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Empowering LGBTI people in Colombia to Advocate for Their Own Rights

I recently had the privilege of traveling to Bogotá and Cartagena, Colombia to observe the incredible work USAID is doing to support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Intersex (LGBTI) populations advocate for their own rights under the law. As an advocate and supporter of the LGBTI community here in the United States, I know firsthand the importance of LGBTI physical safety, the issues of workplace discrimination, and access to education and health care.

As part of USAID’s historic LGBT Global Development Partnership launched earlier this year, we are expanding our support to local civil society organizations in Colombia through our partnership with the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. Activities include partnering with the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute to conduct trainings on how to run for office and participate in democratic processes. This partnership forms part of USAID’s wider commitment to inclusive development, and to engaging LGBTI communities as important actors in international development who have the potential and power to advance human rights, promote broad-based civic participation, and drive inclusive economic growth.

Victory Institute, with support from USAID, conducts training on on respecting and protecting LGBTI rights in Cartagena

Victory Institute, with support from USAID, conducts training on on respecting and protecting LGBTI rights in Cartagena. Photo credit: Victory Institute

Since 2006, USAID/Colombia has been a flagship bilateral mission for its work in supporting LGBTI community efforts fighting discrimination and stigmatization. In addition, USAID/Colombia has provided training for police and other public servants on respecting and protecting LGBTI rights. These continued efforts and strong ties to grassroots LGBTI organizations made Colombia a good fit for piloting the LGBTI Global Development Partnership trainings.

As reported in the Washington Blade, from August 29th-September 1st, the Victory Institute – with support from USAID – led a four-day training in Cartagena for 30 Colombian LGBTI activists interested in running for political office or managing campaigns. These inspiring individuals, who hailed from as far away as the Amazon rainforest, rural regions along the Atlantic Coast and Bogota, came together to learn the art and craft of running successful political campaigns in an effort to become more effective advocates for LGBTI rights in their own communities.

One such activist I had the pleasure of meeting was Jhosselyn Pájaro, a transsexual woman who ran for municipal council in the city of Arjona outside of Cartagena. She ran for office to let her community know that LGBTI people like her lived in the community and wanted to make a difference. Although she did not win a seat on the council, she was successful in raising awareness about LGBTI people and the rights and concerns they have living in Colombia. She attended the USAID-supported training to learn new skills as she hopes to again run for political office, and next time, win.

It is inspiring stories like these, from LGBTI individuals who face discrimination on an almost daily basis that makes the work of USAID all the more important. Through the LGBTI Global Development Partnership, USAID is working with our partners to strengthen LGBTI civil society organizations, enhance LGBTI participation in democratic processes, and undertake research on the economic impact of LGBTI discrimination.

At USAID, we are bringing together local activists and community leaders. In Colombia, organizations such as Colombia Diversa, Caribe Afirmativo, and Santamaria Fundación illustrate the dedication and service to their constituents that USAID values.We are helping these community leaders to advocate for a more inclusive society that embraces what LGBTI people have to offer in the development of their own societies, economies, and local institutions. Together, in partnership, we are working to ensure LGBTI people have equal rights as enshrined in international human rights and domestic law, and access to education, employment, health care and housing – what we consider as important elements of inclusive sustainable development.

Learn more about how USAID is advancing and protecting the human rights of the LGBTI community.

Empowering Women with the Female Condom

September 16 is Global Female Condom Day. 

Believe it or not, the female condom is a controversial tool in the arsenal against HIV transmission. Donors argue that it’s expensive and not widely used. Women complain that it’s too big and hard to insert. What no one can argue is that it works.

Female condoms are the only woman-initiated method available that offers dual protection from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Studies have shown that the female condom is at least as effective as the male condom in reducing the risk of contracting STIs and can reduce the per-act probability of HIV infection by 97 percent. Studies from Madagascar, Brazil, Kenya, India and the United States demonstrate that female condom promotion and use increases the total number of protected sex acts.

RH Councillor Jonathan Kabanda in a councilling session with client Pauline Phiri at SFH Obote Site, Livingstone, Zambia. Photo credit: PSI

RH Councillor Jonathan Kabanda with a female condom in a counselling session with client Pauline Phiri at SFH Obote Site, Livingstone, Zambia. Photo credit: PSI

But to provide the dual protection it was designed for, female condoms must be used. And while gaining acceptability and uptake among women is not an easy task, it can be done.

