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Archives for Cross-Cutting Programs

An “IdEA” That Runs Deep: Engaging America’s Diaspora Communities

Growing up, John Henry Thompson was fascinated by technology. His family’s farm in Jamaica had no running water or electricity. But when he immigrated to New York with his parents at the age of 12, he quickly proved his technological aptitude. He devoured books on electricity and the latest editions of “Popular Mechanic.” For his seventh grade science fair, he built a rudimentary computing device. This science fair marked the beginning of what would become a lifelong passion for computer programming.

There are many “John Henry”‘s from India to Colombia to the Philippines who have come to the United States to learn and create new futures. Currently, more than 60 million Americans are first- or second-generation Diasporas, and many of them have close ties to countries with critical needs. Instead of just sending money back home, imagine what they could do to help improve the lives and change futures.

Like John Henry, his homeland of Jamaica has come a long way in the past few decades. Yet he knows that Jamaicans haven’t leveraged that mobile lead into greater economic prosperity and better health. He knows that Jamaica can do better. And he wants to ensure that future generations of Jamaicans have the tools they need to compete in the global knowledge economy.

This is why he became a volunteer mentor and trainer for the Digital Jam 2.0 Mobile Applications Competition. Sponsored by the Government of Jamaica and the World Bank, the Mobile App Competition combined both a competition and educational workshops for app developers. As trainer, John Henry helped young developers gain the tools they needed to build effective native mobile applications.

This passion to give back to their homelands is what makes the potential for diaspora communities’ engagement in development so powerful. From their language skills and cultural familiarity to professional networks and personal ties, the diaspora community has the potential to be a significant people-to-people asset for positive development impact. If we can deepen and expand diaspora outreach, we can develop stronger bonds with other nations — through their civil societies, business leaders, inventors, and scientists. We can do things that USAID working alone never could.

That’s why USAID joined with the U.S. Department of State in 2011 to launch the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA). Recognizing the powerful yet untapped potential of diasporas in development, IdEA seeks to deepen America’s engagement and partnership with diaspora communities.

To further advance our work with diaspora communities, USAID, the U.S. Department of State, and IdEA are hosting the second Global Diaspora Forum, an annual celebration of America’s diaspora communities, July 25-26. The Forum is focused on how new technology can empower and increase diaspora philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, volunteerism, and social innovation. I encourage you to visit IdEA’s website to watch live streaming videos from the Forum and read more about diaspora communities’ contributions to their countries of origin and America’s diplomatic relationships and development commitments worldwide.

Foreign Assistance, Innovation, and Progress

Bill Gates is the chairman of Microsoft, U.S.A. and the co-founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  The following in an excerpt of the essay he wrote for USAID’s Frontiers in Development publication

As I write this, my wife, Melinda, has just returned from a visit to Tanzania with members of a congressional delegation, led by Senator Lindsey Graham, to learn more about global health and development programs.

Reflecting on the trip, Melinda said the high point was meeting Joyce and Raymond Sandir, small farmers who eke out a living growing maize and a few other crops and selling milk from their single cow. When Melinda asked them about their experience with a new, higher-yielding, diseaseresistant maize seed, Joyce said their income had more than doubled. Although the Sandir family lives without running water or electricity, Joyce didn’t hesitate when one Senator asked what she planned to do with the extra money. She said she would pay for more education for her children.

For Melinda, the visit was another reminder of why we do this work. For members of the congressional delegation, it was a chance to see first-hand the impact that development aid has on people’s lives. A few pounds of healthy seed that wouldn’t be given a second thought in wealthy countries can trigger a virtuous cycle of health and productivity in poor countries. Farmers can feed their families. Children can go to school and become valuable members of the community.

Local economies grow, strengthening the social and economic fabric of nations. Eventually, these countries are in a position to offer development assistance to other poor countries.  Some, like Korea, have made the full transition and no longer rely on official development assistance (ODA). Others, such as Mexico, Brazil, India, and China, are following a similar path. These aren’t isolated examples in a few lucky countries. In the past 50 years, advances in agriculture saved a billion people from starvation. Vaccines and other medical advances reduced childhood deaths by more than 80%. The proportion of people in extreme poverty has been cut in half. The Sandir family is one example among many millions.

Read the full article in USAID’s Frontiers in Development publication.

