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Development Labs Launch at Seven Universities

View photos from the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) Launch at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC on November 9, 2012, and from the HESN meeting with Secretary Clinton.

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Last week, OSTP Director John P. Holdren joined USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in launching the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN)  – a groundbreaking partnership between USAID and seven top universities that is designed to harness the ingenuity and passion of university faculty and students  to develop innovative solutions to global development challenges.

USAID’s HESN was first announced at the White House in February 2012 and its formal launch marks the latest milestone in the Administration’s work to leverage US comparative advantages in science, technology, and innovation to accelerate progress toward global development goals. The effort is a direct response to the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development, which calls for investments in game-changing innovations with the potential to solve long-standing development challenges—such as vaccines for neglected diseases; drought-resistant seed varieties; and clean energy technologies.

Fully achieving this vision will require what the President has called an “all-hands-on-deck” approach. That is why we are so enthusiastic about HESN: it embodies a new way of doing business—one that empowers innovators around the world to tackle big development challenges (a model that Administrator Shah has dubbed “Open Source Development“).  We are also pleased that the HESN will leverage the stores of untapped energy and expertise that reside on university campuses. The seven HESN universities were selected from nearly 500 applications from 49 states and 33 countries.  And, the pulse of student interest on campuses across the country is nearly palpable.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah speaks at Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) Launch on November 9, 2012. Photo Credit: Rodney Choice

With financial support from USAID matched by private sector partners, each of the seven universities will establish a Development Lab with a unique focus. For example, the Development Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will publish a Consumer Reports-style series of evaluations that will help donors and policymakers invest in the best existing technological solutions; the University of California Berkeley will establish a new field of Development Engineering and shepherd a portfolio of specific development solutions – such as low-cost, solar-powered vaccine refrigerators – through the pipeline of research, field evaluation, translation, and scale-up; and the College of William and Mary will build a world-class research consortium of geographers, economists, epidemiologists, political scientists, computer scientists, and statisticians to collect, geo-code, and analyze data to enable USAID and developing country governments to make hard-nosed, evidenced-based decisions.  All seven of the Development Labs – including Labs at DukeMichigan StateTexas A&M, and Makerere University in Uganda – will work closely with USAID’s field mission experts and Washington staff at every step along the way.

Congratulations to USAID and to the university leaders, faculty, students, and staff that will be key to the success of the Higher Education Solutions Network.  By ensuring that faculty tenure- and promotion-policies encourage and reward social impact, interdisciplinary work, and international engagement; by pursuing Grand Challenges for global development; and by adopting humanitarian licensing strategies that increase global access to university-developed technologies– we hope all universities will embrace the critical role they can play in global development.

To learn more about the HESN, please visit:

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP

Robynn Sturm Steffen is Senior Advisor to the Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP

From the Field: Gender Equity through Education in South Sudan

Regina Anek, a deputy director for gender at South Sudan’s Ministry of Education in Eastern Equatoria, just saved a 14-year old girl from an early, forced marriage. She says she was empowered to intervene as the result of her participation in a USAID-supported mentor-training program for teachers and education officials aimed at encouraging girls not just to enroll, but also to complete, secondary school.

Mentoring is just one of the ways USAID is addressing financial, social and institutional barriers to gender parity in education through the Gender Equity through Education (GEE) Program.

School completion rates for girls in South Sudan are extremely low. Survey data indicates that the rate of completing the eight-year primary cycle is currently 30 percent for boys, while the girls’ completion rate lags far behind at 17 percent. Secondary school completion rates are even worse.  This cannot only be attributed to the long conflict in this country, which prevented many girls from attending school, but also to other unique cultural and financial barriers.

One rampant cultural barrier is early marriage. Persistent poverty has been cited as a major reason for parents marrying off their daughters in exchange for money. Moreover, cultural norms in some places dictate marriage readiness for girls as young as 13. Communities often stigmatize older girls in schools, causing them to give up their education.

