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An Appeal for More Support for Youth Civic Engagement

Students in Jordan debate on a live TV show as part of the Ana Usharek and Usharek+ youth political participation program. / Haniyeh Dmour, National Democratic Institute

Students in Jordan debate on a live TV show as part of the Ana Usharek and Usharek+ youth political participation program. / Haniyeh Dmour, National Democratic Institute

The program carries a simple name, but a powerful purpose.

Since 2012, Ana Usharek — which means “I Participate” in Arabic — has brought together more than 11,000 young people across Jordan to take a leading role in promoting civic participation and engaging with government. This is noteworthy in a country where young people have limited opportunities to engage in public policy processes — despite representing about 70 percent of the population.

Through local advocacy initiatives and peer-led discussions on democracy and human rights, university and high school students are raising their voices on important issues at a critical period in their country’s history.

They’ve challenged the views of decision makers and members of parliament in roundtables and town hall meetings. They’ve visited local organizations, discussing such issues as the 2013 parliamentary elections, decentralization and political party laws.

Youth involved in Usharek+, the advanced student participation program, have led dozens of local advocacy initiatives addressing issues such as changing the university grading system as well as amending the Press and Publications Law.

It’s clear: Young changemakers, particularly when given opportunities and support, have the vision, imagination, energy, ability and persistence to help bring lasting, positive social change.

On International Youth Day, we are reminded that the international development community must build stronger partnerships with youth so they can not only meaningfully participate in development programs but also in important decision-making processes within their communities, nations, and at the global level.

Too often, youth participation efforts are narrowly focused on “youth” issues which frequently exclude broader societal concerns, as many older people think the young aren’t interested in “abstract” issues such as democracy.

But in-depth country studies, conducted by Restless Development, revealed that governance was the most important issue overall for the young people surveyed. And “an honest and responsive government” was listed among the top four concerns in the United Nation’s MyWorld2015 survey, whose respondents were overwhelmingly under 30.

In Nicaragua, partner organizations bring together hundreds of youth every year to foster democratic values and provide them with leadership skills. / Bartolomé Ibarra, National Democratic Institute

In Nicaragua, partner organizations bring together hundreds of youth every year to foster democratic values and provide them with leadership skills. / Bartolomé Ibarra, National Democratic Institute

But a few key impediments need to be addressed. For example, we need to create more meaningful opportunities to engage youth in civic issues, since adults frequently dominate existing channels for participation. In addition, we need to focus on educating youth about public policy issues and help them develop skills in critical thinking, public speaking and advocacy.

Most importantly, to counter apathy, we must help instill in young people the belief that their participation will indeed make a difference in the future of their country.  One way of doing this is to provide youth the opportunity to engage in efforts in which they can make a difference, and achieve at least a small degree of success.

These challenges are even greater among marginalized youth, such as young women, adolescent girls, LGBTI, indigenous youth, and youth who are disabled or are from minority ethnic groups.

The Ana Usharek and Usharek+ programs, both supported by USAID and implemented by our partner the National Democratic Institute, are tackling these challenges in Jordan and have built up the capacity of youth to engage in constructive dialogues on important public policy issues.

Similarly, USAID is working to enhance youth participation in political processes and other critical issues, including countering violence, promoting peacebuilding, and supporting inclusive, transparent and accountable governance in places such as Kosovo, Kenya, Nicaragua and Guatemala, among others. President Obama’s youth leadership programs, such as YALI, also play a critical role as they help generate support for youth participation.

As we celebrate International Youth Day, let’s reflect on the various ways in which we can support more meaningful youth civic participation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maryanne Yerkes is a senior civil society and youth advisor in USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.

Empowering Youth: Expanding Access to Reproductive Health

Youth face unique economic and social barriers to receiving family planning services, limiting their ability to make healthy choices about their reproductive health. USAID is committed to making youth’s aspirations a reality by expanding access to these services. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

Youth face unique economic and social barriers to receiving family planning services, limiting their ability to make healthy choices about their reproductive health. USAID is committed to making youth’s aspirations a reality by expanding access to these services. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

Like millions of women around the world, I want to help my children pursue the lives they dream of having. I want my younger child, a teenage girl, to have the same opportunities as the older one, a boy. I hope both of them will be treated fairly, regardless of their gender, as they acquire an education. I want them to develop the confidence to accomplish anything they strive for, and have every opportunity open to them.

