.

Thank you to all those who submitted videos to us! More importantly, thank you for the great work you are doing for making our world a better place to live.

Watch the final playlist that includes all winners. Follow the conversation on Twitter about the video showcase at #smwUSAID.

Advancing Development Through Social Media

Dr. Maura O'Neill is the chief innovation officer and senior counselor to the administrator at USAID.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel for Social Media Week about the latest social media trends in international development. It was the first event of its kind here at USAID and I was happy to moderate. With panelists from UN Foundation, USAID, Huge Inc., iStrategy Labs, and Internews, it was a vibrant discussion to say the least.

The social space has become saturated with creative content from diverse thinkers and implementers of social good, and this could not be a better time for partners in development to use this space for improving programs and reaching even more people. Each panelist introduced a unique, and important, perspective to the conversation about the role of social media in the development world.

The UN Foundation alongside the UN General Assembly hosted an amazing  Social Good Summit  last September. Caleb Tiller, executive director of Communications and Public Affairs, introduced it as a powerful example of how social media can drive conversations around the globe about important issues that directly affect the daily lives of those engaged in the discussions online. He also pointed out that the inherent reach of social media is a benefit for initiatives such as the Summit because it is a quick way of engaging the individuals who are important to the conversation. The Social Good Summit reached  more than 300 cities worldwide and local simultaneous summits were held. This has significant impact in the development space because it means we can connect with more people, educating them about important issues that affect their lives – from global health, to gender equality, to ending extreme poverty (the list goes on!). It also means that any work we do has the potential to reach a thousand-fold the audience we would have reached through more traditional communications means.

Social media also allows room for more innovative ways of assisting people with few resources. And our partners and colleagues have been doing great work using social media as a tool to help promote advancements in the field of development. Through Facebook, Kate Watts, Managing Director at HUGE, helped facilitate the highly successful Pepsi Refresh campaign that gave more than 300 grants and $20 million to users for beneficial projects around the community. Participants submitted thousands of ideas through Facebook that people voted on. Nearly 132 schools and organizations benefited as a result of the campaign, more than 40 communities received affordable housing and parks, and 21 neighborhood parks were refreshed.

Kathleen Reen (right) of Internews explains the importance of digital security at USAID's panel on social media and development. Photo credit: USAID

Kathleen Reen, Vice President for Asia, Environment and New Media Programs at Internews, brought up the important factor of protecting information that resides in digital spaces. To address the challenge, they’ve implemented programs and training to ensure digital security in vulnerable societies that face challenges with access to Internet. As Kathleen said, “In vulnerable/censored societies, changemakers need knowledge digital tools to stay safe.”

It’s clear that the broad boundaries of social media bring to the forefront various issues we need to keep in mind, and continue to fine-tune, so we use platforms in smart ways. At USAID in particular, it is critical for our virtual efforts to translate to “real-life.” One way to do this was to use videogames as a channel to reach youth in Jordan.  It increases their real-life knowledge about civic responsibility and engagement by getting them engaged in building and running virtual cities. Maryanne Yerkes, senior civil society and ICT advisor at USAID, explained how USAID’s Innovations in Youth Capacity and Engagement (IYCE ) program says that games  directly strengthen youth engagement when integrated offline components.

We know that social media has isn’t perfect and has some of its own downsides. But, only through trying new approaches to our work and embracing new technologies can we discover powerful ways to drive more quickly our development goals.

What is your experience with social media and development? Join the conversation.

Maura O’Neill is on Twitter.

Follow USAID on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Storify.

Improving Hygiene for Displaced Syrians

Using clean water from her family’s new bucket, Haneen* brushes her teeth with the toothbrush received from a USAID partner in Olive Grove Camp “I now can use a toothbrush to brush my teeth. I go to the well and put some water in the bucket, then use this water to wash my hands and brush my teeth.”  PhotoCredit: USAID Partner *Name changed to protect identity Improving Hygiene for Displaced Syrians

Basic personal hygiene is critical to help prevent the spread of illness and  disease among displaced Syrians.

After nearly two years of ongoing brutal conflict, more than 4 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, including some 2.5 million who are displaced from their homes.

In Atmeh’s Olive Tree Camp, near the Reyhanli border crossing in Turkey’s Hatay Province, many of the residents left their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Good basic personal hygiene and hand washing are critical to  help prevent the spread of illness and disease, and providing basic hygiene supplies and education was identified as a  priority in the camp.