With USAID’s mentoring support and some tuition stipend, many girls now stay in school, and some who were married at an early age are now able to return and complete their secondary schooling.

These rural schoolchildren participate in the USAID-funded Southern Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction project, which uses radio to broadcast interactive student lessons. / Karl Grobl, Education Development Center Inc.

These rural schoolchildren participate in the USAID-funded Southern Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction project, which uses radio to broadcast interactive student lessons. / Karl Grobl, Education Development Center Inc.

The GEE program’s three components include:

  • a scholarship program;
  • an advocacy, community mobilization, and mentoring program;
  • and an institutional support program.

Regina Anek was trained as a mentor, enhancing her skills to intervene in communities where girls face social pressure to leave school to get married.

“I was informed that a student from one of the schools in my state was about to be married off, and I hurried to convene a meeting with the family and community. Meanwhile, I asked the parents to allow me [to] accommodate the girl at my house so that she could continue attending school as we resolved her marriage case,” Anek said.

After weeks of negotiating and educating the community leaders and the girl’s parents on the importance of an educated girl to the family and society, the girl was allowed to return home and continue with school.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about our programs in South Sudan.


Jane Namadi is an Education Management Specialist at USAID


USAID Fall Semester Review

It seems this semester is flying by and exams are fast approaching, making this the perfect time to step back and review everything that has happened so far during the USAID Fall Semester. Over the past two months, Administrator Rajiv Shah and other senior USAID staff have visited 14 college campuses across the country, directly engaging over 1,600 students. While introducing students to USAID’s mission, these visits have highlighted the important role that university students can play in development and how their ideas and innovations can be the difference in solving the most pressing global challenges. In addition to our campus visits,  Fall Semester has introduced USAID 101, which provides the history of USAID and in-depth learning materials about select development topics. All of these materials and a complete list of universities visited can be found below.

Administrator Shah greets students from University of Michigan's ONE Campaign campus group this past October. Photo Credit: Gerald Ford School of Public Policy.

And remember, whether it is getting an e-internship or a fellowship, competing in a Grand Challenge, applying for a DIV grant, or engaging with one of our partners, there is no shortage of ways to become involved in development work.

Learning Materials:

  • USAID 101
    • Lesson Plan: Innovation
    • Virtual Classroom: Mobile Money
    • Lesson Plan: Food Security
    • Book Club: Our Fall Semester Book Club gives you a list of development books that have been recommended by senior USAID experts. These books cover a wide range of development topics, from global economic history and world-changing science discoveries to strategies that help companies succeed in developing world markets.
    • USAID Impact Blog

Campus Visits: Check out pictures from USAID Fall Semester visits on the USAID Facebook Page

Serve with USAID: Visit this page to see how you can get involved with USAID.

Video of the Week: Secretary Clinton Delivers Remarks on USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers remarks at the inauguration of USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on November 8, 2012.

Video of the Week “Opportunities Created, Lives Transformed in Nepal”

Check out this  incredible video on opportunities created, lives transformed in Nepal. Over the past five years, USAID’s Education for Income Generation program has helped tens of thousands of youth not only find skills-based work at home but also become employers themselves. Today, 74,000 disadvantaged youth are reaping benefits, with higher incomes, raised living standards, and substantially increased food security.

Girls’ Education Transforms Entire Communities

Guest author Kadiatou Coulibaly, Ph.D. is the World Education Director of the Ambassadors’ Girls’ Scholarship Program (AGSP). AGSP was funded by USAID from October 2004 through September 2011 as part of the U.S. Africa Education Initiative. World Education, Inc. implemented AGSP in 13 countries in West Africa.

Today, October 11, the world is acknowledging the importance of the girl child. Girls are traditionally the last to receive an education, the last to be fed at the table, and on the whole seen as less valuable than boys. Over the past few years, while managing the USAID-funded Ambassador’s Girls’ Scholarship Program, however, I have seen a dramatic shift in attitudes.