As young adults, I want them to understand the importance of family planning so they are empowered to make good decisions. I hope they will wait to have a child until the time is right. If and when they decide to start families, I want them to be able to choose both the number of children they have and the timing and spacing of my grandchildren.

In my visits to USAID’s country programs, I’ve spoken with women across the globe — from Ethiopia to India — who want the same. What I want for my son and daughter are things that all young people deserve. Advancing youth’s access and understanding of family planning is not a “be all and end all” solution to poverty, inequity and poor health, but it’s still critical to ensuring healthy and fulfilling lives.

Yet too often, youth are underserved by family planning programs and reproductive health education, including HIV prevention. HIV and pregnancy-related complications are the major causes of death among youth worldwide. In many countries where USAID works, high levels of childbearing and an unmet need for contraception among adolescents are concerns.

Youth are not a homogenous population; their needs vary depending on their circumstances. In some areas, where there are social norms encouraging childbearing to prove fertility, married youth have a high unmet need for family planning. Young people outside urban areas are often overlooked by family planning programs and must travel long distances to find such services.

Why should we care? Expanding access to reproductive health services and information is vital to reducing inequality. When girls understand the importance of healthy timing and spacing, and when men and boys are engaged in family planning efforts, we are closer to achieving gender equality. Men and women’s equal investment in reproductive health strengthens families and improves the economic wellbeing of communities.

Maimouna Ba, the operator of a small reproductive health clinic in Senegal, explains the female condom to a university student. Local efforts of community members like Maimouna helps empower youth to make smart decisions about their reproductive health. / Benjamin Bynum

Maimouna Ba, the operator of a small reproductive health clinic in Senegal, explains the female condom to a university student. Local efforts of community members like Maimouna helps empower youth to make smart decisions about their reproductive health. / Benjamin Bynum

Making access available

USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health has prioritized youth, and the Agency as a whole is taking action to reach this underserved group.

USAID’s global flagship for strengthening family planning and reproductive health service delivery, Evidence 2 Action, is meeting the needs of young people by identifying, adopting and scaling evidence-based practices on a country-by-country basis. Similarly, USAID’s first dedicated cross-sectoral youth development project, YouthPower, aims to increase youth engagement in development and achieve positive outcomes across multiple sectors, including reproductive health.

USAID works with numerous partners to empower youth. In Senegal, a small reproductive health clinic, supported by USAID since 2012, provides services and counseling to university students in a safe and confidential setting. In Ukraine, a local NGO with its genesis in a former USAID-funded project called Together for Health mobilizes local youth to raise awareness of family planning and reproductive health issues, while dispelling common myths and misconceptions regarding contraception.

Youth account for more than 30 percent of the population in many developing countries. To harness the immense potential of the world’s young people, the global community must increase efforts to meaningfully involve youth in the decisions that impact their lives.

When we support young people’s aspirations and engage them in the global conversation on family planning, they better understand the importance of delaying the age when they have their first child and spacing pregnancies.

This not only will improve health outcomes, but will enable girls to remain in school, get jobs and meaningfully participate within their communities. Expanding educational and livelihood opportunities strengthens countries’ economies, while ending the cycle of poverty and making the world a better place.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ellen Starbird is the director of the Office of Population and Reproductive Health at USAID.

Championing Rights of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

K´iche´maya women in Guatemala show their inked fingers after voting. / Maureen Taft-Morales, USAID

K´iche´maya women in Guatemala show their inked fingers after voting. / Maureen Taft-Morales, USAID

In the early 1980s, I began traveling to remote areas of the world, where I was able to visit indigenous communities that were living in peace as well as communities under threat from logging, mining and oil extraction. What I saw and experienced taught me about the threats facing indigenous peoples and about the incredible resilience that they continue to demonstrate against overwhelming odds.