USAID—through an international non governmental  organization—began distributions of family hygiene kits in the  camp in October 2012.  Each kit includes two towels, toothpaste and toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, and feminine pads. USAID also provided two water containers and buckets to store and transport clean water to tents and makeshift homes.

“When people are running away from war and destruction, they  think less about hygiene and keeping the children clean,” says one Syrian mother. “I like the items that my family got, because we now have things that we can use and are of a help to us as a unit.”

To further improve hygiene in the camp, USAID funding also repaired the water pump, established water trucking, and constructed a septic system that supports 60 latrines, with 100 more in the construction process. In addition, USAID also established 120 garbage collection points and established trash removal services in the camp.

These hygiene programs are in addition to medical and other assistance USAID is providing to Syrians in the Olive Tree Camp.

In total, the United States is providing nearly $385 million to help the innocent children, women, and men affected by the crisis in Syria. We will continue to stand by and with the Syrian people.

To learn more about USAID’s efforts in Syria, http://www.usaid.gov/crisis/syria

USAID Helps Timor-Leste Communities Keep Kids in School

My country, Timor-Leste, is extremely young—only 10 years old. Our Timorese population is young, too. Almost 40 percent of our one million people are school-age—that is, between 5 and 19 years old. But school attendance rates are still low and many kids drop out of school.

One of the worst times for students to drop out is between 6th and 7th grades: about 20 percent of 6th grade students do not go on to start 7th grade, the first year of secondary school. USAID is focusing on this particular problem through the School Dropout Prevention Pilot (SDPP) project, which works with more than 10,000 kids in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades—the final grades in elementary school—along with their teachers, parents and the communities in which they live. The goals are to discover which kids might be in danger of dropping out and then to keep them in school with a range of fun activities that boost their skills and confidence.

Students in Timor-Leste play a learning game with the SDPP team at Ramahana Elementary School. Photo credit: Milca Baptista, USAID

A few weeks after the launch of the project’s in-school activities in October, I had the opportunity to visit three SDPP schools in remote areas of Timor-Leste, along with colleagues from our Mission in Dili and USAID headquarters in Washington. The schools we visited were in Viqueque District, far from where I live in the capital, Dili, so the trip also gave me an opportunity to understand people’s lives in parts of the country I had never visited before as well as to see the project teams in action.

The first school we visited was Bubulita Elementary School, near Timor-Leste’s south coast, about eight hours’ drive from Dili. We had to walk for two and a half hours from the nearest road to reach the school. In Bubulita, SDPP has had substantial success with an early warning system to identify kids at risk of dropping out—a system that means, for the first time in Timor-Leste, school administrators and teachers can track attendance, performance, and behavior to identify at-risk students. A key component of this system involves having a trained volunteer community team visit the parents of at-risk kids to convince them to keep their children in school.

“I appreciate the fact that this project is involving local community members, so they feel that they are also responsible, not just teachers and parents,” said Bubulita principal Mario da Cruz.

Since SDPP facilitators arrived at Bubulita, there has been perfect attendance. Before the activities started, three students were considered at-risk. One was older than the maximum school age, so had to quit. But the other two have come back to school. And now, local community volunteers visit the school twice a week to find out if any students are missing or late for class.

The introduction of SDPP’s extra-curricular activities has brought perfect attendance to Bubulita Elementary School in Viqueque. Photo credit: Milca Baptista, USAID

Not far from the district capital we visited the Kraras Elementary School. Because it is near the town, the school is in far better condition than others we saw. I talked with the principal and deputy principal who told me that the project is well-supported by the teachers, the students and the local community, who are all excited about the extracurricular activities that are run by SDPP project facilitators. These activities aim to keep at-risk students interested in school by boosting their confidence and their ability to participate with their peers. Activities include cooperative learning exercises and games to build basic literacy and numeracy skills. In most schools, SDPP extracurricular activities are the first they have ever had.

“This is the first time we have had extracurricular activities at our school. Although some of the children have to walk two hours to and from school, they stay to take part until the end of the activities,” said Kraras principal Claudino Ruas. He added that no students have missed class more than once since the project started.

On my trip to these remote areas of my own country, I found that even though the lives of people are extremely difficult, they all want their kids to receive a good education. In one remote village I learned that the people of the community had even built a school themselves to ensure that their children would have access to a school near their homes. As a Timorese, I admire their courage and determination to move my country forward even in that isolated place, and I am happy that USAID is helping these communities ensure that all kids receive the support they need to stay in school and build a better future for our young country.

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