U.S. Small Businesses: Thriving In USAID’s Changing Environment

On June 5, my staff and I were delighted to host USAID’s 5th Annual Small Business Conference at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. Over 200 small business representatives had the unique opportunity to hear insightful presentations from our Administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah, Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), SBA Associate Administrator John Shoraka, and USAID senior officials. It was an incredible time to celebrate the success of USAID in expanding our engagement of U.S.-based small businesses and to have in-depth dialogue on how small businesses may continue to thrive in our changing environment.

The energy at the conference was electric. What I witnessed was a reaffirmation of our commitment and renewed focus on the importance of small businesses for the continued growth of our economy and for their important contribution to our core development objectives. There was also a collective focus on USAID’s Implementation and Procurement Reform (IPR) initiative and the fact that IPR is not only about working with host country systems and developing local capacity, but also about expanding our partner base to include the increased use of U.S.-based small businesses.

Achieving strong cooperation between USAID and the small business community has been a long and sometimes arduous path. Historically, we have not done well in leveraging the talents and expertise of small business partners to achieve our goals. However, in recent years, we have increased our awards to small businesses by 50% and for the first time in many years, exceeded our overall small business goals in FY 2011. We’re also improving our accomplishments at the Mission level. For example, in FY 2011, the El Salvador Mission awarded 26% of its acquisition dollar obligations to U.S.-based small businesses while increasing local capacity development; and the Haiti Mission awarded 20% of its acquisition dollar obligations to U.S.-based 8(a) certified small businesses.

We recognize that there is so much more to be done to further enhance our relationship with the small business community. Through continued dialogue, I believe that we can improve the quality of development programs, bring new thought and innovation to the Agency, and improve the efficiency of how we carry out our mission.

For more information about how your small business can work with USAID, visit our Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization and Minority Resource Center.

Active Dialogue with Civil Society for More Productive Development Partnerships

In 1997, I attended an event held by the Society for International Development (SID) to discuss the emerging concept of “civil society.” A panel of scholars and practitioners discussed key issues, including the 72 definitions for civil society that one panelist tried to pare down.

Flash forward to last week, when I had the honor to attend Secretary Clinton’s Global Town Hall, part of the 2012 Summit for the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society. The Strategic Dialogue was launched last year to elevate U.S. engagement with partners beyond foreign governments and to underscore the US Government’s commitment to supporting and protecting civil society around the world.  The Strategic Dialogue enables civil society to formally engage U.S. policymakers on policy matters – and we need their perspective.

In the 15 years since the SID event, we have witnessed the powerful role of civil society in far corners of the world calling for freedom, demanding dignity, and fighting corruption.  New communication technologies have reduced barriers to networking. Civil society organizations can tell their stories in unprecedented ways; activists can make their case beyond borders and be heard in new ways.  But with this new power has come new threats.  The same technologies that activists use to spread their messages have been used to target them for harassment, arrest, and worse.  As citizens find new ways to organize, assemble, and express themselves, autocratic governments have found new ways to restrict their space and suppress information.

One key way oppressive governments try to control civil society is by attempting to restrict the registration or foreign funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  For more than 20 years, USAID has supported programs to improve the legal environment for NGOs to operate and expand space for civil society worldwide.  In the last four years alone, through our partnership with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), USAID has supported and defended space for civil society in some  40 countries.

In Tunisia, for example, USAID assistance to ICNL enabled the first-ever meeting of civil society leaders and legislators to work toward replacing the existing, restrictive law governing associations with a new legal framework.   The new law passed as a result of this meeting is now considered a best practice for a region undergoing tectonic shifts. Now, USAID programs are allowing Tunisian civil society actors to share their experience with new voices in Libya working to create safe legal space for activism in a country where the brutal regime of Muammar Qaddafi suppressed civil society for more than 40 years.

The Arab Spring underscored that true stability requires legitimate, inclusive governance , with accountable state-society relationships. USAID supports development of the three-legged stool that Secretary Clinton talked about, where government, civil society, and the private sector all flourish and create stability for a prosperous country.

Amid the rich discussion at last week’s Town Hall, I was particularly struck by one comment made by a Moroccan civil society leader, who remarked that “90 percent of US assistance goes to only 10 percent of the NGOs.”

All too often, donors, including USAID, have partnered primarily with a small number of elite, capital city-based NGOs and missed the rich dialogue that comes with working with smaller, regionally-based organizations.  As part of the larger USAID Forward reform effort, we’re working to change those percentages. USAID’s Implementation and Procurement Reform will help streamline our regulations to make it easier for us to partner directly with a wider range of civil society organizations, amplify additional voices marginalized for too long, and lend much-needed support to the grassroots.

