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Archives for UNGA

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.

The Journey Towards “Cash Light”

Around the world, 2.5 billion people lack access to formal financial services. As a result, most poor households live almost entirely in a cash economy. The Better Than Cash Alliance, a global public-private partnership dedicated to accelerating the use of electronic payments in place of physical cash.  USAID convened the Alliance, which includes forward-thinking partners like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, the Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, Visa Inc., and the U.N Capital Development Fund, to move the world toward a more transparent, efficient, inclusive, cash-light society.

Shifting to electronic distribution of social benefits, humanitarian aid or payroll payments can advance financial inclusion and help poor people build savings while achieving cost savingsefficiency and transparency.  The Alliance provides expertise and resources needed to make the transition from cash to digital payments to achieve the shared goals of empowering people and growing emerging economies.

Visit for more information.

From Conflict to Coping

Tisda, Mercy Corps Program Officer, in Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Erin Gray, Mercy Corps

Last summer, amidst the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in generations, Mercy Corps received encouraging news from local officials in the Somali-Oromiya region of Ethiopia.  In this area – long known for conflict, scarce resources and harsh conditions – communities that had participated in USAID-supported Mercy Corps peacebuilding efforts were reportedly coping better than they had during less severe droughts in the past.

We were intrigued, so we sent out a research team—and the findings were striking: when local conflict had been addressed, people were far better equipped to survive the drought.

To understand why, put yourself in the position of an Ethiopian herder.  When a drought hits, you can cope in several ways.  First, you will sell the weakest animals in your herd, raising cash to meet your family’s short-term needs while reducing grazing pressure on a water-scare environment. You may migrate with the remaining herd to areas where the grazing potential is better.  Along the way, you will rely on sharing access to scarce remaining water resources wherever you go.

Yet conflict can make these coping mechanisms impossible – blocking market access, freedom of movement, and access to shared resources like water. In this part of Ethiopia, population pressure and climate change had strained resources, spurring violence that in 2008-09 resulted in massive loss of lives and assets. In response to that conflict, Mercy Corps initiated a peacebuilding process in 2009 with support from USAID.  We helped participating communities focus on establishing peaceful relations, economic linkages, and joint management of natural resources.

A “resilience” approach to aid focuses on understanding, and improving, how communities cope with drought and other shocks.  Instead of just providing assistance that meets immediate material needs, a resilience approach also focuses on factors that affect a community’s ability to cope.  As Mercy Corps found last summer in Ethiopia, this often means focusing on factors that fall well outside the traditional assistance toolkit.

The program had focused on reducing violence – but our researchers found that it also built resilience along the way. Communities that participated in Mercy Corps’ program reported greater freedom of movement and fewer barriers to accessing resources, markets and public services than did non-participating communities. They identified greater freedom of movement as the single most important factor contributing to their ability to cope and adapt to the severe drought conditions. As one herder from the Wachile community said, “It is very difficult to use or access dry reserves (grazing areas) located in contending communities in a situation where there is no peace…the peace dialogues in the area have improved community interaction and helped us to access these resources.”

Our research report – titled Conflict to Coping – confirmed the important link between conflict and resilience in this region, and demonstrated that effective peacebuilding interventions help build resilience to crises.  Participating communities showed less reliance on distressful coping strategies, especially depletion of productive assets, than other communities. Importantly, the increased peace and security has allowed participating communities to employ more effective livelihood coping strategies, enabling them to better cope with extreme droughts.

Live @ UNGA: Day One

Follow the online conversation on our Storify Feed

This week, Administrator Shah and other Agency leaders are participating in several events taking place during and around the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Sunday evening we kicked off our week here in New York at the Social Good Summit, a three-day conference where big ideas meet new media to create innovative solutions. This Summit unites a dynamic community of global leaders to discuss a big idea: the power of innovative thinking and technology to solve our greatest challenges. The most innovative technologists, influential minds and passionate activists will come together with one shared goal: to unlock the potential of new media and technology to make the world a better place, and then to translate that potential into action.

USAID’s chief innovation officer, Maura O’Neil launched the mWomen Design Challenge with partners GSMA, Qtel Group, AusAID, to help improve mobile access for women in developing nations by improving the user experience. She addressed the technical literacy barrier of women’s mobile phone access and ownership. The event included a live design demo and discussions on improving mobile design to make it more intuitive for illiterate populations and the importance of collaborating with the private sector to drive change at scale.

