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Four Lessons Learned Four Years into the Syrian Crisis

The Syrian crisis is the largest and most complex humanitarian emergency of our time. More than 12 million Syrians — about half of Syria’s population before the war — are in need of humanitarian assistance.

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas H. Staal assesses the Harshm Camp in Erbil, Iraq. / USAID

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas H. Staal assesses the Harshm Camp in Erbil, Iraq. / USAID

During a trip to Jordan and several camps in Iraq a few weeks ago, I saw Syrian refugees struggling to keep themselves warm at night, when the temperatures dropped close to freezing. Doing everything possible to protect their children, the families I met had reinforced their tents with plastic sheeting in an effort to keep out the bitter winds. Our partners were working hard to get winter supplies both to these refugee camps as well as inside Syria. So far, they had distributed blankets, warm clothing, heaters and plastic sheeting to almost half a million people — an impressive feat amid growing insecurity and ongoing access constraints.

Despite determined efforts, the needs created by the Syrian crisis continue to outpace the response. The U.N.’s 2015 appeals for Syria and surrounding countries exceed $8 billion, but if last year is any indication, at least half of these appeals will remain unfunded. In the face of unprecedented challenges and daunting budget needs, our response has adapted and evolved. The following lessons reflect this effort to constantly seek out the most efficient and effective response strategies:

1. Focusing on Effectiveness and Accountability

With ever tighter budgets and mounting needs, USAID has needed to find ways to maximize aid with limited resources. These efforts have allowed us to provide food, sanitation and medical care to millions of families in areas of Syria controlled by the regime, the opposition or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — at often considerable personal risk.

A Syrian family in Mafraq, Jordan takes a moment at the end of a school day to discuss their challenges and aspirations. / Peter Bussian, USAID

A Syrian family in Mafraq, Jordan takes a moment at the end of a school day to discuss their challenges and aspirations. / Peter Bussian, USAID

We remain the largest food donor in the Syrian crisis, providing more than $1.2 billion to date, including an additional $125 million on Feb. 17. Although the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is confronting budget shortfalls, the organization has ramped up fundraising, reduced operational costs, and increased targeted assistance based on need

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas H. Staal and State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Kelly Clements meet with partners providing water, health and sanitation assistance to displaced communities in Iraq. / USAID

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas H. Staal and State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Kelly Clements meet with partners providing water, health and sanitation assistance to displaced communities in Iraq. / USAID

We have also doubled down our efforts to monitor the flow of supplies — it is critical that our aid is getting to the people who need it the most and for whom it is intended. Our partners provide weekly reporting of relief activities, and during my meetings in Jordan walked me through their logistical process, which includes tracked package delivery using barcodes and calls from beneficiaries to report delays or reroutes. I was reassured to hear how well the supplies are monitored, ensuring that they reach the people who need them.

2. Building Resilience in Syria’s Neighbors

Almost 4 million Syrians have fled their country, radically altering the map of the region.  Syrian refugees are now one-quarter of Lebanon’s population and at least 10 percent of Jordan’s. The seemingly endless flow of Syrian refugees is overwhelming neighboring countries’ water systems, hospitals and schools.

To ease this strain, USAID is helping host communities better cope with the influx of refugees. Our food vouchers to Syrian refugees alone have injected about $1 billion into the economies of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq. In Jordan, a country facing extreme water scarcity, we have worked with the Complex Crises Fund to build cisterns and provide loans so families can install rainwater harvesting systems. These efforts have saved 200,000 cubic meters of water — an amount equivalent to 5.5 million showers. We are also supporting hospitals to provide health care to host communities and refugees alike — when I visited a hospital in northern Jordan, I was struck by the quality of care and equipment that our support has facilitated, especially the psycho-social support provided to patients.

A mother holds a newborn at a USAID supported hospital in Mafraq, Jordan./ Peter Bussian, USAID.

A mother holds a newborn at a USAID supported hospital in Mafraq, Jordan./ Peter Bussian, USAID.

USAID supported neonatal care equipment at a hospital in Mafraq, Jordan. / Peter Bussian, USAID

USAID supported neonatal care equipment at a hospital in Mafraq, Jordan. / Peter Bussian, USAID

3. Enhancing Multilateral Collaboration

From the outset, we pushed to reach people in need throughout Syria — our NGO partners have heroically managed to deliver assistance across conflict lines and Syria’s borders. While access remains a major challenge, our efforts continue, and improved coordination with the United Nations (UN) has especially aided cross-border assistance. The UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2191 and its two predecessors allowed aid to reach areas previously cut off from assistance. In authorizing the UN to cross into Syria without the Assad regime’s approval, this resolution has allowed us to access people in need in an average of 66 hard-to-reach areas each month.

4. Seeking Out Increased Donor Engagement

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas H. Staal and State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Kelly Clements visit children in Garmawa Camp, Iraq who were forced to flee their homes. / USAID

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas H. Staal and State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Kelly Clements visit children in Garmawa Camp, Iraq who were forced to flee their homes. / USAID

U.S. leadership has been critical to galvanizing donors around a comprehensive response to the needs inside Syria and its neighborhood. We remain the largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian crisis, but we cannot meet the needs of the Syrian people alone. Now more than ever, we need to forge strong partnerships with all donors. Contributions from Saudi Arabia and other donors helped stave off suspension of the WFP’s food donations to Syrian refugees in December, and we continue to see generosity from other donors. On Jan. 28, I participated in a top donors gathering in Kuwait to refine our strategy for the Syrian crisis. And on March 31, we will hold the Third Syria Humanitarian Pledging Conference, where we expect our allies will come prepared to strengthen their funding commitments to meet the immense challenges ahead.