Through efforts like these—to reach and support a wider array of actors and expand the space where civil society can operate—USAID is playing an instrumental role in advancing active dialogue with civil society, so essential to any sustainable development effort and a vital piece of our country partnerships that ensure success.

Awarding Property Titles to Longtime Land Holders

I’ve long known that land titles mean empowerment for urban and rural poor, especially women, in developing countries.  Indeed, a paragraph in my “stump speech” notes that if women farmers could use their land as collateral to gain access to credit at the same rate as men, there would be a 30 percent increase in productivity, enough to feed 150 million people.  But during my visit to Batangas in the Philippines last week, the human dimension of this reality was brought home to me vividly.

USAID in the Philippines is working with national and local authorities and civil society on a project to bring to life the “Residential Free Patent Law.” That law provides expedited land titles to people who can show that they’ve long occupied their land.  In the Philippines, only about half of the estimated 22 million land parcels are titled.  Working with the Asia Foundation and the local Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF), USAID is providing training and technical assistance to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and local government units to speed the titling process.

Last Thursday, I took part in a ceremony where we awarded land titles to long-time occupants of land.  No, we didn’t get the attention that a similar ceremony in Colombia attracted several weeks ago, but then again, I’m not Barack Obama, and I wasn’t accompanied by musical superstar Shakira.  But still it was a remarkable program.

When I gave one woman her land title, she squeezed my hand and wouldn’t let go until she told me her story.  She said that she was 60 years old and had occupied her land for four decades.  Each day, she would wake up wondering if, by nightfall, she would be driven off her property by land-grabbers or government officials.  She couldn’t use her land to get a loan, and even if she could, she was afraid that improvements on her house or farm land would make it attractive to interlopers.  Holding up her new title, she said, “This magic paper changes everything for me, my children, and my grandchildren.” And then she started to cry tears of joy as her family came forward to embrace her.

Only time will tell if that woman’s future is as bright as she imagines.  But thanks in large part to mission director Gloria Steele, John Avila, the entire USAID mission, and our partners, this woman and thousands like her are empowered to seek a more secure and prosperous life.

Are Philanthropists Key?

How donor grants may unlock billions of investment dollars for impact enterprise.

In 2010, JP Morgan released a figure that shocked the investment industry: the group estimated that the potential capital market for impact investing—putting dollars into enterprises that would deliver positive social impact—was between $400 billion and $1 trillion. Buoyed by the success of the microfinance revolution, philanthropists, governments, entrepreneurs and investors began in earnest to see how else they could do well by doing good.

Impact investors have surged forward with capital, ready to support the pioneering entrepreneurs creating fortunes and development gains at the base of the pyramid (BoP). There are now 200 impact investment entities poised to pour billions of dollars into impact enterprises in the next year. They have cast wide nets, but it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a dearth of enterprises that can deliver both the social and the financial returns the investors seek.

This week, more than 250 high-level investors, business executives, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and academics are convening in Washington to ask the important question: how can public and private actors work together to unleash the potential of the impact economy? 

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USAID Holds Screening & Discussion on LGBT Human Rights

USAID’s LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Coordinating Committee hosted a screening last Friday of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s historic speech on LGBT Human Rights.

In her landmark speech made at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Secretary Clinton marked Human Rights Day 2011 by affirming that any definition of human rights must include sexual orientation and gender identity and that the Obama Administration would defend the human rights of LGBT people as part of the United States Government’s comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of American foreign policy.

In her speech, the Secretary stated, “Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do.”

She continued, by reminding the audience that, “progress comes from being willing to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. We need to ask ourselves, ‘How would it feel if it were a crime to love the person I love? How would it feel to be discriminated against for something about myself that I cannot change?’ This challenge applies to all of us as we reflect upon deeply held beliefs, as we work to embrace tolerance and respect for the dignity of all persons, and as we engage humbly with those with whom we disagree in the hope of creating greater understanding.”

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World Water Day 2012

On March 22, World Water Day, themes of innovation and partnership were central to the discussions of how the global community can, and must, work better together to meet future water needs around the world.