In my view there is no development program more important or sustainable for the long-term than education – and as girls are the ones whose education has been long neglected, that is the most effective place to put education dollars. Whole communities are transformed. The international community has come to recognize this, although there are still many barriers to girls’ education, and in fact to gender equality throughout the world.

It may appear to the outside, to the donor countries, that traditional views among communities and parents are one of those barriers. But that debate is over in the 13 countries where we implemented AGSP. Huge strides were made in raising awareness of the importance of girls’ education. Parents were happy when they saw that school changed completely the girls’ outlook on life.

Educated girls have more resources. They have better opportunities, better health, and a better chance at life. They are able to earn more money and care for themselves, their children, their entire families and the environment. Parents have said to me, “If you educate your daughter and she gets a job – she thinks of you. She will always help you.”

And when you educate girls, you empower the whole community beyond the girl. It can be surprising, the depth of the effect on the community – with results even beyond what is intended.

When World Education was implementing AGSP to send disadvantaged girls to school, we worked in partnership with local organizations. At times we needed to help those groups build capacity so they would have the skills to manage aspects of the program. In Timbuktu, for example, we strengthened women’s groups set up under WEI’s previous program to help mothers become more involved in their children’s education. At the time, the women in the community did not participate in anything public. Their circle of influence was very small. We organized these Mother’s Associations, and then helped to build their capacity in skills such as mentoring, administration and financial management.

In Timbuktu, the Mothers’ Association was in charge of procurement of all scholarship needs, such as books, uniforms and supplies. If there was any problem, such as teachers not showing up to teach – a regular occurrence – they knew who to contact and handled it. It was an amazing change in the role of women in those communities. The AGSP program helped nurture the Mothers’ Association. The women in these groups became mentors to the scholarship students. Men came to listen to the women, while in the past, the women would not even have been asked for their opinion. Respect for women trickled upward from the education of girls.

It has been a joy to see the changing attitude of parents and whole communities as they have come to realize the great advantages of sending their girls to school. In every community where we worked, we could see the transformation. Barriers remain, but I am pleased to say that in places where people have seen the benefits, community resistance is no longer one of them.

Gender Equity Through Education

Regina Anek, a Deputy Director for Gender at South Sudan’s Ministry of Education in Eastern Equatoria state, just saved a 14-year-old girl from an early, forced marriage. She was empowered to intervene as a result of a series of trainings she received from a USAID-supported girls education program that provides mentoring training to teachers and education officials to encourage girls not only to enroll in but also to complete secondary school.

USAID’s Gender Equity through Education Program has strengthened the education system by addressing financial and infrastructure barriers, social and cultural barriers, and institutional barriers to gender parity in education, through scholarships; advocacy, community mobilization, and mentoring; and institutional support. The mentoring training gave Regina skills to intervene in situations where girls face communal pressure to drop out of school to get married.

“I was informed that a student from one of the schools in my state was about to be married off, and I hurried to convene a meeting with the family and community to stop the matter,” Regina explained. “Meanwhile, I asked the parents to allow me to accommodate the girl at my house so that she could continue attending school as we resolved her marriage case.” Regina added that after weeks of negotiating and educating the girl’s parents and community leaders on the importance of an educated girl to the family and society as a whole, the girl was allowed to return home and continue with school.

These USAID-supported mentoring activities are meant to support girls within and outside of the educational structure to address broader social and cultural issues that keep girls from completing their education.

Survey data indicate that while 30 percent of boys in South Sudan complete the eight-year primary cycle, only 17 percent of girls do. The legacy of war in South Sudan is one factor, but girls’ education is also hampered by other social, cultural and financial barriers that hinder them from either enrolling in or staying in school.