We know that humanitarian assistance alone will not bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people. But we do know that agile and targeted assistance, in partnership with other donors, can save lives, alleviate civilian suffering, and help Syria’s neighbors build resilient systems to cope with the regional impacts of this daunting crisis.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas H. Staal is acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA). Follow the DCHA Bureau @USAID_DCHA.

Olive Oil of Hope

Olive oil connoisseurs, take note.  I recently tasted organic olive oil that would satisfy the most discerning palates, and it has the added element of peace-building, too.

Near East Foundation staff present USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander with the final product: organic olive oil produced with support from the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

Near East Foundation staff present USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander with the final product: organic olive oil produced with support from the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

While traveling in  the West Bank for the first time as USAID’s Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East last month, I noticed the landscape was dotted with olive trees. To Palestinian farmers, olive trees represent economic opportunities and hold cultural significance. A hundred thousand Palestinian families in the West Bank depend on the olive oil industry, an important part of the Palestinian economy.

USAID Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East plants an olive tree with olive farmers participating in the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

USAID Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East plants an olive tree with olive farmers participating in the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

Olive oil also represents an important opportunity for peace-building in a region marked with strife

Enter: USAID’s Olive Oil Without Borders. Implemented by the U.S.-based Near East Foundation, the project builds trust, mutual understanding and collaboration through economic cooperation in olive oil. It has allowed 1,500 Palestinian and Israeli olive farmers, mill operators and olive oil distributors to meet, share farming methods in workshops, improve their skills and increase olive oil production and profit through global exports.

All of this is consistent with USAID’s mission to promote resilient, democratic societies.

In the past, olive oil prices in the West Bank fell because the market was limited and exports were minimal. One of the most striking achievements of  Olive Oil Without Borders was an agreement reached in February 2013 by Palestinian and Israeli officials that allowed Israeli citizens to purchase Palestinian olive oil for the first time in 10 years. As a result, in less than two years, 3,600 metric tons of Palestinian olive oil were sold to Israeli companies. Palestinian farmers increased revenues by $20 million.

During my visit, I met Muhammed Shouly at his organic olive farm in Asira Shamaliya, in the northern West Bank. Shouly has been actively involved in Olive Oil Without Borders since its launch in 2011.

Muhammad Shouly is an olive farmer who tripled his harvest  after learning about supplementary irrigation techniques through the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID
Muhammad Shouly is an olive farmer who tripled his harvest after learning about supplementary irrigation techniques through the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

For centuries, Palestinian farmers relied solely on rainwater for their olive trees. During cross-border meetings that brought Shouly and other Palestinian farmers together with their Israeli counterparts, he learned about supplementary irrigation, a technique to provide olive trees with additional water. Shouly applied this method on his olive orchard during the summer months and it tripled his harvest.

I also talked to Miyassar Yassin, another farmer from Asira Shamaliya participating in Olive Oil Without Borders. She took part in an olive oil quality tasting seminar with Palestinian and Israeli farmers, learning to quickly identify virgin and extra virgin olive oil

Miyassar Yassin just concluded an olive oil quality tasting seminar through the Olive Oil Without Borders project.  Here she is with her two daughters. / Lubna Rifi, USAID
Miyassar Yassin just concluded an olive oil quality tasting seminar through the Olive Oil Without Borders project. Here she is with her two daughters. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

The project has upgraded 18 olive mills in the West Bank and Israel, representing one-fifth of the olive mills in the area. The renovation of Qussay Hamadneh’s mill—which included the replacement of steel tanks for storing olive oil—vastly improved sanitary conditions and boosted the quality of the olive oil produced.

Qussay Hamadneh improved the quality of the olive oil he produces with support from the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

Qussay Hamadneh improved the quality of the olive oil he produces with support from the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

Olive Oil Without Borders is just one of dozens of programs that we support throughout the West Bank and Israel. Its success lies in bringing together individuals from different backgrounds to work on issues of common concern. The visit gave me great hope because participants are not only learning how to increase production, they are also learning about each other

Before leaving, I planted an olive tree. I know the farmers I met will nurture it, and I look forward to coming back to see how it has grown and pick its olives.

The USAID-supported Olive Oil Without Borders project brings together Palestinian and Israeli farmers to increase the quality and quantity of olive oil. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

The USAID-supported Olive Oil Without Borders project brings together Palestinian and Israeli farmers to increase the quality and quantity of olive oil. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paige Alexander is USAID Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East

USAID Takes to the High Seas to Bring Reinforcements to Guinea’s Ebola Fight

In the war against Ebola, health care workers on the front lines need more than personal protective equipment and training to keep safe. / Morgana Wingard, USAID
In the war against Ebola, health care workers on the front lines need more than personal protective equipment and training to keep safe. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

In the war against Ebola, health care workers on the front lines need personal protective equipment — overalls, gloves, goggles and boots; training on infection prevention and control; and plenty of something called HTH.

HTH stands for high test hypochlorite. It’s chlorine in concentrated granular form and so potent that, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only a few tablespoons in a 5-gallon bucket is sufficient to kill the Ebola virus and disinfect contaminated surfaces. The substance is often used to sanitize pools.