Patience Kunaka first heard about female condoms in Zimbabwe in the early 1990s. “I first thought it might be a good prevention tool. In those days, HIV was taking its toll and antiretroviral therapy was not yet known and available.”

Patience worked then as a midwife trainer for the National Health Ministry. While her training provided her with knowledge of reproductive anatomy, she was still shocked when she saw the female condom. “I wondered how it would remain inside me with the movement of the penis. I thought it would be sliding in and out and become a really messy act!”

Despite her concerns, she attended a female condom training and decided to try one during her menstrual cycle. “It takes a lot of practice to get used to it. But it’s worth it in the end.”

Patience joined Population Services International (PSI) Zimbabwe in 2006 as the training manager and has become an outspoken advocate for female condoms. “It takes time to get used to female condoms but mainly it takes a positive attitude toward trying it. I am a regular user and talk to a lot of women about trying it.”

In the nearly 20 years since it started programming for female condoms, PSI has learned valuable lessons in supporting their uptake. Relying solely on traditional commercial marketing strategies is not effective. PSI targets female gathering places such as hair salons, which allow for prolonged interaction between potential users and promoters to encourage trial and repeat use. Promoters receive intensive training to demonstrate female condom use with interpersonal communication to their female peers. Non-traditional channels also include barber shops and gathering places for men, which can help programs achieve male partner buy-in.

As the international community gathers to celebrate Global Female Condom Day on September 16, it is important to remember that the female condom provides another option for women whose partners refuse to wear a male condom or women who want to take charge of their own reproductive health. As additional female condoms become commercially available, the prices will hopefully reduce, providing access to an even greater number of women. And while programming for female condoms can be complex—just as any behavior change can be—women like Patience Kunaka demand it.

Through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), USAID supports PSI and other implementing partners’ female condom programming in a number of sub-Saharan African countries.

Celebrating the Richness of Uzbekistan’s Harvest

I recently experienced the richness of Uzbek fruit at a USAID-sponsored local Peach Variety Contest in the Andijan Province of Uzbekistan. It was an unforgettable opportunity for me to witness the rich abundance of Uzbekistan’s land. Farmers came and presented their own samples from six provinces: Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, Namangan, Fergana and Andijan. It was difficult to believe that there were so many different varieties of peaches and nectarines! After a round of objective judging, the farmers with the best ones were awarded various farm tools as prizes. The event also served as an opportunity for farmers to learn new approaches for harvesting and post-harvest management of their produce, and female participants learned new techniques for processing their homemade jams and preserves.

Rural children enjoy prize-winning fruits of the Ferghana Valley at a USAID-sponsored agricultural contest. Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Rural children enjoy prize-winning fruits of the Ferghana Valley at a USAID-sponsored agricultural contest. Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

In rural and farming communities, word of mouth is the most meaningful means of information dissemination. Farmers are as curious and competitive as they are cautious; they are always interested in what crops their neighbors are growing, what approaches they use, and, most importantly, what results they achieve. These fruit contests are an important opportunity for local technical experts to share their knowledge with other farmers. For example, the household-level peach processing training conducted for Uzbek women during the Andijan peach contest will help them improve their family’s nutrition in the winter time. With over two-thirds of Uzbekistan’s population residing in rural areas, agricultural development is crucial to increasing local economic opportunity and addressing rural poverty and food security.

The history of private farming in Uzbekistan is very new; it has been only seven years since the production cooperative farm organizations (shirkats) were disbanded and all farm production responsibilities were transferred to private farmers. Since then, USAID agricultural projects have been at the cutting edge of providing Uzbekistan’s new private farmers with a strong production-based set of technology transfer activities that positively impact farm level quality and productivity. During our first year of this project, USAID introduced 3,000 farmers to new production techniques that, at a minimum, doubled crop yields and resulted in up to six-fold increases in sales. This agricultural assistance in Uzbekistan has increased some farm incomes by up to 80 percent through improved agricultural techniques.

Although prizes were given to farmers with the best varieties of peaches presented at the contest, one could see that there was not only competition among farmers, but collaboration among them as well. It was inspiring to see them discussing the characteristics of different samples that were presented; their advantages and their weaknesses; sharing their own experiences and knowledge; and offering tips to each other. A majority of farmers and their families attend variety contests because they learn something new that will help to improve their family’s nutrition, decrease spoilage and increase their profits. After most variety contests, farmers arrange for visits to each other’s farms to continue exchanging information and learning from each other. Winning farmers are inundated with requests for transplants and grafting material from their prized plants. For me, this is a classic example of how USAID fosters events with lasting results. The connections that farmers make with each other and the skills they transfer will continue beyond the life of any one project.

