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A Development Outreach and Communication Specialist from the Field Visits Washington

What an exciting experience it was! I was nervous when taking my first ever flight to the USA, even more nervous when I was ushered into the Legislative and Public Affairs (LPA) Office of USAID for a three-day assignment. However, it took me just a few minutes to feel fully empowered and on board the LPA and the Africa Bureau train – office space assigned, quick access to my USAID account, tour of the LPA to get to know the offices and the staff. Attending the USAID Senior Communications Group Meeting and being recognized by Administrator Shah and Moira Whelan, the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, during an Award Ceremony are not things that happen every day and the same day in a Development Outreach and Communication Specialist’s (DOC) life, an Foreign Service National DOC’s life. A strong message of recognition and empowerment for the entire DOC community from the USAID senior leadership!

Moussa Doumbia, a DOC from Mali visits the Washington headquarters of USAID. Photo Credit: Laura Rodriguez/USAID

On my arrival, things went so fast and so smooth that I wondered: ‘’Why did it take so long to make the move to see my dream come true?’’ A widespread saying in my Malian helmet then crossed my mind: ‘’better late than never’.

The most memorable days in my DOC career are these three days I spent at USAID HQs from October 6 through 8, 2010, navigating between the LPA and the Africa Bureau. Nothing else could have brought as much insight to a DOC function as meeting face to face with the Agency communicators we deal with from the field office and attaching the names to their jovial faces.

What will make a huge difference in my way of doing business from a DOC perspective are the Senior Communications Group Meeting I attended, meetings with Moira and the DOC Team, Luigi Crespo on protocol and event planning, the social media folks (video, facebook, twitter and flicker), the Press Officers, the Frontlines and Telling Our Story staff, the Photo Gallery, the Africa Bureau Communicators and the Mali Desk Officer. This is an experience I could never have gained without coming down here.  I encourage fellow DOCs to consider a tour in LPA for a similar exposure

Substations Enable Full-time Police Presence in Haiti

On a recent hot and sunny day in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a group of military personnel from U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), staff with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Treasury went to Tabarre Isa camp armed with buckets of blue and white paint and paintbrushes. Their mission is  to work with camp residents to paint a newly constructed police substation. The structure enables U.N. Police (UNPOL) and Haitian National Police (HNP) to have a full-time presence in the camps, and it provides crime victims, especially women and children, a safe refuge where they can report crime.

The U.S. government built police substations in six key camps in the Port-au-Prince area for people displaced by the Jan. 12 earthquake, including Ancien Aeroport Militaire, Golf del Mar 48, Acra, Tabarre Issa, Carredeaux and Corail Cesselesse, to help reduce crime in the camps, particularly gender-based violence. Originally, UNPOL was going to construct the police substations over the course of six months for $50,000. But because SOUTHCOM had extra time and resources, they completed the project in six weeks at a cost of $5,000.

In August, Louisiana National Guard Task Force Commander Col. Michael Borrel and his Task Force Kout Men had two engineer rotations working in Gonaives as part of SOUTHCOM’s New Horizons humanitarian assistance exercise. When Lt. Col. Paul Gass, an Army civil affairs officer attached to the U.S. Embassy, heard they had finished their six weeks of projected work in only four and had two extra weeks of time, he reached out to Col. Borrel with ideas for a “light-duty” project they could perform.

After examining needs in the camps, Gass and Borrel had an epiphany: Use these troops to build the substations. This would ensure a better police presence in the camps sooner.

With the agreement and cooperation of UNPOL and the HNP, they took on the project. The Louisiana Army National Guard, Task Force Kout Men and South Dakota National Guard engineers took over the design and construction of the 8-by-12-foot buildings. Once the idea was pitched, UNPOL became the voice for the HNP with input from Kevin Kennedy, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

“This project is a shining example of how a simple design, some coordination, extra resources and commitment can result in an extremely successful project,” Lt. Col. Gass said.

In addition to the police substations in the camps, USAID worked to increase lighting in camps, especially around latrines and shower facilities. USAID has also helped form women’s support groups and provided funding for psychosocial services such as GBV referral information, legal counseling and protection coordination.