The downside is that HTH is volatile and can cause explosions. So instead of transporting the chlorine by plane—as was done with other Ebola response commodities—USAID arranged for a cargo ship to safely move more than 53 metric tons of HTH to Guinea and another 38 tons to Sierra Leone. Combined, that equals the weight of almost 70 compact cars.

The cargo ship arrived at Port of Conakry on Feb. 24, and the more than 9,700 drums of HTH were transferred by truck to a warehouse managed by the Central Pharmacy of Guinea to be distributed to health care facilities across the country.

From obtaining the the chlorine to ensuring its safe delivery to Guinea and Sierra Leone, USAID’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) played a crucial role in making sure this operation went off without a hitch.

In late February, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance sent 53 tons of chlorine to Guinea by ocean freight rather than airlifting the supplies by plane due to safety protocols. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA

In late February, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance sent 53 tons of chlorine to Guinea by ocean freight rather than airlifting the supplies by plane due to safety protocols. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA


High test hypochlorite (HTH) is a concentrated form of chlorine; only a few tablespoons in 5 gallons of water are enough to kill the Ebola virus. But HTH is also volatile and can cause explosions. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA

High test hypochlorite (HTH) is a concentrated form of chlorine; only a few tablespoons in 5 gallons of water are enough to kill the Ebola virus. But HTH is also volatile and can cause explosions. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA


Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) member Emily Betz Close lifts a 55-pound drum of highly concentrated chlorine. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA

Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) member Emily Betz Close lifts a 55-pound drum of highly concentrated chlorine. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA


In total, more than 9,700 drums of high test hypochlorite (HTH) were safely stored for further distribution to medical facilities across Guinea. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA.

In total, more than 9,700 drums of high test hypochlorite (HTH) were safely stored for further distribution to medical facilities across Guinea. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA.


Despite the back-breaking work, these warehouse workers manage to stay positive. USAID is happy to be working in partnership with Guinea in the fight against Ebola. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA

Despite the back-breaking work, these warehouse workers manage to stay positive. USAID is happy to be working in partnership with Guinea in the fight against Ebola. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is overseeing the U.S. Ebola response efforts in West Africa. The DART includes staff from across the U.S. Government, including USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.

From Kenya to Kabul: Women as Decision-Makers, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders

My name is Joanne Lewa, and I am from Kenya. Six months ago, I came to Afghanistan on a temporary work assignment with USAID to assist in the Agency’s outreach to the Afghan public. Before arriving, much of what I had seen in the news about the country was negative.

But the Afghanistan from the news was not the one I experienced during my six-month tour; I found Afghanistan to be a country of breathtaking landscapes and kind people who are embracing positive change and helping their country grow.

My time in Kabul has helped me understand the expansive scope of USAID’s work in Afghanistan—from education, health, democracy and governance, to economic growth, agriculture and women’s empowerment.

But when I step on my Kenya-bound flight this week, the memories of the Afghan women and girls I met will endure—against tremendous odds, they are becoming influential, decisive actors in their country’s development. I think of my two daughters and hope that they will follow in the footsteps of my brave Afghan sisters. Their achievements and the support they receive from their brothers, sons, fathers and husbands have left the greatest impression on me.

USAID assistance to community-based education enabled nearly 105,000 students (more than 65 percent of them girls) in remote villages to attend school. / USAID/Afghanistan

USAID assistance to community-based education enabled nearly 105,000 students (more than 65 percent of them girls) in remote villages to attend school. / USAID/Afghanistan

Girls’ Education

I was particularly interested in how USAID is working to solve a fundamental barrier to girls’ access to education: a lack of school buildings near many villages. To prevent girls from having to travel precariously long distances to reach the nearest schoolhouse, USAID’s community-based education programs provide a way for Afghan students to attend classes near their homes.  USAID has supported the Ministry of Education’s efforts to build thousands of new schools and has also distributed millions of textbooks, trained thousands of teachers—many of them female—and carved out new opportunities for higher education.

USAID’s 14-year partnership with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health has ensured that more children have healthy, thriving mothers and more women survive their pregnancies. / USAID/Afghanistan

USAID’s 14-year partnership with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health has ensured that more children have healthy, thriving mothers and more women survive their pregnancies. / USAID/Afghanistan

The Health of Women and Children

Of course, children—girls and boys—will never make it to their first day of school if they and their mothers do not have access to basic health care. Since 2002, USAID has worked side by side with the Afghan Government and other international donors to rebuild Afghanistan’s health care system. USAID alone has trained thousands of community health workers and midwives across the country. More babies than ever are now delivered by skilled birth attendants, and thousands more are living to see their fifth birthday

Friba Hashimi is living proof of this drastic transition. I met Friba  when I recorded the names of  the women who attended a USAID-sponsored midwifery training. Once confined by the conservative views of her village, she is now a pillar of her community, helping to deliver a new generation of Afghans into the world.

Female participation in the 2014 Afghan elections was unprecedented in scale, with women voters accounting for 38 percent of total turnout according to government counts. / USAID/Afghanistan

Female participation in the 2014 Afghan elections was unprecedented in scale, with women voters accounting for 38 percent of total turnout according to government counts. / USAID/Afghanistan

Women in Politics

I landed in Kabul in the midst of one of the most exciting and important events in Afghanistan’s recent history: the 2014 elections. As I was settling in, women were playing a game-changing role in the election process. Voter participation reached a record high for both men and women. Women also served as election observers, ran for public office and were victorious on the campaign trail. Over the course of my assignment, I saw more and more women getting involved in the leadership of their nation.  Women made up 21 percent of winners from the 2014 Provincial Council Elections, 11 percent of judiciary seats, and 20 percent of judges in training.