Additional resources:

What Do Walmart and USAID Have In Common?

This originally appeared on the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition Blog.

So what do Walmart and USAID have in common? That was a question we at Walmart asked ourselves several years ago.

Well, for starters we both can be found all over the globe, but what else? We both work with farmers and business owners—USAID through sustainable development efforts and Walmart through our supply chain. We both have demonstrated a commitment to community-oriented solutions that solve big problems. And perhaps most importantly, like USAID, Walmart believes that businesses have an important role to play in advancing the economic development of the communities we serve around the world.

(from L-TO-R) Mike Duke, President & CEO, Walmart; Dan Bartlett, Executive VP of Corporate Affairs, Walmart; Rajiv Shah, Administrator, USAID. Photo credit: USGLC

(from L-TO-R) Mike Duke, President & CEO, Walmart; Dan Bartlett, Executive VP of Corporate Affairs, Walmart; Rajiv Shah, Administrator, USAID. Photo credit: USGLC

That’s why today Walmart, the Walmart Foundation, and USAID signed a new global Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to work even closer together on our common goals. You see, Walmart and USAID share the same approach to doing business, believing in the power of partnerships, leveraging assets, and maximizing resources.

Walmart’s global initiatives often have a development goal, and we are excited to work alongside USAID on Women’s Economic Empowerment, Farmer Training and Sustainable Agriculture, and Vocational and Youth Skill Training. Whether it’s our initiative to train one million farmers or to double our sourcing from women-owned businesses, the goal is to help farmers and women access modern supply chains, increase their income, and in turn, contribute to the economic development of their communities.

By working hand-in-hand with the USAID Forward initiative, Walmart will be able to leverage and scale existing programs while allowing us to maximize one another’s expertise. In Central America, while USAID helps train farmers on agricultural standards and how to produce more in their harvests, Walmart can determine the right assortment and timing for farm products we need in our stores. It’s a win-win as farmers have a sustainable income from their work, Walmart has access to locally grown fruits and vegetables, and consumers in the region have the products they want.

Last year alone, Walmart purchased $75 million in produce from 3,400 small and medium-sized farmers and their families, accounting for 35 percent of fruit, grain, and vegetables sold in our stores across Central America.

We look forward to strengthening our partnerships with U.S. development programs as we continue to invest in emerging markets. We believe there will be new opportunities to leverage the Feed the Future initiative to assist more African farmers in providing for their families, serving as another effective example of just how much a difference public-private partnerships can make.

This is truly doing good by doing well, and it’s important for building our economy here at home, providing opportunity in struggling communities around the world, and in creating a better, safer world.

Sarah Thorn serves as Senior Director of Federal Government Relations for Walmart and as Vice President of the Board of Directors for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

Learn more about the partnership between USAID and Walmart.

How USAID’s Partners are Transitioning to E-payments

This originally appeared on Devex

This spring I had the opportunity to speak to 170 participants around the world in an interactive webinar the USAID/IDEA Mobile Solutions team organized, called “Demystifying Electronic Payments: Lessons Learned from Pathfinder on Transitioning Away From Cash.” I’m excited about this, because I think it’s a great example of the next step we’re taking towards transforming our Agency.

Our Mobile Solutions at USAID team is young – we started two years ago with no budget and 1.5 people. What we set out to do is really a change-management program within our agency. We’re working to make mobile technology a core part of how we do our work, including transitioning our programs from cash to e-payments.

A neighborhood shopkeeper writes down transaction details after processing a mobile money transfer. Photo: Manpreet Romana/AFP, USAID.

A neighborhood shopkeeper writes down transaction details after processing a mobile money transfer. Photo: Manpreet Romana/AFP, USAID.

With colleagues at organizations like CGAP, the Gates Foundation, and Mercy Corps, we’ve done a lot of work to help people understand what mobile money is and why it’s worth working on. It has been such a rich experience because we’ve had both grassroots support as well as that of our leadership. There’s no way we could have gotten where we are without our CFO, General Council, procurement team, and especially our field staff.

While working with these incredible champions, we’ve received many requests for tools, resources, and trainings. As our team and our experience grow, we’re helping them move from supporting the idea of mobile money to the nitty gritty of implementation. A strong demand for real world examples was the inspiration for the webinar, almost a “Mobile Money 201” course. We wanted to take a deep look at how an organization that’s committed to going from cash to almost all electronic payments gets there.