Secretary Clinton made a number of key points in her address at the State Department, including:

  • Water is at the heart of our efforts to preserve the environment that sustains us all, and water is a central concern when we think about how climate change will impact future generations.
  • That while we have met the Millennium Development Goal to cut in half the proportion of people living without access to safe drinking water, with this progress comes a stark reminder of how much more we have to do.  At this rate, nearly 700 million people will still lack access to clean water in 2015.
  • The National Intelligence Council report on Global Water Security (pdf, 574KB) demonstrates how imperative water is to our future peace, security, and prosperity.
  • As the world’s population continues to grow, demand for water will go up, but our freshwater supplies will not keep pace.
  • A new public-private partnership has been formed to help answer that call for leadership and to expand the impact of America’s work on water; to that end, the State Department is a founding partner of The U.S. Water Partnership, launched this World Water Day, which brings together a diverse range of partners from the private sector, the philanthropic world, the NGO community, academic and expert institutions, and the government.

At USAID, we are focusing on strengthening partnerships and creating new ones to meet water needs while integrating our efforts across four key sectors:  food security, global health, climate change and conflict mitigation. Our initiatives have included innovative approaches like the WASH for Life Partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Through that partnership, we are working to identify, test and help scale evidence-based approaches for cost-effective and sustained services in developing countries. As a partner in the new U.S. Water Partnership, we hope to make a significant contribution through sharing a wide range of water related information.

Our efforts to link our water programs with food, health, and climate change include work in Haiti where USAID’s programs are helping to protect Haitians from water-borne diseases such as cholera. We support a range of projects to improve health, from increasing access to potable drinking water to promoting positive hygiene behaviors such as regular hand washing. We are also helping farmers use water more efficiently, protecting Haiti’s watersheds—a critical source of water— and rehabilitating irrigation systems that provide water to as much as 15,000 hectares of crops. We have planted thousands of trees to reinforce riverbanks and prevent flooding, saving lives and properties in Haiti’s productive plains.

Other focus areas include the application of science and technology, the development of new approaches to finance, integrating gender and water programs, and increased emphasis on sanitation. Examples of this work include:

  • In the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia,  USAID and NASA have an ongoing efforts to work together to use earth science and satellite technology to analyze water scarcity, water management, ground water depletion, and the impact of climate change on water resources
  • In Indonesia, USAID is supporting the use of micro credit to increase access to clean water. The GOI has committed to support the addition of 10 million new water supply connections. One constraint to increased access for low income households is the upfront connection fee charged by municipal water companies. USAID provided technical assistance to support linkages between water utilities and local banks in enabling micro credit for water connection to the low income households.
  • In Ethiopia, USAID is planning an effort to link water point development with peace building work, strategically developing water access in areas with a history of violence. Water point development and engagement will be linked to women’s groups, to empower women as peace builders and to create further positive links between communities.
  • In Madagascar, the WASH Everywhere initiative will create demand for sanitation using community-led total sanitation to end open defecation in combination with sanitation marketing.

In developing and implementing programs in these focus areas, innovation and partnering are key to success. Between now and next World Water Day, we expect to make significant progress.

Pounds of Prevention: Focus on Mozambique

An emergency responder flashes the red cyclone flag to warn people in his community. Photo by USAID/FEWSNET

In this next edition of “Pounds of Prevention,” we travel to the country of Mozambique. Over the past decade, Mozambique has set up a cyclone early warning system that combines technology with community organization and mobilization.

Every year when the cyclone season arrives, and flooding threatens the countryside, the people in Mozambique are better prepared to take the right action at the right time. Countless lives have been saved. Moreover, the resources spent mounting a humanitarian response have decreased.

USAID is proud to be a partner in this endeavor and commends the people of Mozambique on their accomplishments in disaster risk reduction.

USAID’s FrontLines – April/May 2012

frontlines banner graphic

Read the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines, to learn more about the Agency’s work with partnerships and in the countries that make up the Latin America and Caribbean region.

The Armenian EyeCare Project (AECP) is the brainchild of an Armenian-American diaspora-led organization, which launched its efforts in 2003 to strengthen the eye-care system and reduce preventable blindness in Armenia. In 2004, USAID and AECP joined forces. Through the partnership, USAID/Armenia helped AECP scale up its programs, which complemented the mission’s health care goals for the country. For part of that effort, AECP brought in a mobile eye hospital, which made stops in 90 percent of Armenia’s communities to provide eye exams and necessary treatments. Pictured: a man receives an eye exam. Photo credit: AECP

Some highlights:

  • Soap. Water. Tippy Tap. After answering nature’s call, some Senegalese wash up in ways both inventive and resourceful.
  • What is proving good for economic growth in post-war Sri Lanka is also providing a positive communal experience for people from all sides of the two-decades-long conflict.

Subscribe to FrontLines for an email reminder when the latest issue is posted online.

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