My real education began when I was asked by a group of indigenous leaders to help them get a voice in the 1992 Earth Summit. As we spent months going over the drafts of international agreements, word by word, I learned how indigenous peoples view these issues.

Organizational strengthening initiatives with the Misak people of Cauca, Colombia help recover traditional health practices and systemize an indigenous healthcare system that benefits a population of 21,000 people. / Katalina Morales, ACDI

Organizational strengthening initiatives with the Misak people of Cauca, Colombia help recover traditional health practices and systemize an indigenous healthcare system that benefits a population of 21,000 people. / Katalina Morales, ACDI

They value traditional knowledge in protecting biodiversity and responding to climate change, and argue that you can’t separate the question of territorial rights for indigenous peoples from environmental protection and sustainable development.

Sunday was the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. As USAID’s Advisor on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, I join with others around the world in celebrating the achievements and commemorating the struggles of the world’s indigenous peoples. They are the guardians of the Earth’s biological diversity, stewards of the world’s remaining intact ecosystems and have a crucial role to play in finding our way forward to a more just, equitable and sustainable world.

Briane Keane in the indigenous Sapara community of Llanchamacocha, Ecuador. / Jose Proano, Land is Life

Briane Keane in the indigenous Sapara community of Llanchamacocha, Ecuador. / Jose Proano, Land is Life

Yet, globally, indigenous peoples face many development challenges as their culture and livelihoods come under increasing threat. They suffer from poorer health, are more likely to experience disability, and ultimately die younger than the rest of the population, according to the World Health Organization. Seen as obstacles to development and progress, some indigenous peoples have been forced off of their traditional territories, robbing them of their way of life and traditional livelihoods, such as farming or fishing.

Indigenous women and children are particularly hard hit by the structural inequalities that indigenous communities face around the world. Indigenous women are often denied access to education, basic health services, and economic opportunities, leaving them disproportionately vulnerable in the face of natural disasters and armed conflict. Many of the most widespread causes of death among indigenous children — such as malnutrition, diarrhea, parasitic infections, and tuberculosis — are preventable.

In Cabrália, Brazil, a member of the Pataxó indigenous group learns to use a mobile device through the Fishing with 3G Nets program. The cell phones enable fisherman to find and share information useful to their trade – even while out on the water. / IABS

In Cabrália, Brazil, a member of the Pataxó indigenous group learns to use a mobile device through the Fishing with 3G Nets program. The cell phones enable fisherman to find and share information useful to their trade – even while out on the water. / IABS

If we are to ensure that the health and well-being of indigenous peoples is part of an inclusive development agenda, we must promote their right to self-determination, as well as their rights to collective ownership of lands, resources, and knowledge. Violations of these fundamental rights are directly related to lack of food security, lack of access to sustainable livelihoods, and the disruption of community cohesion, which all lead to poor health and development outcomes.

Last September, the world’s governments and indigenous peoples gathered for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. In the outcome document of this historic event, governments made commitments to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples, outlining a path to build peace and promote human development.

A woman participating in an Ethiopian land revitalization project. / Brian Keane, USAID

A woman participating in an Ethiopian land revitalization project. / Brian Keane, USAID

The U.S. Government has elaborated on our commitment in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, recognizing that indigenous peoples play a pivotal role in promoting sustainable development and conservation, and fighting climate change. The concerns of indigenous peoples will be integrated in USAID and State Department policies and programs, and the U.S. Government will help them strengthen resource management strategies, legalize their territories and improve their livelihoods.  

As the world’s governments prepare to gather at United Nations headquarters in New York next month to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals, it is critical that they remember the role of indigenous peoples as critical stakeholders in achieving these goals. Only with their participation and by recognizing and protecting their individual and collective rights, can we have development that is inclusive and sustainable.

The director of the Peruvian Forest Service listens to the leader of the National Federation of Peasant, Artisan, Indigenous, Native and Salaried Women-Arequipa. / Francisco Cruz, Chemonics International

The director of the Peruvian Forest Service listens to the leader of the National Federation of Peasant, Artisan, Indigenous, Native and Salaried Women-Arequipa. / Francisco Cruz, Chemonics International

Today, USAID joins indigenous peoples around the world in calling for the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Keane is the USAID Advisor on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues.