We also really wanted to hear from the field, so we were lucky to have Mustafa Kudrati and Peter Mihayo of Pathfinder Tanzania speak to their lessons learned, challenges, and successes in transitioning from cash to electronic payments.

They answered questions such as: What are recommended standard operating procedures for payment disbursement and reconciliation? What are key considerations for others exploring the transition? Some of the things they shared really got me thinking about how all this works in the field, including:

  • Reducing cash payments: Pathfinder Tanzania went from making 30-50 percent of payments in cash to writing only 3-5 checks per month. This statistic is just stunning to me.
  • Increasing transparency and efficiency: Pathfinder could ensure that all funding for training participants went to registered accounts they could trace, making the program more transparent. This is a recurring theme we hear from our partners.
  • Reaching scale: Mustafa reminds me there was no way the program would have reached so many participants without transitioning to e-payments. Between June and December  Pathfinder trained more than 4,000 people scattered throughout 40 districts. Without mobile money, they estimate it would have taken 18 months to do this. And now, they have a vision for serving even more people with these new payment tools.

That’s amazing, and that’s what we want to see – successful projects at USAID quickly scale approaches that they’ve seen enhance people’s lives. It’s a powerful story, and it shows that mobile payments change our work in a very fundamental way.

Explore related content: 

Learn more about USAID’s mobile solutions

Photo of the Week: Securing Water for Food

Securing Water For Food: A Grand Challenge For Development

On September 2, USAID and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) announced a new program “Securing Water for Food: A Grand Challenge for Development” to address water scarcity, one of the most pressing global challenges. Through this Grand Challenge, we will identify and accelerate science and technology innovations and market-driven approaches that improve water sustainability to boost food security and alleviate poverty.

To advance meeting this goal, USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures announced last week that it will invest stage 1 funding in mWater’s mobile tech and open data solution to clean drinking water.

Learn more about the “Securing Water for Food” Grand Challenge.

Read more about mWater’s project, and learn about USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures program.

Like USAID on Facebook and follow @USAID on Twitter for factoids, photos and interesting stories during World Water Week with hashtag #WWWeek

No Longer Just Food: Communities Create Assets to Build Food Security in South Sudan

As USAID’s Food for Peace Officer assigned to South Sudan since October 2011, I have seen firsthand how U.S. government food assistance programs are simultaneously supporting communities’ efforts to create assets that strengthen their food security while providing vital timely assistance to food insecure South Sudanese.

A little over two years since declaring independence following more than 20 years of civil war, South Sudan is still struggling to build infrastructure and institutions to function as a sovereign state. Pockets of continuing civil conflict and erratic weather patterns plus a massive influx of refugees from Sudan and the return of thousands of people of South Sudanese origin after years of living in Sudan have strained food security in this new nation struggling to find its footing. Disputes with Sudan continue to threaten landlocked South Sudan’s ability to export oil through Sudan’s pipeline—and generate revenue South Sudan needs to finance its development. All these factors contribute to a continued need for substantial food assistance in South Sudan.

Women construct a water pond in South Sudan

Women constructing a water pond in South Sudan. Water ponds are built where there is a natural depression and water traditionally collects during the rainy season. The women are deepening and enlarging the area so that they will have water for a longer period of time during the dry season. Photo credit: Elizabeth Chambers, USAID

Poor, vulnerable communities are often risk averse, but in areas of South Sudan where peace has taken hold, citizens have embraced an innovative approach called “Food-for-Assets.” They build a critically needed asset in their community and receive remuneration in sorghum, pulses and vegetable oil, in lieu of cash. This reduces their susceptibility to shocks to their food security and contributes to the development of the community. As these activities are undertaken during the year when such commodities are scarce, this approach frees participants from the daily worry about accessing food for their families. To ensure sustainability, the participants themselves identify their key community needs and the resources required to implement the asset-building projects.

So why is this innovative? As a result of chronic food insecurity and conflict, South Sudan has received widespread free food distributions for years. By focusing on a Food-for-Assets approach, we are fostering a shift from dependency on food aid to sustainable livelihoods. By empowering communities to build or improve local assets, we improve their resilience to shocks, such as floods, so that one day these communities will no longer need food assistance.