USAID is working to increase job placements and wages for Afghan women through increased access to quality technical and business education and training, job placement support services, and facilitated access to credit and business development opportunities. / USAID/Afghanistan

USAID is working to increase job placements and wages for Afghan women through increased access to quality technical and business education and training, job placement support services, and facilitated access to credit and business development opportunities. / USAID/Afghanistan

Women in the Economy

While in Kabul, I also had the chance to speak with many Afghan women who have become business owners, workers and entrepreneurs. In response to the growing demand for the skills needed to participate in the increasingly advanced job market, USAID has provided job training for thousands of women and helped thousands more to find rewarding jobs. In Kenya, women’s contributions in the workplace have greatly improved the economy, and I have faith that USAID’s programs will continue to help women to do the same in Afghanistan.

Afghan women have more opportunities to receive job training and apply for loans to start or expand businesses. Much work remains to be done, and USAID is committed to building upon these critical gains. / Joanne Lewa, USAID/Afghanistan

Afghan women have more opportunities to receive job training and apply for loans to start or expand businesses. Much work remains to be done, and USAID is committed to building upon these critical gains. / Joanne Lewa, USAID/Afghanistan

Women’s Leadership

In November 2014, I was in Kabul when first lady Rula Ghani spoke at the launch of Promote, the largest women’s empowerment program in USAID’s history. Promote will serve as the missing stepping stone between education and careers for thousands of Afghan women driven to serve as political, civil society and private sector leaders.  These women will be pioneers for the rights of Afghan women and girls in every sector of society.

First lady Ghani emphasized the weight of this new opportunity, telling the women in the audience, “This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.”

At the launch, I met inspiring Afghan women who are already making an impact on their communities. They all shared the same refrain: “Afghanistan cannot fly with just one wing.” For the country to prosper, women must be empowered to play decisive roles in Afghanistan’s government, civil society and economy.

Manizha Wafeq, an Afghan business woman, says: “In Afghanistan, men were like birds flying with one wing. With economically empowered women, we shall be able to be the ‘other wing’ and together, we can fly stronger, building our country’s economy and have peace in Afghanistan.” / USAID/Afghanistan

Manizha Wafeq, an Afghan business woman, says: “In Afghanistan, men were like birds flying with one wing. With economically empowered women, we shall be able to be the ‘other wing’ and together, we can fly stronger, building our country’s economy and have peace in Afghanistan.” / USAID/Afghanistan

From Kabul to Kenya

Lately, I’ve been taking stock of the moments that will stay with me from my tour in Afghanistan. The first snow in Kabul and the taste of Afghan bread and rice will long endure in my memory. However, the warm welcome I received from the dedicated team of Americans and Afghans will be unforgettable.

These men and women are committed to one mission: improving the lives of all Afghans day by day, textbook by textbook, job by job, life by life. For those who come to Afghanistan after me, I promise you a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is a great nation filled with amazing people who are working tirelessly to rebuild their country.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Joanne Lewa is a Public Outreach Officer for USAID’s mission in Kenya. She just returned from a six-month temporary assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan.

How Progress Works: A Disappointing Microbicides Trial and Why We’re Not Discouraged

The FACTS 001 trial made use of applicators to dispense 1 percent tenofovir gel before and after sex. / Andrew Loxley Photography

The FACTS 001 trial made use of applicators to dispense 1 percent tenofovir gel before and after sex. / Andrew Loxley Photography

Science is messy. Data don’t always show us what we hope they will. But science is reality, and that’s why we must be unflinching in our pursuit of getting honest feedback on what works.  Today, we got that honest feedback, and it was disappointing: What once appeared to be a major breakthrough in HIV prevention was not confirmed. Results released from a large USAID-supported trial indicate that an antiretroviral-based vaginal gel may not be effective in reducing the risk of HIV infection in women when used before and after sex.

With women increasingly vulnerable to HIV infection, we must work towards finding a prevention method to protect them.  / USAID, Tash McCarroll

With women increasingly vulnerable to HIV infection, we must work towards finding a prevention method to protect them.
/ USAID, Tash McCarroll

The FACTS 001 trial—named after the Follow-on African Consortium for Tenofovir Studies (FACTS)—was designed to test the safety and effectiveness of a vaginal microbicide that contains 1 percent tenofovir gel. The study aimed to replicate the groundbreaking results of a 2010 trial called CAPRISA 004, which found a 39 percent reduced risk of HIV infection. Unfortunately, the FACTS 001 study did not replicate those results on a larger scale. Although the answer wasn’t what we’d hoped, in the process of asking we have learned and grown, and we’ll  redouble our efforts to take the next steps forward.

In sharing this news, I am struck by a simple observation made by the editor in chief of “Science News,” Eva Emerson: “This is how science is supposed to work.” Her remark referred to a recent discovery in physics that upon further investigation could not be confirmed. Emerson’s conclusion was matter of fact. Scientists are in the business of asking questions, whether it is the existence of gravitational waves or the ability of a gel to protect vulnerable women.

