Diaspora can make a difference.  That’s the reasoning behind India’s Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award—the most prestigious civilian award given by the President of India to successful Indian diaspora who have enhanced India’s prestige around the world.

Administrator Shah (wearing the award) with his wife, Shivam Mallick Shah, and Ambassador Meera Shankar with her husband Ajay Shankar. Photo Credit: USAID

USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah, was recently honored as an Indian-American who is making a difference when he was presented with the above-mentioned award at a reception at the residence of Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar.  Dr. Shah is one of 15 people, of Indian descent, from around the world to receive the award.

In his acceptance speech, Dr. Shah stated, “This award has particular significance to me, because it symbolizes two of the most important values in development work:  partnership and service.”

Although he was born and raised in suburban Detroit, Dr. Shah’s parents hailed from India, and his Indian heritage has influenced his path in life.  He still recalls the shock of seeing the deep human suffering in slums of Mumbai while on a family trip to India as a small boy.  Years later, as a medical student, he went back to India and volunteered in a poor community in South India, where impoverished students in a one-room schoolhouse looked for inspiration to three  portraits on their classroom wall—Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and USAID’s founder John F. Kennedy.

At the original award ceremony in New Delhi in February, which the Administrator was unable to attend, the President of India, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil called on the Indian diaspora to participate in building a better life for India’s disadvantaged.

And in his speech last night, Dr. Shah echoed the importance of drawing on the talents and skills of the diaspora community to help meet development challenges:  “As someone who walks between both of these worlds—the halls of government and the Indian diaspora community—I appreciate the critical role diaspora communities have to play in expanding economic opportunity, increasing access to services, advocating for peace, and consolidating democratic gains.”

Dr. Shah also highlighted examples of USAID’s successful partnership with India, such as halving HIV prevalence in Tamil Nadu and reducing electricity losses in Bangalore.  And he underscored India’s important role as a model for development and as a donor itself, noting the potential—with the help of diaspora and other partners—for expanding these achievements throughout India and around the world.

Dr. Shah also stressed that USAID is changing its relationship with India from that of donor-recipient to a new strategic partnership, working hand in hand with the Indian government and private sector on initiatives that will harness technologies and innovations of both countries to address global challenges.

For more information on USAID’s work in India, please visit the USAID/India mission website.