Woman in South Sudan observes the construction of a water pond

Woman in South Sudan observes the construction of a water pond. Photo credit: Elizabeth Chambers, USAID

For example, in Warrap State, I visited a community benefiting from one of our food assistance programs supported by the UN World Food Program (WFP). The community had built a bridge over a marshland to connect 5,000 people in 24 isolated villages to main roads, thereby improving access to local markets, health centers and other services. The value of the bridge is incalculable as it not only drastically reduced transport costs for commercial produce and other goods, but also facilitated access to life-saving health care. More importantly, it brought the communities on either side of the bridge together to work on a common goal, become better neighbors and reduce tensions. Local authorities realized the powerful impact of this activity and provided the culverts needed for part of the construction, while USAID provided 48 metric tons of food through WFP to approximately 100 participants in return for their labor. Construction began in November 2012 and was completed in April 2013. When I visited in May 2013 to check on progress of the project, the pride of participants from the communities on each side of the bridge was palpable.

In Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, I visited an access road and cattle pond that a community built—more Food-for-Assets activities USAID implemented with WFP. Local participants provided labor for the road and water point, while WFP distributed 170 metric tons of food contributed by USAID in exchange for their work. WFP also provided hand tools, training and technical support. The road now connects 6,800 people in 48 rural villages to main roads as well as markets, health centers and social services, and the waterhole provides drinking water for their cattle.  As I drove down the new road, I saw new development activities along the way, including the opening of new agricultural lands and building of new markets and classrooms.

Through Food-for-Assets, WFP assisted 445,000 residents in South Sudan between April and December 2012, and plans to reach about one million people in South Sudan through Food-for-Assets activities in 2013. USAID, through its partnership with WFP, provides commodities for Food-for-Assets programs which not only support the construction of roads and bridges, but also rehabilitate farmland, plant vegetable gardens to improve nutrition, dig irrigation ponds, and train farmers on practical skills to improve crop and vegetable production. USAID is the largest provider of food assistance to South Sudan, contributing 41 percent of WFP’s funding.

Learn more about the Office of Food for Peace‘s work to reduce hunger and malnutrition, and ensure that all people at all times have access to sufficient food for a healthy and productive life.

Photos of the Week: AID in Action: Delivering on Results

Driving human progress is at the core of USAID’s mission, but what do development results look like?

USAID is measuring our leadership in results — not dollars spent — implementing innovative, cost-effective strategies to save lives. Through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing new partners and young minds to transform more lives than ever before. Our new model for development embraces game-changing partnerships that leverage resources, expertise, and science and technology to maximize our impact and deliver real results.

Take a look at the Agency’s top recent and historical achievements in promoting better health; food security; democracy and good governance; education; economic growth, and in providing a helping hand to communities in need around the globe.

Read the stories behind the results in the special edition of FrontLines: Aid in Action: Delivering on Results.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDpubs for ongoing updates on the best of our results!

Video of the Week: Empowering Women Through Horticultural Innovations

The USAID Horticulture Project in Bangladesh aims to educate and train local farmers on innovative agricultural technologies that help diversify crops to increase nutritional value. With our partners the International Potato Center, AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center, BRAC and Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), we are working with local farmers to diversify diets and agricultural production systems with potato, orange-fleshed sweet potato, summer tomato, and nutritious indigenous vegetables. Meet some of the women farmers that have benefited from training in grafting tomato and producing sweet potato seedlings.

Learn more about our Mission of the Month: USAID Bangladesh.

Like USAID Bangladesh on Facebook and follow @USAID_BD and #MissionofMonth on Twitter for ongoing updates!

USAID in the News

The Huffington Post reports that The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) initiative just announced its investment in mWater. A non-profit tech startup, mWater has created an app for mobile phone users to instantly test and analyze water quality from local sources and share this information on their global, open-source water monitoring database.

The Nation reported that The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will help expand the U.S.-Asean Business Council’s training programs for small and medium-sized enterprises. The council’s and USAID’s new ASEAN connectivity through trade and investment programs will partner to expand the resources, scope and diversity of SME training in the run-up to the creation of the Asean Economic Community in 2015.

AP reported that Nancy Lindborg, a USAID assistant administrator for democracy, conflict, and humanitarian assistance, said Washington had allocated $45 million out of $1 billion in aid for Syrian refugees in Iraq and “we’re looking at how we can contribute more.”

Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported that Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (USAID) announced on Tuesday it was to provide USD 2.4 million worth of food aid to societies in Jordan, which are suffering from food insecurity.

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