The process of “asking” also re-emphasized the reason why we pursue new technologies for HIV prevention. The young South African women who participated in the study live in communities with some of the highest incidence rates of HIV infection in the world. Their lives are complex and the decisions they face daily are staggering. Everything we do, whether it be investigating new methods of HIV prevention or conducting thorough evaluations, is in the effort of bringing relief to these women and achieving an AIDS-free generation.

The FACTS 001 study was launched in October 2011 at nine clinical trial sites in South Africa and included 2,059 female participants aged 18-30. By the end of the trial in September 2014, about 4 percent of both the placebo group and the treatment group receiving the gel became infected with HIV.

In spite of this setback, USAID has already developed a robust pipeline of new products, many of which are jointly supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others. These include innovative methods such as vaginal rings, long-acting injectable antiretroviral drugs, and products that combine contraceptives and HIV prevention technologies. For each hurdle we encounter, USAID is determined to jump two steps forward—our commitment to helping women protect themselves from HIV has never been stronger.

To the women who participated in this trial: Thank you. You are why the trial was done, and you are why we will persevere.

The FACTS 001 trial was led by Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, sponsored by CONRAD, and funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Government of South Africa, with support from Gilead Sciences.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Stanton is the director of USAID’s Office of HIV/AIDS

New tools for LGBTI-inclusive development

On May 16, 2014, the US Embassy in Sarajevo was lit up in rainbow colors to show its support for LGBTI activities and community members. / Embassy of the United States, Bosnia & Herzegovina

On May 16, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo was lit up in rainbow colors to show its support for LGBTI activities and community members. / U.S. Embassy, Bosnia & Herzegovina

In May 2013, the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo illuminated its building with rainbow colors in support of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. A few months later, the U.S. Embassy in Prague followed suit in honor of Prague Pride week. Reading about these events in the newspaper, I felt both proud of my government and afraid of the reaction such bold support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights might provoke in an Eastern European country.

At the time, hate speech and physical violence against LGBT people were breaking out all over the world: from Russia, to Uganda, to here at home in the United States. Little did I know at the time that these supportive public statements were just the beginning: In the following years, the U.S. Government would increasingly commit to advancing the fundamental human rights of LGBT people at home and abroad.

This commitment in terms of international development was initially laid out in USAID’s LGBT Vision for Action in June 2014. This week, USAID is launching a publication to help development professionals implement LGBT-inclusive programs in the countries of Europe and Eurasia: the Toolkit for Integrating LGBT Rights Activities into Programming in the E&E Region [PDF].

These steps forward are of vital importance. LGBT people in Europe and Eurasia encounter a wide range of everyday discrimination, human rights violations, psychological trauma and sometimes physical violence. These legal, social and psychological conditions are described in an earlier USAID report called Testing the Waters: LGBT People in the Europe & Eurasia Region.

But the case for LGBT inclusion is not just a question of rights; it’s also a question of good development practices. USAID and its partners are building the case that the economic exclusion of LGBT people wastes human capital, deepens poverty, magnifies inequality and hurts GDP. But what is to be done?

The new USAID toolkit presents case studies and advice for how LGBT inclusion can advance development agendas. Examples not only include programs that focus specifically on LGBT rights, but also projects where LGBT people are part of a broader target population. For example, the toolkit recommends that programs to empower women entrepreneurs deliberately seek out lesbian and transgender women, who can then help the program reach new participants. The toolkit also suggests that community leaders connect LBT women entrepreneurs to business development programs that provide mentorship opportunities. At the heart of all of these programs and examples is a good working relationship with local LGBT communities.

Staff from the U.S. Embassy in Prague marched in support of Prague Pride in August 2014 / Embassy of the United States, Czech Republic

Staff from the U.S. Embassy in Prague marched in support of Prague Pride in August 2014 / U.S. Embassy, Czech Republic

Having worked in the Europe and Eurasia region, I was especially impressed by the story of an HIV/AIDS program in Ukraine called SUNRISE. To reach isolated and underserved rural populations, SUNRISE mobilized urban volunteers—health workers and members of populations vulnerable to HIV, such as men who have sex with men—and trained them to provide sustainable outreach to rural areas. These volunteers formed and guided self-help groups to provide education, counseling, and testing and prevention services.

Dmytro Pichakhchi, who works with a charity that partnered with SUNRISE, noted in a report that the project also strengthened civil society by uniting leaders and activists from regions and cities across Ukraine

While HIV/AIDS programs are a natural fit for LGBT-inclusive development work, the toolkit also looks at programming in the areas of rule of law, civil society, accountable governance, media, entrepreneurship, education, health, vulnerable groups, youth and gender-based violence. The toolkit’s presentation of lessons learned, points for possible intervention, and illustrative indicators for measuring success can easily be applied to other regions.

Although just a starting point, when it comes to advancing LGBT human rights and well-being, USAID’s toolkit gives us some concrete new answers to the famous old question of what is to be done.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Adams is an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow in the LGBT office at USAID. Follow her @lauristan

One Team, One Mission. USAID Employees Share Their Stories on Agency Transformation

USAID employees reflect on their experiences working with the Agency. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

USAID employees reflect on their experiences working with the Agency. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

In the last five years, USAID has pioneered a new model of development that harnesses the power of business and innovation to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies.

