One year ago, Administrator Rajiv Shah spoke about expanding human welfare at USAID’s Democracy, Human Rights and Governance 2.0 Forum, recounting the defining story of Mohammed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian fruit seller who set himself on fire, and the inspiring stories of other Tunisians who unwittingly sparked the Arab Spring.

David Yang, Director of USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Photo Credit: USAID

Since that speech in June 2011, the trajectory of the Arab Spring has been filled with bright spots, such as in October 2011 when millions of Tunisians voted in their first-ever free election, but also with uncertainty, as genuine democratic transition in Egypt remains tenuous and violence continues in Syria.  Elsewhere in the world, historical achievements in advancing human dignity and self-determination took place in Africa, where South Sudan became the world’s newest country in July 2011, and in Asia, where Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in Myanmar’s Parliament in April 2012 after spending nearly 20 years under house arrest.

In this momentous year, we at USAID have responded to Administrator Shah’s call to elevate the importance of self-determination and human dignity in our Agency’s development approach. We helped bring together over 60 Tunisian organizations to form the country’s first civil society network, assisted the referendum on Southern Sudan’s independence, and launched the Agency’s new Counter-Trafficking in Persons Policy, among other highlights. In February 2012, USAID launched the Center of Excellence in Democracy, Human Rights and Governance to become a global resource for evidence-based research, aspiring to closely measure and evaluate what works best in democracy, human rights and governance.

We continue to be inspired by those at the frontlines in the fight for human dignity, such as Tawakkol Karman who became the international public face of the 2011 uprising in Yemen. She won the Nobel Peace Prize that year in recognition of her work in nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work, becoming the first Arab woman and youngest Nobel Peace Laureate to date.  We are delighted to have her give the keynote speech at this year’s Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG) Forum from June 21-22.

I hope you will share in USAID’s renewed commitment to advancing the dignity agenda by viewing and participating virtually in our DRG Forum. The event will bring together government officials, international experts and innovative thinkers and will focus on innovative approaches to promoting human dignity in the wake of the Arab Spring. The Obama administration and USAID have been at the forefront of this change, by expanding political participation of women and girls, making governments more transparent, and promoting civil society, among other initiatives.

View a livestream of the event at

Drop in on the conversation and ask our panelists questions by following #DRGForum on Twitter.