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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USAID in the News – August 30-September 3

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

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

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

Saving Mothers and Newborns in Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USAID In the News — August 21 – 27

Dr. Shah’s trip to flood-ravage Pakistan received extensive coverage in regional and international media, helping to show that United States is in the forefront of the international effort to help the people of Pakistan in their hour of need.

CNN  aired a detailed piece with compelling scenes of the devastation, as well as Dr. Shah’s message of the U.S. commitment to the relief effort and beyond.  The Washington PostReuters and many others carried the news of the extra $50 million in aid  that Dr. Shah annnounced during a visit to Sukkur.

Among the South Asian media , the Associated Press of Pakistan provided consistent coverage throughout the visit, including the announcement of additional funds and a meeting with Foreign Minister Quereshi.   Among the other regional media that followed the trip closely were the Daily Times of Pakistan and Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, spoke with Federal News Radio and other media about the latest developments in the relief effort as it continued to expand.

USAID Hosts over 130 Guests for Agency’s Iftar

By Hilda Arellano, Counselor for the U.S. Agency for International Development

Last night, I was honored to stand in as host for our USAID Iftar, as our Administrator, Dr. Raj Shah, was touring the flood-affected areas of Pakistan.  An Iftar marks nightly breaking of the fast, which practicing Muslims undertake during the holy month of Ramadan.

Over 130 guests, including members of the Diplomatic Corps, White House officials, and Congressional staff came together in the Ronald Reagan Building under the theme of “Social Entrepreneurship: Supporting Communities in Changing their Condition.”

This was not my first Iftar.  For the past five years, while serving for USAID in Iraq and Egypt, I had the honor of partaking in fast-breaking celebrations that lasted upwards of 10, sometimes even 12 hours.  The joyous spirit of a community coming together for this occasion is unforgettable.  I’m proud to say our Iftar lived up to that very high precedent.

The official speakers included Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference Rashad Hussain, Sonal Shah (from the White House Office of Social Innovation), and the Inner City Muslim Action Network’s founder Rami Nashashabi.  As we broke bread, all three shared their views on how entrepreneurship and social innovation can be harnessed, both within government and without, to have tremendous positive impact within communities.

Guests also heard from Dr. Shah, who via video message, spoke of the new programs being unveiled at USAID to help strengthen social entrepreneurship.

In addition to our terrific speakers, I had the opportunity to meet many guests who shared inspiring stories of how they are affecting change in their communities.  One of those was Moustafa Moustafa, a first year medical student at Yale who founded a group called

Update from Morocco on the Ramadan Youth Outreach Event

Submitted by Matthew Johnson

The Ramadan Youth Outreach conference is in full swing. There is so much to write about, but I want to provide a few observations from the first full day of sessions.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, the first day of the conference focused on Entrepreneurship, Employability, and Investment. There are six breakout session throughout the day. I was able to participate in a few of the sessions and found them to be fascinating.

One of the sessions I participated in was called “Acquiring the Spirit of Entrepreneurship.” The purpose of this session was to get the participants thinking creatively about solving problems. During the session, we had a few “challenges” which as a group we had to solve. Each problem seemed impossible. That is until we started to think creatively and think outside of the box.

In talking with the youth and NGOs working in Morocco, I’ve learned that opportunities are so limited for young people. Many quit school at an early age because they see no point in it. They don’t think they will be able to find a job, so why bother going to school.

That is where the spirit of entrepreneurship becomes important. There may not be a job available for many of the youth participating this week, but they are learning to create their own opportunities. One of the participants said during a breakout session, “I don’t need to wait for someone else to make things happen. If I start to make things happen myself, the others will follow me.”

After a day full of thinking and talking about entrepreneurship, I put together this short video asking a few Moroccan youth what they thought about entrepreneurship and innovation. It was interesting to hear their responses.


Former Afghan Aid Chief Reflects on Career in Foreign Assistance

After 14 months heading the largest USAID office in Agency history—in Afghanistan— Bill Frej stepped down from a long career in foreign assistance this summer. “We have completely transformed the aid program and made agriculture the number one priority,” said Frej in an interview in Washington.

Although Frej admitted to many challenges in delivering large amounts of foreign assistance in a war zone, the aid veteran is replete with success stories. Frej counts the mass enrollment of girls in schools as one of USAID’s major accomplishments in Afghanistan, explaining that U.S. assistance helped increase countrywide school enrollment from 400,000 children—only boys—in 2001 to 6.5 million today, 40 percent of them girls.

Frej said he recently travelled three hours by jeep to visit a USAID program in a village in Bamiyan at 10,000 feet. He was struck to see children, boys and girls, being taught to read, write and even speak English by a trained teacher in such an isolated place. “USAID and our development partner, Aga Khan Trust, were the first development organizations to visit this village,” he said.

Frej also points to major healthcare improvements as a result of U.S. government aid activity. “I’ve been to 28 of the 34 provinces and in almost every visit, seen midwives training. [Afghanistan] had the highest mortality rate of mothers and children in childbirth in the world and it has been completely turned around,” he said. Frej called Afghanistan one of the best success stories “anywhere in the developing world” in terms of gains in mother-child health. “USAID has a great deal to be proud of.”

