I have been in the Foreign Service with USAID for 24 years and currently have the honor of leading the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. Thursday I returned from Pakistan where I saw USAID’s team and the NGOs we support on the ground providing hope to millions of Pakistanis after the floods that devastated 20 percent of the country.
The United States Government, through USAID, requires the NGOs we fund to “brand” the assistance they provide to people in need with the Agency’s handshake logo and the words “from the American people” in local languages. Branding is not just required by law; it ensures transparency when America provides aid. We believe that the people we help have a right to know where their assistance is coming from.
In fact, many Pakistani people often criticize USAID for not being more aggressive when it comes to branding our aid. The USAID handshake is an enduring symbol of America’s support for Pakistan, well known by many who saw it as children when the Agency was a major contributor to important infrastructure projects, including dams and hydro power plants that provided millions with crucial transportation links and power. During my visit last week, Pakistani NGOs urged me to better make our efforts known to the flood-affected victims, so they are able to appreciate that no country is doing more to help them than the United States. The U.S government , through USAID is the largest overall donor in Pakistan, and it is important that we are able to communicate those efforts to the people we are helping.
At the same time, USAID is highly sensitive to the risks of branding in environments where one’s association with foreigners can turn a humanitarian worker into a target. We are in constant contact with security personnel in country; and where the security risks warrant it, we will continue to grant waivers to the branding requirement for certain areas and limited periods of time.
For example, in Pakistan today, I have granted waivers for NGOs working in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. But Pakistan is a vast country and not a monolith. In other parts of the country ravaged by the floods, where security has not been an issue, we continue to require branding on our aid.
Weighing the balance between carrying out our mission with transparency and ensuring the security of our workers and our NGO partners in the field is a constant challenge. We welcome the opportunity to work with all of our implementing partners to ensure that we get the balance right.