A photo slide show of the substations is on Flickr.

Telling the USAID Story

Every day, USAID talks to the families around the world receiving our aid and who are recipients of our programs. We do this in many ways–meetings, events, SMS texting, and websites in native languages, and in parts of the world most Americans have never seen.

We also work to make sure that Americans understand the value of their investment and how it contributes to the overall foreign policy goals of our country though our blog, our website, telling our story, Frontlines, press releases and many other ways. We talk about Feed the Future, Global Health and many other top development priorities so Americans can see how they’re contributing to the betterment of societies around the world.

Both of these functions are critical to the transparency efforts at USAID. We want people to know what we do and how we do it. Those who invest their tax dollars around the world need to know how it’s being spent and who it’s impacting. Those receiving assistance from the American people have a right to know who is providing it.

This week, those of us tasked with this mission are taking time to look at how we can do a better job. This is something that USAID has never done before. We’re also celebrating the people who do this work and their unique stories. You see our hard work but we want you also to know a little more about how we work.

For the first time, USAID will host our Development Outreach and Communications Specialists (DOCs) for a special training in Washington. The DOCs are tasked with implementing the requirement of the US Foreign Assistance Act to communicate to recipient audiences that the aid they’re receiving is “American aid”. Docs have gathered before for regional training sessions and for skills trainings on various topics, but they’ve never gathered all in one place, and they’ve never come to Washington.

This is important for a few reasons. First, because of who the DOCs are. All are experienced professionals: former journalists, photographers, event planners. More than half are citizens of the countries in which USAID works. USAID Missions are unique this way–we understand that to really assist the people of a country, we must work with them to implement our programs, so more than half of USAID employees are actually citizens of the countries in which we work. They’re professionals in their field and work side-by-side US citizens to get our work done in the most effective way possible.

Just imagine: some are individuals who have for years, told their fellow citizens in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America how generous Americans are–and yet they’ve never been here. Others are Americans who picked up everything to move abroad simply to tell our story and make sure the stories of the people we help are known around the world. Keep checking back to the blog because we’d like you to meet some of them and they will be blogging about their experiences.

Second, this conference is important because the close coordination between communicators in our missions and in the United States are how we know our efforts are having individual impact. If you read Frontlines or check out “Telling our Story” you’ll learn more about the individuals we meet along the way. Meeting these people, getting to know them and then telling their story is an important way for us to communicate to Americans how USAID is investing around the world.

We’ve got big things planned: visits with White House and State Department senior staff, and meetings with journalists and our implementing partners. We’re training on social media and other topics, and we’ll have a little BBQ to boot. We’ll be working overtime to make sure you stay informed while getting ideas for how we can constantly improve. Stay tuned for updates!

This Week at USAID – October 11, 2010

Administrator Shah opens a weeklong training for over 80 USAID communications staff from USAID Missions all over the world.  These communicators are in Washington, D.C. to engage with senior officials about elevating development, particularly the first-ever national development strategy issued by a U.S. President and “USAID Forward”, the Agency’s change management agenda.  Sessions featured during the week include: a meeting with staff from the National Security Council, a joint session at the annual State Department Public Affairs Officer’s conference, and a panel discussion with leading foreign policy journalists at the Newseum.

Administrator Shah travels to Des Moines, Iowa to speak at the Borlaug Dialogue, which is held each year in conjunction with the awarding of the World Food Prize.  The theme of the conference is: smallholder agriculture, “Take it to the Farmer“.  Dr Shah will focus on how you take interest in fighting poverty to the smallholder farmer.  He will also promote progress under Feed the Future, the Administration’s global hunger and food security initiative.

Don’t Miss USAID’s Pakistan Open Houses in New York City, Los Angeles, and Houston!

Come participate in one of USAID Pakistan‘s Open Houses in New York City, Los Angeles, and Houston this October.  The events are part of USAID’s ongoing engagement with the Pakistani-American diaspora community around the United States.