Today, on Dr. Rajiv Shah’s last day as USAID Administrator, we wanted to share stories from employees around the world. Thank you to the more than 80 members of USAID who took part in this project. Here are some of the highlights:
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  1. Finding New Ways to Bring Capital to the Developing World. In emerging markets, eight out of 10 small businesses cannot access the loans they need to grow. USAID’s Development Credit Authority (DCA) helps fill this gap, using risk-sharing agreements to mobilize local private capital. Mike Muldoon, DCA Investment Officer, reflects on DCA hitting a new record: reaching 54 transactions in one year and making available $769 million in capital through guarantees. He says, “Our tool can be called on regardless of sector or environment—regardless of whether we are working in an undeveloped market like Cameroon or Sierra Leone or a comparatively more developed market like Nigeria or South Africa.” Read the full interview.
  2. Enshrining New Model Partnerships. Launched in June 2013, Power Africa aims to add more than 30,000 megawatts of cleaner, more efficient electricity generation capacity, as well as increase electricity access by adding 60 million new home and business connections throughout Africa. Coordinator for Power Africa and Trade Africa Andrew Herscowitz, who is leading the charge to fight energy poverty throughout the continent, says experiencing sustained power outages in the Dominican Republic when he was a teenage exchange student made an impact on him: “(The power outages) affected everyone—rich or poor. Factories would stop production. Clinics closed. Food spoiled.” Read full interview
  3. Supporting Civil Society. Essential to USAID’s mission is assisting countries in making the transition to resilient, thriving democracies.Urim Ahmeti, team leader for the Democracy and Governance Office in Kosovo, reflects on USAID’s work helping Kosovo’s civil society boost demand for accountability in this new nation after its declaration of independence in 2008. Ahmeti says, “This period—the birth of my country—is very memorable to me and an entire generation. It is a point in history that will never be forgotten.” Read the full interview.
  4. Fighting for a Strong Leadership Voice. A development agency that is strong, empowered, and accountable is necessary for achieving USAID’s mission. Carla Koppell, Chief Strategy Officer, shares her thoughts on the revitalization of the Agency, its brand, and its role in foreign policy. She says, “We are integral to U.S. foreign policy, and we will continue to proactively promote that agenda.” Read the full interview.
  5. Celebrating Our Staff as National Heroes. From Typhoon Haiyan, to the ongoing Ebola crisis, USAID staff are often called upon to lead responses to the world’s greatest challenges. Captain Colleen Gallagher, Navy Liaison to USAID, Office of Civil Military Cooperation, speaks about being deployed to Haiti immediately after the earthquake on a hospital ship—the USNS Comfort. As aftershocks rocked the giant ship, Gallagher persevered each day by meeting with a USAID team to coordinate the avalanche of incoming trauma patients. She says, “By the end of that first day, we went from a census of zero to 80 patients—most of whom had significant trauma.” Read the full interview.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie Bluma is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs at USAID. Follow her on Twitter: @stephaniebluma

Building the Bridges of the New Silk Road

Silk still plays a role in the New Silk Road. Household silk production feeds Afghanistan’s carpet and textile industry. USAID is helping open up trade routes and increase economic connectivity between Central and South Asia as part the New Silk Road Initiative. / USAID

Silk still plays a role in the New Silk Road: Household silk production feeds Afghanistan’s carpet and textile industry. USAID is helping open up trade routes and increase economic connectivity between Central and South Asia as part the New Silk Road Initiative. / USAID

For hundreds of years, the main trade routes between Europe and the Pacific passed directly through what are now the countries of Central Asia. These trade routes brought prosperity and fostered the exchange of ideas and technology across cultural boundaries. In recent decades, civil unrest, ethnic tension, and mistrust have led to Central Asia being a roadblock instead of a thoroughfare for trade.

What would it take to reconnect Central and South Asia?

Support for new transmission lines connecting the sources of power in one country with customers in another?

Or millions of dollars in trade agreements, reviving age-old connections between traditional trading partners?

Maybe it’s a fortified wheat program, poised to improve nutrition for millions of Afghanistan’s children; or strengthened cooperation in transboundary watersheds to enhance regional peace and stability?

USAID has made these contributions and more as a part of the U.S. Government’s New Silk Road initiative, an ambitious effort to build a more secure, stable and prosperous region with Afghanistan at its heart.

While the goals of the program are lofty, the benefits of these programs are quite specific.

Manzura Zhabarova is an Uzbek entrepreneur who owns a clothing and thread manufacturing company. Our programs helped connect her with a new market: prospective clients in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. “I could not believe that this world existed 800 meters away from us on the other side of the bridge,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to help our neighbors in Afghanistan. Trade is how we can help.”

USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator Manpreet Anand meets with regional traders attending USAID’s Central Asia Trade Forum held last year in Almaty, Kazakhstan. / USAID.

USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator Manpreet Anand meets with regional traders attending USAID’s Central Asia Trade Forum held last year in Almaty, Kazakhstan. / USAID.

There are few greater challenges for U.S. foreign policy today than the continued development and stabilization of Afghanistan. As military engagement winds down there, it becomes even more critical to build on the gains of U.S. defense, diplomacy and development efforts.

Afghanistan’s new administration is working to bolster its regional ties in order to promote the economic growth and stability its citizens need. As Afghan President Ashraf Ghani noted during a recent visit to Turkmenistan, “At the moment, Afghanistan has turned into a bridge.  Our trade and transit can create many opportunities; energy and electricity and natural gas will be sent to Afghanistan and to other countries through Afghanistan.”

