USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Democracy and Governance

Building Learning Communities at USAID

John David Smith of Learning Alliances and Nancy White of Full Circle are experts in institutionalizing learning at organizations and authors of Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities.

Earlier this year, Administrator Shah launched USAID’s new Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance within the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. The Center is designed to become a global resource for evidence-based research, closely measuring and evaluating what works best in advancing democracy, human rights and governance and sharing best practices with the international development community.  This learning agenda will be a focus of USAID’s upcoming Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Forum (June 21-22) and Workshop (June 25-27).

Institutionalizing learning in its activities means that USAID is making learning an everyday activity that permeates the organization. It is a way for the Agency to respond to change and learn quickly, leveraging staff and their knowledge. More mobile and more distributed staff using new technologies give us strikingly new opportunities to gather, interact and learn from each other in novel ways. Traditional organizational structures need to be augmented by more informal and fluid structures, which is why USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance is focusing on building a learning agenda.  A critical component of this agenda includes building “communities of practice” and leveraging technology in our work.

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Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Forum

This week, USAID will be holding our third annual Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Forum at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. The two-day event, June 21-22, will bring together government officials and international experts in the field of democracy, human rights and governance.

People gather on December 17, 2011 in Sidi Bouzid's Mohamed Bouazizi square, named after the fruitseller whose self-immolation sparked the revolution that ousted a dictator and ignited the Arab Spring. Photo Credit: AFP/Fethi Belaid

The theme of this year’s forum is Advancing the Dignity Agenda: New Approaches to Protecting Human Rights and Expanding Democratic Participation.

Discussion will focus on the innovative approaches to promoting human dignity advanced by the Obama administration and USAID in the wake of the Arab Spring. Issues will include expanding the political participation of women and girls, making governments more transparent, and promoting civil society.

The forum will be livestreamed on our event page. We encourage you join the conversation and submit your questions to our panelists by adding your comments below or using the hashtag #DRGForum on Twitter.

Also, be sure to visit our newly redesigned website for more information about our work in the field of Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.

Democracy and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, and Carol Lancaster, Dean of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Affairs spoke today at USAID’s Frontiers in Development Forum. Below is an excerpt from their contribution to the Frontiers in Development essays.

Twenty-five years ago, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was a region of despair. Outside of Botswana and Mauritius, democracy was but a distant dream. Unelected and unaccountable governments held power across the subcontinent. Dictators treated their countries as personal fiefdoms, ruling by force and intimidation, taking what they wanted, doling out riches to a favored few, and sprinkling a handful of crumbs to the rest. The terrible scar of apartheid made a mockery of justice and plunged the entire southern region into conflict and crisis. And the politics of the Cold War made a bad situation worse, as East and West propped up unsavory rulers for their own purposes with little regard for the effect on Africans themselves.

The leadership crisis translated into an economic crisis that left the region effectively bankrupt. Authoritarian leaders used the state to try to control the economic commanding heights, in part to finance their patronage systems. In the end, their control only destroyed economic assets and personal livelihoods. For 20 years starting in the mid-1970s, nearly all of the countries of SSA saw zero or negative economic growth in per capita incomes. Promising businesses were ruined, and new investment virtually stopped, except for the grab for natural resources. Unemployment soared, and working men and women could no longer provide for their families. Schools and health facilities deteriorated badly. The only things that seemed to thrive were poverty, graft, and conflict.

But that was then. Today, all of that has begun to change—not across all of SSA, but across much of the region. Dictators are being replaced by democracy. Authoritarianism is giving way to accountability. Economic stagnation is turning to resurgence, with SSA today one of the fastest-growing regions in the world. Poverty rates are falling. Investors who never would have considered Africa a decade ago are lining up to look at new opportunities. Political conflict has subsided, and governments are strengthening the protection of civil liberties and political freedoms.

About half of the countries in the region have embraced democracy, fragile and imperfect, to be sure, but a far cry from the dictatorships of old. And most important, despair is being replaced by hope—hope that people can live in peace with their neighbors, that parents can provide for their families, that children can go to school and receive decent health care, and that people can speak their minds without fear.