Flying Over Swat Showed me the True Scope of the Disaster

Shortly after arriving in Pakistan on Tuesday, I met with retired General Nadeem Ahmed, the chairman of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority.  As the general took me up in a military helicopter to inspect the once-beautiful but ravaged Swat valley, we spoke openly and candidly about the true extent of the damage wrought by the floodwaters.

As was clearly visible in areas where the waters had receded, the real work to bring Pakistan back to life has yet to start.  As far as the eye could see, foundations and buttresses supported nonexistent houses and bridges, power lines lay hopelessly tangled on the ground, and roads destroyed and washed away.  A layer of mud coated the landscape like brown paint and the normally sparkling, turquoise Swat river has become a river of mud.  As I look around me, it is obvious that Pakistan faces the biggest challenge in its 64-year history.

As I convene my senior staff tonight, we will fine-tune a plan that top USAID officials have been formulating since the scope of the disaster became apparent.  Throughout the flight, General Nadeem pointed out schools and medical centers that are still standing that were built with the help of USAID.  One thing is clear, though, which is that the United States intends to show itself as a friend and committed partner of Pakistan for many years to come.

Helping Shelter Haiti

The humanitarian community in Haiti has funds for the construction of more than 118,000 transitional shelters over the coming months for those who lost their homes in the country’s devastating earthquake earlier this year. Medair, an international NGO, is one of many partners receiving funding from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance to build such shelters.

Last week, Medair unloaded construction materials for 800 transitional shelters — a fraction of the total they plan to build — in Jacmel, south of Port-au-Prince. Medair is planning to build 4,500 t-shelters in the Jacmel area, benefiting 27,000 people. Here’s a dispatch from Emma Le Beau, Field Communications Officer for Medair Haiti, about the excitement that this delivery brought to Jacmel and the direct impact of our work on the lives of Haitians affected by the earthquake:

“As our cargo ship approached Jacmel at dawn, local fishing boats rowed ahead of the boat to steer it clear of a treacherous sandbar. When the ship berthed, we began unloading the cargo with the aid of two 35-ton cranes, four forklifts, seven flatbed trucks, and the logistical support of shipping agent Kuehne and Nagel and Haitian partner Hogarth. The flatbed trucks made it over the mountains from Port-au-Prince with only one flat tire among them.

“The cranes operated throughout the night to unload 1,331 tons of cargo from the ship, including timber and galvanized iron sheeting. Because of widespread deforestation in Haiti, we chose to import the pre-treated timber to keep local trees in place.

“From the port, trucks loaded with the ship’s materials made nearly 200 runs to the Medair warehouse. When they arrived, Medair teams of technical officers, carpenters, logisticians, and community mobilizers, who have been in place since January, were there to greet them. Now that more materials are in place, they’ll be able to scale up the speed of their construction and build more shelters for Haitian families in need in hard-to-reach mountain villages near Jacmel.

“The shelters, designed to resist hurricane force winds, seismic risks and heavy rainfall, are solid structures with foundations of reinforced concrete. They take about three days to build and are finished with a wrapping of plastic sheeting and solid windows and doors. Many families will likely choose to upgrade this type of shelter into a permanent home by replacing the plastic sheeting with stone walls.

The Rossamund family, whose home was made dangerously unsafe by the earthquake, has already received a new shelter and is enjoying living in safer and dry housing. Monsieur Rossamund told Medair staff: “If I had not received this help, I would need to sell all my animals to pay for the materials to rebuild my home.” By keeping his animals, his family can continue to have a livelihood, food, and insurance for the future.”

From Ideas to Projects: Kicking off Morocco’s Ramadan Youth Event

Submitted by Matthew Johnson, Outreach Coordinator, Asia & Middle East Bureaus

Yesterday afternoon more than 160 youth (18 to 35) from across Morocco descended on the Capital city of Rabat. These young men and women have traveled long distances to participate in USAID’s 3rd annual Ramadan Youth Outreach event.

I’ve traveled to Morocco from Washington, DC to participate in this weeks activities.

This week long event gathers the brightest youth of Morocco.  I’ve met entrepreneurs, law students, social activists, and engineers.

This years theme, “from ideas to projects,” will help the participants find ways to turn their ideas into real projects.

Karima Rhanem, of USAID/Morocco, is the lead in organizing the event.  She told me, “the purpose of this event is to give these talented young Moroccans the tools they need to make an impact in the future of Morocco.”

Each day the conference will have a different theme with multiple of break out sessions. At night there will be an Iftar and cultural celebrations.

Day 1 will focus on Employment, Entrepreneurship, and Investments
Day 2 will focus on ways to improve Education.
Day 3 will focus on Civil Society
Day 4 will focus on getting involved in local governance.
Day 5 will be a closing ceremony that will give awards to youth who have made an impact in Morocco.

Stay tuned for more updates as the week progresses!

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