Our efforts are helping to make this vision a reality. For example, we’re advancing regional electricity efforts, particularly through our support for CASA-1000, an ambitious electricity transmission system sending surplus summer hydropower from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to energy-strapped markets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

USAID helped the Aga Khan Foundation and Pamir Energy inaugurate newly constructed power transmission lines in Khorugh, Tajikistan, to meet the energy needs of Afghanistan's Badakhshon province. / USAID

USAID helped inaugurate newly constructed power transmission lines in Khorugh, Tajikistan, to meet the energy needs of Afghanistan’s Badakhshon province. / USAID

Recently, our support helped finalize a regional pricing agreement, helping pave the way for regional electricity transfers which would bring much needed revenue to Central Asia as early as 2018.

The benefits would be felt well beyond the exchange of energy. As State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Fatema Sumar said, “CASA isn’t really about turning the lights on. It’s about getting countries to work together. That’s priceless.”

From Karaganda to Karachi, our programs are breaking down trade barriers and creating economic opportunity in ways that promote political understanding. Around the region, we are helping countries join and participate in the World Trade Organization, bringing businesses together, leading to millions of dollars in regional deals and sparking new demand for intra-regional trade between Central and South Asia.

These efforts have prompted us to think in new ways about how we work together as an Agency. Our New Silk Road initiatives involve the coordinated efforts of five separate USAID missions, representing two regional Bureaus and leveraging shared human and financial capital toward achieving shared objectives.

In Tajikistan, about half of all Tajik rural households do not have access to safe, potable water. USAID helps turn water from a source of conflict to a source of cooperation. / USAID

In Tajikistan, about half of all rural households do not have access to safe, potable water. USAID helps turn water from a source of conflict to a source of cooperation. / USAID

This is a pivotal time for Central and South Asia. This vast region faces challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, the Central Asian states have begun to grapple with the potential rise of violent extremism. On the other, in South Asia the world’s largest population centers seek faster economic development and integration into the global economy. We have responded accordingly – with diplomatic engagement and development leadership – because increasing prosperity and stability in this part of the world benefits us all.

At the recent London Conference on Afghanistan, Secretary Kerry reaffirmed that “Afghanistan’s economic future depends on improved connectivity with regional and international markets.”

The New Silk Road is an example of the far-reaching impact our development programs can have, and raises the bar of what we can expect from our investments in international development.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Assistant Donald “Larry” Sampler serves as Assistant to the Administrator in the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs (OAPA). Jonathan Stivers serves as the Assistant to the Administrator in the Asia Bureau.

Historic Donor Agreement: More Money Where It Is Needed Most

In Barisal Sadar, Bangladesh, Ayub Ali serves his community by producing quality fingerlings (young fish), which is a key factor for local fish farming. As part of the USAID-Aquaculture project, he learns about modern method of aquaculture through training. This knowledge and support has made him a successful entrepreneur. / World Fish, A. W. M. Anisuzzaman

In Barisal Sadar, Bangladesh, Ayub Ali serves his community by producing quality fingerlings (young fish). As part of the USAID-Aquaculture project, he learns about modern method of aquaculture through training. / World Fish, A. W. M. Anisuzzaman

This year, 2015, will be seminal in setting not only bold new goals – like ending extreme poverty – but also in making bold reforms that change the way things get done.

As donors, one of our primary concerns is to use our taxpayers dollars as effectively and efficiently as possible in order to leverage significant change. That means attracting other forms of capital (public, private, social, multilateral – you name it) and directing those resources to where they can best have the sort of transformative development impact that we all want.

At December’s High-Level Meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) in Paris, we advocated for and achieved important policy and structural changes to how donors allocate resources and report those numbers. These changes will impact the future of Official Development Assistance (ODA) — the international definition of foreign aid that is used to track donors’ foreign aid commitments.

First, 29 DAC members agreed to “allocate more of total ODA to countries most in need,” including low-income countries, the least-developed countries (LDCs), small island developing states, landlocked developing countries, and fragile and conflict-affected states.

We believe this policy is critical. The countries that can least afford to self-finance are the same ones lagging behind on the eradication of extreme poverty and the basic human development needs that form the foundation of the Millennium Development Goals.

Second, we created a fairer, more transparent, and better targeted system for development-focused lending. Three integral changes include:

  • Creating a fairer accounting system. Previously, donors got equal credit for grants and qualifying loans¹ – even though the loans needed to be repaid.  Under the new rules, only the grants and a portion of loans (known as the “Grant Element”) will count as Official Development Assistance (ODA). The United States only provides assistance in the form of grants.
  • Directing money to the most needy. The formula for deciding what counts as ODA now rewards donors who lend money to least-developed countries – i.e., those who can least afford commercial terms or self-financing.
  • Increasing transparency. During the meeting, members agreed to publish all ODA statistics more regularly, with frequent reviews and updates.
A worker at Muya Ethiopia weaves fabric that will become clothing and accessories sold on store shelves thousands of miles away. From 2005 to 2014, with support from USAID, Muya expanded from seven to 400 full-time employees and now sells 90 percent of its products overseas. / IESC, Steve Dorst

A worker at Muya Ethiopia weaves fabric that will become clothing and accessories sold on store shelves thousands of miles away. From 2005 to 2014, with support from USAID, Muya expanded from seven to 400 full-time employees and now sells 90 percent of its products overseas. / IESC, Steve Dorst

In order to unlock more development funding for the least-developed countries, the changes also endorse focusing on work with the private sector in support of the New Model of Development. These changes will also bring transparency to development transactions and encourage donors to send money to the neediest countries. They could not come at a more perfect time.