What happened in SSA? How did authoritarianism begin to give way to democracy? How has the economic resurgence affected the move toward democracy, and how has democracy affected the economic turnaround? How is democracy likely to evolve in the future in SSA?

Read the full article on page 32 of USAID’s Frontiers in Development publication.

If Development Were Soccer

Rakesh Rajani is the founder and head of Twaweza and a civil society leader in Tanzania.

Rakesh Rajani is the founder and head of Twaweza and a civil society leader in Tanzania.

Rakesh Rajani spoke at the Frontiers in Development Forum. Below is his contribution to the Frontiers in Development essays.

If there were a prize for global organizations  most tainted with corruption, FIFA, the International Federation of Football (Soccer) Associations, would be a strong contender.

For years, its board members are said to have demanded, received, and dished out bribes for purposes such as vote buying and selling rights to host the World Cup. The “crony culture” inside  FIFA has reportedly caused huge losses—about  $100 million in one instance alone when an exclusive deal with a marketing company went belly-up. These acts have spawned investigations, books, and blogs seeking to expose the organization, but FIFA appears to have warded off serious reform. Its current boss has been in charge for 14 years and part of FIFA for 38. He ran unopposed in the last election, in part because his two rivals were disqualified for foul play. His predecessor had been at the helm for 24 years.

Several boys play on a soccer field at Tabarre Issa Emergency Relocation Camp on June 7, 2010.  Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

Several boys play on a soccer field at Tabarre Issa Emergency Relocation Camp on June 7, 2010. / Kendra Helmer, USAID

Precise numbers are difficult to establish, but soccer has well over a billion supporters worldwide. Many of these tune in every week on radio, TV, and, increasingly, the Internet. More than 700 million are estimated to have watched the final games of the World Cup in 2006 and 2010, across all six continents. It is easily the world’s biggest sport.

While growing up in Mwanza, Tanzania, listening to commentary of English league games on a crackly BBC shortwave transmission was the highlight of my week. Today, walk through East Africa’s bustling neighborhoods or rural communities on weekends, and you will likely see animated men and (increasingly) women listening to a duel between national rivals or watching Chelsea play Arsenal or Barcelona take on Real Madrid. You will see much of the same across large parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. In many cases, these are communities that have no electricity and low incomes, but some entrepreneur will have rigged up a generator and an improvised satellite dish, and be turning a tidy profit charging entrance fees.

It’s not only about relaxing in front of the TV. Soccer is among the most common topics on social media, radio call-in shows, and street corners. Crotchety pundits, hip pre-teens, and nerdy economists alike pore over team statistics to discern patterns, debate choices, and predict outcomes. It is public engagement interspersed with politics, business, and local drama, but soccer remains at the core. And soccer evokes great emotion. When there is a crucial goal or save, observe the poetry of celebration rituals or the slow-motion implosions of defeat among both players
and fans. It’s quite an experience.

Why does soccer work? Why, unlike so many badly governed public agencies, NGOs, and projects, is soccer so powerful, lively, and engaging? Could it be that soccer has got something so  right, that it doesn’t much matter that its state of supra governance is somewhat shambolic? And if that is indeed the case, might it provide useful insights for how we think about development in countries where the intractable problems of supra governance will not be sorted out soon?

Children First.  An orphan herself, Fortune helps other children learn about HIV through the Grassroot Soccer program. Photographer: Heather Quinn

An orphan herself, Fortune helps other children learn about HIV through the Grassroot Soccer program. / Heather Quinn

Soccer and development, while very different, have several features in common. I’ll highlight four. Both have purposes or goals to score. Both  have rules and conventions of how things are to  be done. Both have someone deciding whether  conduct is right, imposing sanctions for foul behavior, and judging the final outcome. And  both have actors who need to be motivated and focused to deliver. But each handles these features very differently.