On the Job at USAID: Meeting An Amazing Global Health Hero

Dr. Suniti Solomon is pictured here in 2008 at the YRG Care Clinic, supported by USAID through the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, in India. / The Annenberg Foundation

Dr. Suniti Solomon is pictured here in 2008 at the YRG Care Clinic, supported by USAID through the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, in India. / The Annenberg Foundation

Sometimes, I hear the word “hero,” and I cringe. To me, the bar has to be pretty high to earn that title, so I’m careful to use the word, rather than throw it around thoughtlessly.

On July 28, in Chennai, India, the world that fights HIV lost a true hero – or heroine in this case. The headlines hit the international press: “Dr. Suniti Solomon, who woke India up to HIV threat, dies at 76.”

For the past week, I’ve read some of the many tributes to Dr. Solomon; a favorite was written by Michael Specter, a staff writer at The New Yorker who has written much about the AIDS pandemic.

He recounts an interview with this remarkable physician-scientist-researcher-humanitarian, when she told a story of the tragedy wrought by systemic stigma in the world of HIV and AIDS.

As a doctor, mother, wife and particularly humble humanitarian, this was what she railed against; she knew that stigma would be the force that would keep HIV underground, able to do irreparable damage to her beloved India.

Stigma allows HIV to kill like no other force really, and she was determined to spend the last 30 years of her life trying to overcome it.

At USAID, we are seriously fortunate to support a lot of remarkable people trying to find permanent solutions to really big problems like HIV and AIDS. It’s an amazing privilege afforded by the American people to approach these daunting issues that plague our fellow man.

In my three decades of working on the AIDS problem, and eight-plus years working at USAID, no single partner or investigator has affected me like Dr. Suniti Solomon.

As part of the Agency’s portfolio dedicated to finding an HIV vaccine—which one day will be added to the unparalleled efforts of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)—we supported Dr. Solomon’s clinic in educating vulnerable Indians to protect themselves against the virus, get tested and, if it was right for them, volunteer for an HIV vaccine trial.

We were certainly not alone in recognizing Dr. Solomon’s research capacity; she has been awarded many NIH grants which have provided a plethora of noteworthy scientific contributions. I remember being bowled-over the first time I visited and saw the volume of research charts in her clinic at YRG Care, the NGO she started in response to the needs of those who needed care, support, education and information about HIV awareness and prevention in India.

Dr. Suniti Solomon and Margaret McCluskey at the 5K Sunrise Walk for YRG Care in 2010 in Chennai, India. / International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), India

Dr. Suniti Solomon and Margaret McCluskey at the 5K Sunrise Walk for YRG Care in 2010 in Chennai, India. / International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), India

How lucky was I, a nurse who’s been at this fight against HIV and AIDS for decades, not only to conduct periodic site visits to Dr. Solomon’s clinic, but once to be seated beside her on a long flight back to Washington, D.C. She had a speaking engagement at the Indian Embassy to discuss her success in helping HIV-positive people become parents of uninfected children.

She shared many memorable stories in that transitory but intimate space. She spoke of taking blood samples of about 100 women awaiting incarceration for prostitution in 1986; six of them were confirmed HIV-positive by a friend’s lab at Johns Hopkins University. That proved despite widespread denial that HIV was a very real problem demanding immediate attention.

That we worked at Chicago’s public hospital, years apart, was incidental, but an engaging source of our conversation—she as a medical resident in pathology, and me as nurse in the Women and Children’s AIDS clinic, before we had much of anything to offer them.

On that flight, I listened intently. We laughed, we cried a bit, as she recently had lost her husband, one of India’s premier cardiovascular surgeons. We shared a lousy airplane meal, we napped a little and really enjoyed one another’s company.

Later, I would nervously cook my first genuine Indian cuisine and serve her on my best china in my dining room. Now, I’m looking back on what an honor it was to have supped with a real hero – to enable the work of a real hero – to be in the presence of a real hero. How lucky we are to be with people who really do make the world a better place.