This year, the Millennium Development Goals will expire and the world will come together to decide on a new set of post-2015 sustainable development goals. These new benchmarks are likely to redefine USAID’s target of ending extreme poverty–a mission that will rely heavily on effective financial policies. Thanks to the lending reforms and support from other donor countries, USAID is in a strong position to move forward in tackling the development of countries most in need.

We can provide support to boost the economies of low-income countries to minimize poverty, but this renewed emphasis on countries most in need, including LDCs, small island developing states, landlocked developing countries, and fragile and conflict-affected states, stands to make an even greater difference.

This summer, donor countries and recipients will have a chance to further refine their approach to these issues at the third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in order to achieve the next set of global development goals.

Currently, we are poised to bring significant changes to global development. With this early success in agreeing to changes in the recording of ODA loans and a renewed focus on countries most in need, large steps have been taken to help us realize an end to extreme poverty.


¹To be counted, loans had to be concessional in character and convey a grant element of at least 25 percent (calculated at a rate of discount of 10 per cent), a formula that has grown very out of date. Click here for more information.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Thier is USAID Assistant to the Administrator for Policy, Planning and Learning. Follow him @Thieristan

In National Security Strategy, Key Role for Development

Fazal Wahid, 66, a bee farmer in Pakistan’s turbulent SWAT region is now able to sustain his family because of assistance from a USAID program. The economy in Pakistan’s Swat Region was devastated by  militants and devastating floods. / USAID, Pakistan

Fazal Wahid, 66, a bee farmer in Pakistan’s turbulent SWAT region is now able to sustain his family because of assistance from a USAID program. The economy in Pakistan’s Swat Region was devastated by militants and devastating floods. / USAID, Pakistan

The 2015 National Security Strategy (NSS), released today by President Obama, makes a powerful argument about how central development is to our national security and prosperity.

Our biggest global challenges: improving global health security; addressing inequality; confronting climate change; countering authoritarian regimes and extremism; and ending conflict all require successful humanitarian and development responses.

USAID’s mission to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies is right at the center of this strategy.

It states:

“We have an historic opportunity to end extreme poverty within a generation and put our societies on a path of shared and sustained prosperity. In so doing, we will foster export markets for U.S. businesses, improve investment opportunities, and decrease the need for costly military interventions.”

The new NSS comes at a seminal moment for international development, as the world comes together in 2015 to create new goals for development, for climate, and figures out how to get them done.

Employees assemble tablets at the Surtab Factory in Port au Prince, Haiti. Surtab, which was established in 2013 with funding from USAID, has been a huge boost to the technology sector in Haiti, creating a highly skilled local workforce through training programs and on-site instruction. The company's tablets are used in social programs in education, health care and agriculture. / David Rochkind, USAID

Employees assemble tablets at the Surtab Factory in Port au Prince, Haiti. Surtab, which was established in 2013 with funding from USAID, has been a huge boost to the technology sector in Haiti, creating a highly skilled local workforce through training programs and on-site instruction. The company’s tablets are used in social programs in education, health care and agriculture. / David Rochkind, USAID

Strong and sustainable American leadership is the central theme of the strategy. In it, President Obama calls for the United States to play “a leading role in defining the international community’s post-2015 agenda for eliminating extreme poverty and promoting sustainable development.”

USAID is delivering on this pledge through efforts with our civil society partners, at the United Nations, and in the 80 countries around the world where we practice what we preach.

Development is a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach. The challenges we face, and ambitions we harbor, require this. Our New Model for Development ties together the need for local ownership and good governance with big public private partnerships that deliver big results.

The strategy doubles down on this by calling for us to “use our leadership to promote a model of financing that leverages billions in investment from the private sector and draws on America’s scientific, technological, and entrepreneurial strengths to take to scale proven solutions in partnership with governments, business, and civil society.”

In the West Bank, girls are thriving in the classroom. Since 2000, USAID has constructed nearly 3,000 classrooms and renovated 2,700 more--allowing many schools to cut class size and eliminate the need for students to learn in shifts. / Bobby Neptune, USAID

In the West Bank, girls are thriving in the classroom. Since 2000, USAID has constructed nearly 3,000 classrooms and renovated 2,700 more–allowing many schools to cut class size and eliminate the need for students to learn in shifts. / Bobby Neptune, USAID

In 2010, President Obama said that USAID must be the world’s premier development agency. This is needed to bring the historic changes to women and girls, people burdened by hunger and disease, and those struggling for freedom that our values and our national security require. The 2015 NSS reflects an Agency transformed.

The development voice is strong, and we are delivering on ambitious goals like lifting 7 million farmers out of extreme poverty, getting 100 million children reading, and driving infant and maternal mortality to record lows.

“We embrace our exceptional role and responsibilities at a time when our unique contributions and capabilities are needed most, and when the choices we make today can mean greater security and prosperity for our Nation for decades to come.”

USAID’s work has never been more central to this goal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Thier is USAID Assistant to the Administrator for Policy, Planning and Learning. Follow him @Thieristan

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