In Soccer, Success Is Clear and Simple

Soccer isn’t called the “beautiful game” for nothing. Players display enormous skill when dribbling, passing, and making daring dives and gravity-defying turns. Fans love these moves, and TV screens replay some of the best ones over and over, so that viewers can study the skill and savor the moment. Papers speak of the teams that play the most entertaining football. But all this skill is aligned toward a very simple and very clear purpose: to score more goals than the other team. Sure, a lot of other statistics are collected, such as the number of passes, number of fouls, percentage of possession, ages of the players, and so forth. The artistry is fun and appreciated, but what matters is how it contributes toward the purpose. What counts is the final score.

The incentives are well aligned too, in the short and long term. You win the game, you celebrate, your team gets three points. Everyone involved—the players, the managers, the owners, the spectators—understand this. In the long term, those points and goals add up, and you move up the league table or on to the next round of the competition, until you win the cup. The better you perform, the more likely you are to earn a better salary.

Read the complete essay on page 18 of USAID’s Frontiers in Development publication.


Rakesh Rajani is the Head of Twaweza (meaning ‘we can make it happen’ in Swahili), a 10-year initiative to enhance access to information, citizen agency, and public accountability in East Africa.

Building Peaceful States Against All Odds: The g7+ Leads the Way

Minister of Finance of Timor-Leste on August 8, 2007 inthe first coalition Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

Minister of Finance of Timor-Leste on August 8, 2007 inthe first coalition Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

Emilia Pires, Finance Minister of Timor-Leste, Chair of g7+, and Co-Chair of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding will speak this afternoon at the Frontiers in Development Forum. Below is her contribution to the Frontiers in Development essays.

Every morning I am greeted by the local gardener, Guilherme, who busily tends half-broken trees and overgrown bushes, planting seeds in the modicum of soil available in the suburbs of Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, in hopes of springing new life to a city that had been almost wholly destroyed in 1999, devastated by war and cyclical instability. Salutations are brief. Guilherme considers himself my de facto advisor.

Each day he offers a brief but new insight into the health, well-being, and livelihood of the collective “we” that is his village—one of 442 sucos in TimorLeste. In early 2008, Guilherme said, “Minister, we are not producing; bellies will not be full come rainy season.” Guilherme knew what I knew: Food security and peace go hand in hand.

As I entered the office, I asked my chief economist to look up the price of rice. He returned ashen-faced bearing the bad news: The price of rice had risen 218%. With a reduction in domestic production and rice imports rising, our budget was now in shambles. This is what the international community calls an “external shock.” As Minister of Finance, I call it “being in shock,” a state I have become well versed to since coming into ofice on August 8, 2007.

On day one of my mandate as Minister, I walked into the Ministry of Finance with no handover, no functioning computers that could spit out the kind of standard information ministers of other nations would expect, and a highly politicized public service that was deeply loyal to the previous ruling party. I admit I was never trained in how to “rule”; I am a technocrat with a background in public service. We were a govern­ment formed to serve. A major mentality shift was about to be introduced.

The final crisis of 2006 resulted in 150,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs)—almost 15% of our population—and adding to our burden, we had more than 700 rebels in the mountains threat­ ening stability. Economic growth was negative 5%; consumption had declined 26%. If the engine room of any government is a well-oiled public finance management system, my engine relected that of a 1967 Chevy that had never been serviced.

Read the complete essay.

Celebrating Media’s Impact on Development on World Press Freedom Day

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day – a day established by the UN General Assembly in 1993 to celebrate the principles of press freedom and bring attention to the threats to media independence around the world. 

USAID celebrates World Press Freedom Day and welcomes the opportunity to salute the professionalism and bravery of media personnel everywhere. Journalists and other media professionals play amazing 24/7 roles as news reporters, talk show hosts, photographers, watchdogs, editors, managers, facilitators of interactive multi-media platforms, and much more.

Vendors sell newspapers during the 2011 presidential elections in Liberia. USAID supported a media initiative to strengthen local media coverage of the elections and encourage independent reporting of election results through new media. Photo credit: Issouf Sanogo/AFP

Media play vital interconnecting roles among virtually all societal actors, facilitating a daily flow of information among citizens, elites, businesses, citizen associations, political parties, and governments. Journalism based on verified facts and diverse perspectives can help societies find constructive solutions to development challenges, while unprofessional or censored media tend to engender corruption and other obstacles to development. A growing body of scholarly research demonstrates strong correlations between media independence and an impressive array of democracy and good governance indicators.