Now, it is for us to carry on such a legacy and end AIDS.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margaret McCluskey is a Senior Technical Advisor in USAID’s Office of HIV/AIDS working on HIV vaccines. Follow her @m3indc.

Q&A: What A Year Without Polio in Nigeria Means

Since 1988, global efforts to eradicate polio have reduced the number of new cases by 99 percent, from 350,000 annually to a few dozen this year — preventing lifelong paralysis in millions of children worldwide.

In the fight to extinguish the disease, a significant milestone was reached on July 24. It has now been one year since the last reported case of wild polio in Nigeria.

Historically, Nigeria has been the main virus reservoir responsible for repeated outbreaks across the world. Just three years ago, the country seemed to be struggling in the battle against polio and recorded more than half of all global cases.

This achievement is the result of a Herculean effort to reach every child multiple times with the polio vaccine — thanks to the legions of volunteers, health workers, community leaders, mobilizers, lab staff, religious and traditional leaders, and millions of others.

However, since the wild polio virus can circulate silently, hiding in raw sewage for more than three years, it is far too soon for Nigeria to be complacent. The risk of undetected transmission remains in Nigeria and other vulnerable areas in and around conflict zones in Africa.

A health worker administers a polio vaccine to a girl in Nigeria. / Courtesy of TSCHIP

A health worker administers a polio vaccine to a girl in Nigeria. / Courtesy of TSCHIP

What is polio?

Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious disease caused by the wild polio virus. It spreads through contact with the stool of an infected person and droplets from a sneeze or cough. It invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis or even death in a matter of hours. For thousands of years, polio was a leading cause of disability, arriving without warning and causing lifelong paralysis.

When will Africa be certified polio-free?

At least two more years must pass without a case of wild polio virus in Africa for the World Health Organization (WHO) to certify the region as polio-free. This will require continued government leadership across the African region, particularly in Nigeria, high quality immunization campaigns, and improved routine immunization, monitoring, and sustained vigilance.

We don’t want any cases of polio to go unnoticed or unreported. If Nigeria sustains high quality campaigns — maintaining population-level coverage (at least 90 percent of people), even in remote and hard-to-reach areas — and continues to improve routine immunizations, the virus will be stopped. Eradicating polio in all of Africa will bring us closer than ever to a world without the disease.

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When will the world be polio-free?

Polio will be stopped — but we need continued political will, quality immunization campaigns, stronger routine immunization, and active disease surveillance to make that happen. The world will be declared polio-free three years after the last polio case is identified.

What is USAID’s role in the global polio eradication effort?

The global effort to eradicate polio is spearheaded by Rotary International, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), WHO, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

USAID has played a critical role raising the importance of cross-border coordination, communication and the need for more women vaccinators. In fact, by working with local community organizations, women’s groups and self-help groups, the messages have gone well beyond polio to address other immunizations, water and sanitation, breastfeeding and handwashing.

Supported by USAID, countries are monitoring for cases in formal health facilities and in communities, providing the data to verify that immunization efforts are working. Increasingly, this network of disease surveillance officers is also searching for cases of other preventable diseases and working at the front lines during any disease outbreak or natural disaster. Our steady financial support and technical leadership has contributed to this success and laid the foundation for a lasting legacy.

How important are vaccines to global health?

Vaccines are one of the best buys in public health and global development — the cheapest, most lasting measure we have to save a child’s life. Vaccines protect us from 25 diseases, such as measles, whooping cough, polio and meningitis, and avert an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths each year.

Working closely with host country governments, ministries of health and finance, and in-country and global partners, USAID is bringing its financial, technical and diplomatic efforts to support country immunization programs and reach all children with critical safe vaccines.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ellyn W. Ogden is the Worldwide Polio Eradication Coordinator for USAID and a Senior Technical Advisor for Health and Child Survival. She is responsible for the Agency’s polio eradication program and related immunization and disease control efforts in over 25 countries in Africa, South Asia and the Near East.