You can meet us:

  • Saturday, October 16, 2010, from 10 – 12 PM:
    New York City/Brooklyn and Queens (Crowne Plaza NY LaGuardia Hotel)
  • Saturday, October 16, 2010, from 4 – 6 PM:
    New York City/Westchester County (Hyatt Summerfield Suites)
  • Saturday, October 23, 2010, from 2 – 4 PM:
    Los Angeles (Holiday Inn at Los Angeles International Airport)
  • Saturday, October 30, 2010, from 10 – 12 PM:
    Houston (Crowne Plaza Suites Houston Sugarland)

At each event, staff from the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs will cover USAID’s work in Pakistan, provide information for non-governmental organizations and business on how they can work with USAID in Pakistan, and discuss job and internship opportunities with USAID.  The Open Houses will also address USAID’s role in the Pakistan flood relief effort, and how Pakistani-Americans can continue contributing to it.

For more information or to RSVP, contact Alison Salisbury at
(Please put the city in the subject line, for example “RSVP – Houston”)

Nigeria @ 50: Partnership with USAID

USAID is helping farmers’ organizations, like this group in Kano, Nigeria, to plant and harvest higher-yielding crops. These women have boosted their incomes by producing more cowpeas than in previous years. Photo Credit:Ann Fleuret, USAID/Nigeria

In 1960, the face of Africa changed, as more than a dozen countries seized their futures and became independent nations. Nigeria was one of those countries, and the last half century has seen both successes and challenges. While the country’s economy is growing at a good clip, its healthcare and education still lag, and deeply entrenched poverty and unemployment remain two of the greatest obstacles to Nigeria reaching its full potential for development. USAID works in Nigeria to sustain development in the long term, especially in health, education, and economic growth.


Nigeria is making much slower progress on improving health among mothers and children than most other African countries. A million Nigerian children die each year before their fifth birthday, and the maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world. Nigeria also has one of the highest tuberculosis burdens in the world, and although the HIV/AIDS infection rate is low compared to other parts of Africa, an estimated 3 million Nigerians are still infected. As a result, Nigeria’s life expectancy has declined significantly: in 1991 the average life expectancy was 54 years for women and 53 years for men; by 2009 these figures had fallen to 48 for women and 46 for men.

Strengthening the health sector and improving overall health for Nigerians are among the most important development issues facing Nigeria. USAID is supporting increased access to quality family planning and reproductive health services. Maternal and child health efforts focus on routine immunization, polio eradication, birth preparedness, maternity services, and obstetric fistula repairs. The United States is increasing access to proven preventive and curative interventions—insecticide-treated bednets and malaria treatment—for children and pregnant women. To reduce death and disability due to TB, especially in the vulnerable co-infected HIV/AIDS population, USAID is working to double the case detection rate and halve the incidence of tuberculosis by 2018.


The state of education in Nigeria is poor. Of the 30 million primary school-aged children in the country, an estimated seven million are not enrolled in school. Of those currently in primary school, less than one in three will attend secondary school. Nigeria has a massive number of out-of-school children and young adults with limited literacy and numeracy skills who have little hope of ever joining the formal workforce.

USAID programs support equitable access to quality basic education through teacher training, support for girls’ learning, infrastructure improvement, and community involvement, focusing on public schools, as well as Islamiyyah schools, which provide both secular and religious education. U.S. assistance also fosters higher education partnerships between American and Nigerian universities, especially those in the north and the volatile Delta regions.

Economic Growth

Nigeria has enjoyed relatively strong economic growth following a series of economic reforms in 2003. Annual agricultural growth rose from 3.5 percent between 1990 and 1999 to nearly 6 percent between 2005 and 2009. Poverty has fallen, but only from 65 percent in 1996 to 60 percent today. Nigeria, once a major food exporter to the West African region, now imports around 15 percent of its basic food requirements. Its agricultural sector is the primary source of livelihood for 70 percent of Nigeria’s people, but the sector is not productive. Only half of Nigeria’s 79 million hectares of fertile land are under cultivation, and over 90 percent of agricultural output comes from farms smaller than five hectares.

USAID programs are accelerating the uptake of proven agricultural production, processing, and marketing technologies and stimulating job creation through agribusiness enterprises. USAID is also helping to develop a policy environment for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises, and expand access to market-driven vocational and technical training linked with private sector employment opportunities. Customs regulations and policy reform will encourage internal and external trade, and the incentives offered by the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act develops private sector capacity to meet international trade and export standards.