Moreover, the explosive growth of new social and other electronic media platforms are enabling professional journalists to interact with citizen reporters, bloggers, and other new media activists, expanding the democracy-supporting roles of modern mass media like never before.

As a result, USAID works together with many local and international partners to strengthen the professionalism, independence, and new technology integration by the media in well over 40 countries throughout the world.  In Liberia, for example, USAID partnered with IREX, a U.S.-based NGO that works on media development, to support a comprehensive media initiative with the Liberia Media Center, a local media NGO, in the run-up to the Presidential elections in the fall of 2011 – only Liberia’s second since its emergence from years of civil war and one marked by tensions and threats of violence. With tensions rising and violence a real possibility, IREX worked with its Liberian partners to convene an emergency meeting to address the issue of conflict-sensitive reporting, while also supporting a media monitoring effort that called out inflammatory reporting.

Working with the Liberia Media Center, the project also supported an elections results reporting effort that placed reporters at more than 60% of Liberia’s 4,000 polling stations where they sent elections results in via text messaging to conduct a parallel vote count. The website that published the parallel vote count received over 3 million hits in the days following the elections, and since its results matched those of the election commission, it contributed to reducing tensions surrounding the elections.

Each USAID country program is tailored to local conditions, responding to a variety of media development challenges. When possible, USAID missions advocates for a comprehensive approach to media assistance, recognizing that fuller media freedoms result from many enabling factors operating together: such as journalistic professionalism, the media’s economic self-sustainability, legal and regulatory enabling environments, and incorporation of new technologies. Through these approaches, USAID aims to strengthen journalists and the media as a professional and independent Fourth Estate to better serve their respective audiences.

Conditions of Confinement

Today I was pleased to meet with the delegation of the Russian human rights activists who traveled to Washington, DC as a part of USAID Conditions of Confinement project. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg met with this group as well.

These are individuals who have chosen to devote their professional careers and talents to strengthening human rights protections for ordinary people in Russia. What is particularly impressive about this group is that they work on protecting the most fundamental human rights of a particularly vulnerable and often overlooked group, the inmate population. They do it because of their deeply held belief that even those who have committed crimes and are incarcerated should have their human rights and dignity protected. I would like to applaud these advocates for their efforts in this important humanitarian work.

The conditions in Russian prisons drew international scrutiny after the death of Sergey Magnitsky several years ago. Sergey Magnitsky, a 37year-old Russian attorney who was arrested after alleging wide-scale tax fraud against police and tax authorities,was denied medical treatment for a severe illness that he developed while spending almost a year in a pre-trial detention facility in Moscow. Magnitsky died just days before the one year limit that he could be held without trial would expire, serving a total of 358 days in prison. This tragedy galvanized the attention of the human rights community in both Russia and abroad. However, there are likely many more individuals facing similar mistreatment and abuse who need help. Human rights advocates like the ones I met today work tirelessly with the Government of Russia to prevent similar tragedies from happening again and help people in need.

At USAID, we believe that our assistance is most effective when and where the need is most pressing, where the political will is present and determined individuals are in place who will work hard to make real changes. The Conditions of Confinement project is a good example of a well-targeted activity, poised to yield positive results.

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Accountability and Action: USAID’s Counter-Trafficking Policy

Sarah Mendelson is USAID’s deputy assistant administrator of the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict & Humanitarian Assistance.  This item was originally posted at FTS Blog

Last week, the White House hosted the annual Presidential Inter-Agency Task Force (PITF) on counter-trafficking in persons (C-TIP).  This high-level meeting, chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is an opportunity for leadership throughout the Administration to reaffirm our commitment to combatting trafficking in persons, outline steps taken, and those to come.

This was my second time attending the PITF, and this year I was especially proud when USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah announced the Agency’s new policy on Counter-Trafficking in Persons (C-TIP) (pdf), delivering on a promise he made to Secretary Clinton a year ago.