Looking Down Supply Chains to Counter Human Trafficking

Senior Counter-Trafficking in Persons Fellow Marina Colby for DCHA/DRG presents at the Regional Conference on Information Communication Technology to Combat Human Trafficking in Bangkok. / @USAIDAsia Twitter

Senior Counter-Trafficking in Persons Fellow Marina Colby for DCHA/DRG presents at the Regional Conference on Information Communication Technology to Combat Human Trafficking in Bangkok. / @USAIDAsia Twitter

For a Cambodian man living in a rural village with few job opportunities, the promise of a $220 monthly salary to work on a fishing boat in Japan for two years was too good to pass up. He accepted the job offer immediately — without signing a contract.

Next thing the man knew, he was flown to South Africa, had his passport confiscated, and was then forced to work — repairing fishing nets and cleaning the boat — 14 hours a day without pay. He slept in a narrow room with three other workers in bunk beds made of iron and endured the bullying of another crew member.

Unfortunately, reports of migrant workers deceived to work on fishing vessels are far too common. Nearly 21 million people are being forced to work under slave-like conditions, feeding a $21 billion human trafficking industry, according to estimates from the International Labor Organization. Last year, a U.S. Labor Department report on goods produced by child labor or forced labor lists 136 products from 74 countries — from carpets in Nepal to fish in Thailand.

Human trafficking is a global human rights challenge that preys upon the vulnerable, breaks down the rule of law and corrupts global commerce. Much more needs to be done to curb these crimes. But given these daunting figures and the well-established illicit networks benefiting across the globe, where does one begin to intervene?

As the development agency of the U.S. government, USAID sees human trafficking as a fundamental obstacle to our mission, as it impedes health, economic growth, rule of law, women’s empowerment, and lifetime prospects for youth. It undermines the development objectives we hope to accomplish through our programming.

A village committee in Nepal discusses safe migration to counter human trafficking. / Marina Colby, USAID

A village committee in Nepal discusses safe migration to counter human trafficking. / Marina Colby, USAID

To fight back, USAID is pioneering a global supply chain approach to better identify and counter human trafficking in sectors rife with these forms of exploitation and abuse. We call this initiative “Supply Unchained” and recently put out a call for ideas via the Global Development Lab’s new Development Innovation Accelerator.

At USAID, we are committed to using our comparative advantage as a development agency at the source of these supply chains by using this new model of development to leverage technology and partnerships to connect individuals and communities in sectors at risk with stakeholders along the supply chain. The ultimate goal of Supply Unchained is to better identify human trafficking risks in order to prevent new cases.

President Obama proclaimed that “our fight against human trafficking is one of the greatest human rights causes of our time” and that human trafficking has no place in our business, at home or abroad.

None of the products we consume on a daily basis should be made by an adult who is forced to produce them, or by a child working under conditions that violate international law. USAID’s Supply Unchained initiative also aligns with an executive order Obama issued in 2012 to ensure that supplies and services obtained through federal contracts are free from practices involving human trafficking.

This map illustrates the journeys of Cambodian fisherman who became victims of human trafficking. Their stories were documented in a report. / Winrock International

This map illustrates the journeys of Cambodian fisherman who became victims of human trafficking. Their stories were documented in a report. / Winrock International

The story of the Cambodian man who was tricked into working on a fishing boat without pay was documented in a report by USAID’s partner Winrock International, along with several other victims of human trafficking; that report ultimately led to a complaint against Giant Ocean International Fishery Company in Cambodia for exploitative recruitment practices.

The man had managed to contact his father back in Cambodia to seek help. His father then reached out to the team working with a USAID-funded program, who got the man repatriated home, provided him with free legal support for his case at Phnom Penh municipal court, and referred him to an NGO for vocational training in motor repair. The man now runs his own shop.

On this World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, we hope to prevent more people from experiencing the nightmare that this Cambodian man endured. We are excited to be engaging with innovative solvers around the globe to create solutions to counter human trafficking in some of the most troubled sectors.

We look forward to bringing in new partners, meeting with interested companies, and continuing to provide a platform for innovation and partnerships. Looking down supply chains, we can now begin to envision a world that is free from slavery.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marina Colby is the Senior Counter-Trafficking in Persons Fellow in USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance. Follow her @marinacolby.