One cultural barrier is early marriage. Persistent poverty in communities has been cited as a major reason that parents give their daughters in marriage in exchange for some financial security  for the family, but some cultural norms also dictate marriage readiness for girls as young as 13. The community at school and outside of school stigmatizes older girls in school, which adversely affects their school attendance. With USAID’s mentoring support and some tuition stipend, many girls who were married at an early age are able to return and complete secondary school.

USAID’s efforts in supporting girls’ education in South Sudan date back to 2002, when scholarship support was provided to girls to complete secondary school and join teacher training institutes. This was aimed at encouraging more women to join the teaching profession, because research indicates that targeted recruitment of women has a correlation with girls completing school. USAID provided more than 9,000 scholarships through this program to girls and disadvantaged boys in secondary school and more than 4,400 scholarships to students in teacher training institutes in South Sudan and the “Three Areas” on the Sudan-South Sudan border (Abyei,  Blue Nile, and Southern Kordofan).

El Salvador Makes the Grade in Universal Primary Education

Jorge Renderos (left), Principal of the Oscar Arnulfo Romero School, and Oscar Armando Cruz (right), math teacher, celebrate finishing the day's school work with their fourth grade students. Photo credit: Karen Azucena, USAID

I live in the Zaragoza region, one of the poorest areas in central El Salvador.  We have limited economic development opportunities for our people, yet one of the highest rates of population density in the country.  While grappling with poverty, our municipality must also deal with gang activity and school violence.

In order to respond to this situation, my school joined with 12 other schools to form a cluster under the Ministry of Education’s Integrated System for Full Time School (SI-EITP, its acronym in Spanish).  SI-EITP is supported by USAID/El Salvador’s Strengthening Basic Education Program.

We share limited resources so that we can equitably offer educational and extracurricular services to all students, especially those who are at risk of joining a gang or dropping out of school.  For example, my school shares its sports auditorium with all 1,670 students coming from those 12 schools.  The group of schools provides extracurricular activities in areas such as technology, baking, dressmaking skills, school gardens, art, culture, sports and recreation.  Because of these activities, our students are more excited to attend school and learn new skills.

Teachers are also using new resources, materials, and techniques like more group work that allow students to more actively participate in their lessons.  The response from students has been very positive.  The lessons have been so successful that students from the Barillo school, who previously had spotty attendance, said that they were excited to go to school each day.

And this integrated system doesn’t end at the school gate. Parents, teachers and school principals all participate in the school cluster.  For instance, parents are walking to school with their children every day, as they need to cross dangerous areas where gangs are prevalent.

School principals are also working together in new ways.  Because of SI-EITP, the principals of the Corralito and Canton Guadalupe schools collaborated to improve transportation for their students.  As a result, 56 students who finished sixth grade, but did not have a secondary school close to their home, are now able to travel to neighboring secondary schools and continue their education.

With the support of the Ministry, USAID and its implementers, we have made a lot of progress but we must acknowledge the leadership of the students.  When the educators were worried about gang clashes, the student governments mitigated our concerns. They formed a “Peace Band” with participants from all of the schools.  Today the Peace Band has 300 members whose purpose is to promote healthy living and a culture of peace. We are proud to say that, not only are the student working hard to reach their own potential, they are showing real leadership skills and giving back to the community.

MDG Countdown: Working to Fulfill A Global Promise

Susan Reichle is the Assistant to the Administrator for USAID's Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning. Credit: USAID

We all have a deadline in 2015 that can be easily lost amid our busy day-to-days and crowded lists of to-dos.

In 2000,189 nations made a promise to free people from extreme poverty and to extend hope and opportunity to millions across the developing world – all by 2015.  Under the United Nation’s umbrella of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), the 189 countries committed to eight development goals that were  ambitious in scale and yet vital.

That’s why this week, USAID and our counterparts at the UK Department for International Development are once again drawing attention to the MDGs at an event in New York,during the UN General Assembly.

The good news is that great progress is being made towards achieving the MDGs, and the global community can be inspired by the innovations and successes we are seeing around the world.