This policy draws on the best practices from the last decade and input from experts around the world.  It places a premium on learning and evaluation so we can make sure we’re pursuing the most effective approaches; focuses on innovation and technology, using the same tools traffickers use to, in this case, raise awareness of the dangers of TIP, provide trainings, and support victims; and champions the need to create exciting and effective partnerships because no one person, organization, or agency can tackle this issue alone.

Perhaps most critical, it elevates the Agency’s focus on C-TIP in conflict and post-conflict contexts.   As someone who has worked in this arena for over a decade, research shows that TIP is significantly higher in and around conflict and crisis-affected regions—whether during war, peacekeeping operations, stabilization efforts, or following a natural disaster.

Widespread sex trafficking of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings is an unfortunate and prevalent reality.  There is also an increased danger for children, separated from parents and caretakers during conflict or crisis, to be forced into child labor.  The good news is that countries recovering from crisis or conflict often have greater political space for tackling challenges and instituting change. USAID will target this particularly acute period of need and moment of opportunity with specialized and enhanced interventions.

USAID is serious about these issues.  Last December, the Agency worked with the White House, Department of State, Department of Defense, and civil society groups at home and abroad to launch the first U.S. National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace, and Security.  The United States now joins 34 countries around the world with plans in place.  This is only the beginning.  USAID is hard at work on an implementation plan, and we look forward to collaborating and elevating our efforts to combat TIP.

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Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons

(Special Rapporteur Beyani is participating in a roundtable hosted by USAID Deputy Administrator Steinberg on March 22.  USAID supports the work of the Special Rapporteur through the Brookings-London School of Economics (LSE) Project on Internal Displacement.)

As a reader of this blog, I invite and challenge you to do more in a personal capacity to join efforts and work daily to advance human rights in the world and enhance international development or peacebuilding efforts.  The more you and do so the more we will realize that there is a multiplying force of reliable partners in achieving tangible and lasting results.

For the most part of my life, I have been involved in human rights work in various capacities. But the past year and a half saw me assume the role of an independent expert with responsibility for maintaining and continuing to advance the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). I inherited the mandate from two pioneers in the field of internal displacement, Francis Deng and Walter Kälin, and have done my best to continue building upon previous achievements towards protecting and assisting IDPs. And I believe that Francis and Walter would agree that as the mandate reaches its 20th anniversary this year that much has been accomplished, but much remains to be done.

It is clear that since the beginning of the international community’s response to internal displacement, it has been the collective action of dedicated civil society organizations, government agencies, supportive donors, key scholars and academics, and passionate advocates for change that have made the difference. The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement are the bedrock upon which much has been built, and they are a product of teamwork. Other landmark documents and normative frameworks, including the Framework for Durable Solutions (which outlines the necessary criteria to end displacement) and the African Union’s Kampala Convention (the first binding regional treaty on IDPs), are similarly products of dedicated and collaborative efforts.

The unfortunate truth is that despite tremendous progress, today there are still some 27 million IDPs around the world who have fled situations of armed conflict or human rights abuses. Many millions more are displaced each year by natural disasters, development projects, and increasingly, the effects of climate change. The Guiding Principles outline the basic steps necessary to prevent, respond to, and bring an end to internal displacement, but their application into national legal policy frameworks remains a challenging objective.

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USAID and OIC: Working Together to Save Lives

Originally posted to the White House Blog.

The United States has always been committed to providing assistance to those around the world in the midst of crisis. Last year alone, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) dispatched aid in the aftermath of 67 disasters in 54 countries, saving countless lives and bringing much needed relief to millions who lost loved ones, homes, and livelihoods. From the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan to the most severe drought in 60 years in the Horn of Africa, USAID is there and making a difference on behalf of the American people every day.

But we never do it alone. Working in support of the host nation’s relief efforts, our partners include American businesses, other donor nations, local aid organizations, as well as international and non-governmental organizations. Our partnerships allow us to maximize our assistance, even as international crises grow more frequent and more complex.

Today at the White House, the United States marked a significant partnership milestone. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), signed a Memorandum of Understanding that further strengthens our cooperation on humanitarian issues and disaster response.

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