I recently returned from a 10-day trip to the Philippines where I had the opportunity to visit a number of USAID-assisted projects in Mindanao.  The second largest island in the Philippines, Mindanao is graced with stunning natural beauty—towering mountains and verdant plateaus—but is also the location of a protracted conflict that has held back the region’s development.  As a result, Mindanao is a central focus of our peace, stability, and economic growth programs in the Philippines.

Along with USAID/Philippines Mission Director Gloria Steele, Asia Bureau economist Dany Khy, and the outstanding technical staff of USAID/Philippines, I visited Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao to gain a better understanding of our programs’ history, successes, and challenges—and to explore new opportunities for accelerating broad-based economic growth.  We viewed a variety of projects that are supported by USAID, including the Misamis Oriental State College of Agriculture and Technology, the Northern Mindanao Vegetable Producers Association, the Opol Emergency Clinic and Birthing Home, and a branch of the First Valley Bank that participates in USAID’s Microenterprise Access to Banking Services Program.

During my time on the island I also had the unique opportunity to meet with a number of local government representatives, civil society groups, and private sector officials at an event that was organized by the Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce.  We engaged in a dynamic and fruitful debate about the key constraints to economic growth in Mindanao and brainstormed on strategies to unlock the primary choke points.  I was deeply impressed by the visionary leadership of the local government and the strong working relationship they had established with so many different components of the community.  I was fortunate to have Secretary Luwalhati Antonino, the Chairperson of the Mindanao Development Authority, accompany me throughout the visit, and gained the benefit of her insights and plans to accelerate economic growth in close coordination with USAID.

I left the island with a clearer vision of the many opportunities ahead for USAID and the people of Philippines to build peace, promote good governance, increase economic opportunities, protect the environment, strengthen health services, and improve basic education.  I also look forward to returning soon to work with the incredibly skilled and committed staff of USAID/Philippines and our partners.