This Week at USAID – September 27, 2010

Administrator Shah will host a development forum with USAID staff at the Ronald Reagan Building.

At the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Annual Conference, Dr Shah will join a roundtable discussion with senior Administration officials on the new global development policy.

Later in the week, Administrator Shah will speak at the annual conference of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, and then will lead a Presidential Delegation to the Federal Republic of Nigeria to attend the 50th Anniversary Independence Celebration.

Frontlines – September 2010

Read the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines for these stories:

Isabel Carpio Chami and the new generation of Embera-Wounaan

Isabel Carpio Chami and the new generation of Embera-Wounaan

Read these stories and more in the new issue of FrontLines.

If you would like to automatically receive FrontLines every month, you can subscribe here .

USAID @ UNGA: Science and Technology Forum Preview

Submitted by Ellis Rubinstein
President and CEO, The New York Academy of Sciences

USAID and its Administrator, Rajiv Shah, are onto something big: science, technology and innovation dedicated to the challenges of the Developing World.

During my decade as Editor of Science followed by another eight years at the New York Academy of Sciences, I have heard more than my fill of speeches about the value to the world of “curiosity-driven research”—the endeavors by basic scientists to answer puzzles that excite them without the slightest sense of whether they will have an application in the world as we know it.

There is no question that such research has not infrequently revolutionized our understanding of things that led, in turn, to advancements applicable to the challenges of society at large. But because this sort of fundamental inquiry deserves funding and because young people should be encouraged to follow their curiosity doesn’t mean that there is no place for—or no satisfaction in—research dedicated to the big problems of our planet.

One of the most personally moving experiences I have had in the last decade is to see how many young scientists, engineers, and clinicians are purposely applying their time and energy to make a direct difference to the world.

On Wednesday, September 22, from 2-5 p.m., USAID and the New York Academy of Sciences are partnering to present the “Science, Technology and Innovation Forum” —a celebration of the success of a set of brilliant and dedicated innovators who have developed ingenious, high-impact, affordable, and sustainable solutions to Developing World problems.

In addition, the New York Academy of Sciences will describe the new open-innovation platform it is creating on its Scientists Without Borders website so that individuals, governments, NGOs, and companies can launch challenges that would incentivize solutions that could make a pronounced difference in  the lives of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.

An extraordinary group of experts and leaders have signed up to participate in this event, and it is my greatest hope that the blog postings that USAID and others develop after the event will trigger more challenges and more solutions to the Developing World.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pipeline to Prosperity: Creating Sustainable Partnerships for Minority Businesses

Submitted by Mauricio Vera

Today I spoke at the Congressional Black Caucus conference on a panel entitled “Pipeline to Prosperity: Creating Sustainable Partnerships for Minority Businesses”. The event was hosted by Congresswoman Barbara Lee and the audience consisted primarily of small and minority business owners. I enjoy participating in these events to hear from the firms about their experiences working with USAID or to share information with new firms about the nature of our development work.

At today’s session, I provided a brief overview of USAID and then talked about how we contract out for goods and services. I spoke about the services that my office, the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) provides. We are the advocates for small, minority, women-owned, HUBZone, and veteran owned businesses who are seeking to do business with the agency. USAID follows the Federal Acquisition Regulations and most of our work is performed overseas through task orders off of large Indefinite Quantity Contracts. OSDBU has an aggressive outreach program, we organize monthly vendor outreach sessions where small businesses spend a half day with us learning how to do business with USAID. We also constantly look for other opportunities to meet and dialogue with small businesses and this is an integral part of our internal outreach plan.

“USAID Forward” is a series of new operational reforms undertaken by our leadership and includes Procurement Reform as one of its key strategies. A key objective of the procurement reform strategy is to increase competition and broaden our partner base which includes increasing the use of U.S. small and minority businesses both as prime and subcontractors. We’ve set aggressive targets for both our domestic as well as our overseas contract awards. Transparency and accountability are key components of this reform strategy. Finally, our Mentor Protégé Program assists small businesses in formalizing collaborative partnerships with our large prime contractors

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