Administrator Shah also appeared at the Social Good Summit yesterday where he spoke on a panel organized by UNICEF called  A Promise Renewed. The event highlighted child survival, technology and innovation for change. Dr. Shah spoke on a panel moderated by CNN anchor Zain Verjee, along with Tony Lake, UNICEF, Clay Shirky and Ethiopian Health Minister Tedros.

Yesterday we also launched two incredible partnerships.

Administrator Shah co-hosted the launch event for the Better than Cash Alliance, a global public-private partnership dedicated to supporting organizations’ transition away from cash to electronic payments. USAID convened the founders of the Alliance, which include The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, U.N. Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and Visa Inc. The Alliance will call on governments, the development community and the private sector to adopt the use of electronic payments for programs that support people living in poverty and provide resources to those who commit to make the transition. Watch the  video.

And finally, Administrator Shah concluded the evening by joining New York Times Journalist Nicholas Kristof and others in commemorating Half the Sky, the best-selling book and multimedia initiative which tell the stories of women in the developing world on issues of family planning, health, girl’s education, sex trafficking, women’s economic empowerment, and domestic violence. USAID  supported the development of eighteen educational and advocacy videos, and three mobile phone games on health and gender equity, developed by Show of Force partner, Games for Change, which will be launched in the early fall for use in East Africa and India.  At the event, Dr. Shah launched Women and Girls Lead Global, a public-private alliance with Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Ford Foundation, in cooperation with CARE, focused on using the power of documentary film and new media to empower women and girls around the world.

To keep up with our team live at #UNGA, Follow @USAID, the Administrator @rajshah, Assistant Administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan @Thieristan or Chief Innovator @MauraATUSAID.

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.

Visa Joins Global Partnership

This post originally appeared on the Better Than Cash Blog

Today, Visa joins with six partners from government, the private sector and the international development community to launch the Better Than Cash Alliance. Working together with our other founding members – the United Nations Capital Development Fund, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Citi, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Omidyar Network – the Alliance will help bring many of the world’s 2.5 billion unbanked people into the financial mainstream by providing them with resources that are safer and more useful than physical cash.

Around the world, governments, the development community and the private sector are making billions of dollars in cash payments to the poor – in salaries, pensions, emergency relief, social aid and more. Making these payments in physical cash or in-kind goods costs poor people time and money and can be unsafe.

To begin with, people in developing countries often have to travel great distances just to collect cash payments. That can mean days away from work and their families and, worse, the risk of being robbed on the journey back. Delivering cash to poor recipients often involves several couriers – and if any of these intermediaries pocket part of the amount, cash is impossible to track.

For anyone without a bank account, cash also is hard to save. Shifting payments to electronic or mobile payments offers more security and convenience – and, more importantly, an onramp to financial inclusion by providing easier access to accounts they could use to save, get a loan or make payments of their own.

At Visa, we are proud of the work we are doing already around the world to help governments enable the electronic delivery of social benefits and other disbursements. For example, in Mexico, Visa works with the government-owned Bank of National Savings and Financial Savings (Bansefi) to distribute social program benefits via Visa debit and prepaid cards to 6.5 million people, giving recipients opportunities to use financial services to save, budget and improve their lives.

In the Dominican Republic, Visa and the government teamed up to boost the national financial inclusion rate and address theft and delay issues of government benefits by distributing reloadable Visa Solidaridad cards. Today, more than 800,000 people in the Dominican Republic receive their aid via Visa card—which also helps provide customers for local merchants as those citizens use their cards to pay for food, fuel and medicines.

Through this innovative partnership, Visa and our partners in the Alliance aim to provide governments, the development community and the private sector with the inspiration, technical expertise and financial support to commit to making the transition to electronic payments and unleash new potential to reduce poverty and promote economic development.

Learn more by visiting the Better Than Cash Alliance website.

Designing for Women: The Mobile Challenge

Imagine if you picked up a smartphone and didn’t know how to use it. What must it be like to have such a powerful device in the palm of your hand and not be able to utilize it? For many technically illiterate women in the developing world, navigating a smartphone or even a more basic feature phone is a real challenge.

Based on research performed in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda, as part of the GSMA mWomen Program, we know that on average, resource-poor women are 22% less likely to want a mobile phone because they would not know how to use it.  Yet we also know from other GSMA research that mobile phones afford women critical entrepreneurial opportunities, security, and a greater sense of family connection.