Poverty has been cut by 50 percent globally and the proportion of people with no safe drinking water has been cut in half, ahead of the 2015 deadline..   

As evidenced at the New York event this week, USAID is also making a significant contribution to meet the MDG’s:

  • In El Salvador, we work with the Salvadoran Ministry of Education to not only improve the quality of teaching and learning, but also partner with local communities to keep students in school and to recruit children who were not attending classes.  (MDG 2)
  • In Afghanistan, we work with the Government to build capacity in its Ministry of Health, among midwives, and in local hospitals, and have helped to increase health coverage from eight percent to over 60 percent of the people over ten years and helped the country realize an incredible drop in infant, child and maternal mortality rates.   (MDG 4 and 5)
  • In Indonesia, where only 40 percent of citizens receive water from a household tap, we worked to vastly improve the water and sanitation systems.  While our effort has scaled down, the program legacy lives on in private and public sectors’ support for clean water and sanitation, and proof that local and the central governments are willing to commit funds to the utilities to improve performance and expand services if a clear and compelling justification is presented.  (MDG 7)

Still, with only 15 months until the deadline we still have the other six goals to meet.  USAID is applying its resources more strategically than ever to enable countries to achieve the MDGs.  As outlined in USAID’s County Development Coordination Strategies, we are implementing the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development by focusing on those development imperatives that are priorities for the host country and USAID investment can make a difference.  These strategies are informed by evidence, rather than anecdote and lead to stronger projects designed in cooperation with host country counterparts, including government and civil society.

The challenges involved in meeting the MDGs by 2015 remain daunting, yet USAID along with our global partners are making significant strides.  Using breakthrough innovations, integrated approaches, and strategic partnerships we can achieve unprecedented progress in the years to come.

Equal Futures Partnership Advances Global Women’s Opportunities

Sarah Mendelson is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Credit: USAID

I am excited to have just returned from the kick-off of the Equal Futures Partnership to expand women’s opportunities around the world. The event was held in New York City and part of a number of events USAID is participating in during the United Nations General Assembly this week.

The world has made significant strides in expanding opportunity for women and girls; in the U.S., we just celebrated 40 years of Title IX, an act of Congress that changed the lives of many in my generation by enabling girls to have equal access to education playing sports. Equal access to sports in schools, particularly, taught many of us how to be fierce competitors and learn valuable lessons in team building.

Yet more work is needed to tackle the global gender inequality. Last week, I met in London with donors on this very topic where researchers discussed a number of startlingly facts:

  • In 2011, women held only 19 percent of parliamentary seats worldwide, while less than five percent of heads of state and government were women.
  • While in the past 25 years, women have increasingly joined the labor market, the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report describes “pervasive and persistent gender differences” in productivity and earnings across sectors and jobs.
  • Though women are 43 percent of the agriculture labor force and undertake many unpaid activities, they own just a tiny fraction of land worldwide.

These realities demand an urgent response.

Building on President Obama’s challenge a year ago at UNGA, the United States government has partnered in a new international effort to break down barriers to women’s political participation and economic empowerment. The goal of the Equal Futures Partnership is to realize women’s human rights by expanding opportunity for women and girls to fully participate in public life and drive inclusive economic growth in our countries.

Through this partnership, the countries of Senegal, Benin, Jordan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Peru, Denmark, Finland, Australia and the European Union are all making new commitments to action, and will consult with national stakeholders inside and outside government, including civil society, multilateral organizations including UN Women and the World Bank, and the private sector, to identify and overcome key barriers to women’s political and economic participation.  This partnership promises to be groundbreaking not only for the countries involved but also for those who are watching its implementation.

USAID and its Center for Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance stands by to provide assistance to these countries as well as many others throughout the world as they work to advance women’s political participation and economic empowerment.

This is thrilling work that helps make the promise of development real for everyone–not just a privileged few.

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