Mobile phone use in the developing world is exploding, yet women are at risk of being left behind, missing out on opportunities and services from education to healthcare.  Making the user experience easier would open up a multitude of possibilities. So what if there was a more intuitive way of navigating your phone?

The GSMA mWomen Program, as part of USAID’s mWomen Global Development Alliance, has set out to do just that by launching the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge: Redefining the User Experience at the third annual Social Good Summit in New York. Through submissions from the global design and developer community, the Design Challenge seeks to increase access to life enhancing mobile services so that regardless of someone’s skill level, they can pick up a phone and maximize its potential.

At the Social Good Summit, USAID, GSMA, AusAID, Qtel Group and the design firm Huge, shared possible approaches to solving this issue, by making the mobile user interface and experience more intuitive.  Mobile phones are a real game changer when it comes to tackling global challenges around the world but if the design does not change, hundreds of millions of women risk being left out in this next mobile revolution.  That is a risk we cannot afford to take.

And now, the good news…

As featured on DFID’s blog

As a journalist I spend a lot of time reporting on the developing world. To be honest, many of my stories focus on problems and failures, so when I was approached to moderate an event about the Millennium Development Goals during the UN General Assembly, to showcase solutions and successes, I couldn’t resist taking the project on.

Inspiration: Femi Oke talking to Dr Isatou Njie Saidy. Photo Credit: USAID

On paper, ‘MDG Countdown 2011, Successes and Innovations’ was impressive. The event co-hosts,  DFID and USAID,  had come up with an engaging mix of strong speakers, positive case studies and celebrity guests, all packed into a dynamic 90-minute presentation. It looked good on paper… On the day, as the highlights video shows, it was even better and I got to present some good news for a change.

Before taking the stage, I got some last-minute inspiration for my presentation from the first female Vice President of Gambia, Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy. Gambia’s success story at the event focused on progress in education. The country’s Children’s Act of 2005 established compulsory basic education as law and Gambia has seen impressive increases in the numbers of children enrolled for school – especially girls.

Read more.

FWD the Facts

On Saturday, September 24, 2011, I had the privilege to help organize a panel discussion at the United States Mission to the United Nations in NYC, followed by a presentation on the new USAID FWD the Facts campaign that had just been released a few days prior.  The panel consisted of civically engaged youth both domestically and globally and was moderated by Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero.  There were well over fifty young people in the audience ranging from college students to professionals.

Ross Seidman is a member of Youth Service America’s National Youth Council and Board of Directors, and the Youth Working Group to the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO. Photo Credit:Nicole Goldin/USAID

After the panel ended, we regrouped for a presentation and workshop led by Nicole Goldin of USAID (with collaborating representatives from the Ad Council and RGA) to educate the audience on the new FWD the Facts campaign.  It is a new effort that hopes to educate and engage the American public on the crisis affecting over 13 million people in the Horn of Africa.  After being presented with the facts and goals of the campaign the audience split up into three groups to discuss both the strengths and opportunities we saw.

We loved that the website is so simple and that it is so easy to become engaged in the initiative through the “ACTION” tab, specifically the “FWD Knowledge” download.  Many people also brought up the campaign’s opportunity to build connections through personal experiences of those living in the Horn of Africa.  This would motivate people to get involved as we want to see both the macro and micro dynamics of the situation.  Much of the conversation also centered around what college students could do on campus to bring awareness and action to the cause.  Ideas that floated around ranged from creating a network of “interns” on different campuses that could work with preexisting campus groups and administrators to finding corporate sponsorship to create an online interactive platform that could include a direct action piece via the web.  People also suggested an App and serious gaming.

It was an empowering opportunity to be a focus group for such a large initiative and have the ability to provide direct input and ideas to representatives from USAID, RGA, and the Ad Council.  Programs like this are exactly the types of things that make us feel directly involved in the process in a meaningful way.  These occasions are the motivation that many young people need to become involved in initiatives and some of the ideas from those in attendance have the potential to empower even more young people in meaningful leadership experiences through service-learning.  I know this was the beginning of the conversation, not the end, and I look forward to continuing the dialogue.

Ross Seidman is a freshman at the University of Maryland, a member of Youth Service America’s National Youth Council and Board of Directors and the Youth Working Group to the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO.

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