Equipping Africa to Support Its Own Development

Thanks to Power Africa, increasing numbers of Africans can continue working well beyond daylight hours, helping increase their productivity and potential earnings. This Tanzanian man can sew at night thanks to a d.light solar lantern provided through Power Africa. / USAID

Thanks to Power Africa, increasing numbers of Africans can continue working well beyond daylight hours, helping increase their productivity and potential earnings. This Tanzanian man can sew at night when he uses a d.light solar lantern provided through Power Africa. / USAID

Every so often there are moments when you know you are watching history unfold. Events come together that crystallize an important moment of change, and the opportunity to shape those moments has outsize resonance.

Last week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Third International Financing for Development conference proved one such moment of landmark importance for development with its emphasis on each country’s responsibilities to define, drive and invest in their own development path.

The resulting Addis Ababa Action Agenda is the right agenda for a world in transition – one where each country owns its own development – and to a new model for development predicated on partnership, results and accountability, local ownership, and harnessing innovation.

Since the first international conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey 13 years ago, we’ve seen the rate of extreme poverty around the world cut in half. Yet a billion people still live in extreme poverty, left behind from the incredible advances in life expectancy, access to education and technology, and good governance that has lifted so many.

To succeed with the ambitious new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must focus increasingly on the poorest and most vulnerable, particularly those in fragile and conflict-affected states where the largest gaps remain in achieving the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals.

A worker checks equipment at the Geothermal Olkaria Plant in Kenya, a facility supported by Power Africa. / Carole Douglis, USAID

A worker checks equipment at the Geothermal Olkaria Plant in Kenya, a facility supported by Power Africa. / Carole Douglis, USAID

The United States continues to lead the world in official development assistance with nearly $33 billion in 2014 alone. But the most transformational moments occur when our resources are targeted and act as catalysts for much larger trends and pools of resources, like domestic revenues and private sector investment.

Nowhere is responding to these challenges more critical than in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite lowering the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty for the first time on record, the absolute number of people living in extreme poverty in Africa has yet to fall.

Before embarking on a trip to Kenya and Ethiopia this week, President Obama said Africa has the potential to become the next great center for economic growth on the planet. Indeed, seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa. The commitment at Addis enables the type of partnerships these countries need to spur inclusive growth and end extreme poverty.

In Addis, we launched and built on several partnerships that represent the best of what U.S. leadership can do to help African nations to achieve. The Addis Tax Initiative will help developing countries better mobilize and effectively use their own resources to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Donors, international organizations and developing countries—including Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Tanzania and Namibia—committed to a set of core principles for domestic resource mobilization, and the donor partners committed to double technical assistance for this purpose.

Domestic resource mobilization not only provides countries with a base of consistent domestic funds for development independent of donor nation budgets, but builds a virtuous cycle of accountability wherein the willingness of citizens to pay taxes is predicated on government service delivery and responsiveness.

This Ethiopian man and a crew of three others pick up milk twice a day thanks to a USAID livestock development project, part of Feed the Future, that focuses on fostering growth and reducing poverty through improving the productivity and competitiveness of Ethiopia’s livestock value chains. / USAID

This Ethiopian man and a crew of three others pick up milk twice a day thanks to a USAID livestock development project, part of Feed the Future, that focuses on fostering growth and reducing poverty through improving the productivity and competitiveness of Ethiopia’s livestock value chains. / USAID

We also doubled down on Power Africa through a partnership with the European Union, which adds $2.8 billion in resources to enhance Power Africa’s work to expand reliable electricity generation across sub-Saharan Africa.

Like the Addis Tax Initiative, this is a commitment at the ground-floor of development; without sustainable energy sources to power economic growth and everyday life, country-led efforts to meet development objectives can’t get far.

That’s why Power Africa seeks to leverage private sector investment and multilateral and bilateral donor commitments, and builds partnerships with African governments committed to making the tough reforms needed to attract that investment to their energy sectors. These efforts will connect people to the grid and bring off-grid energy solutions to those living beyond the grid, providing energy that can fuel economic growth across the continent.

And because Africa’s power sector will not advance without policy reforms and improved governance, our re-commitment in Addis also marks our guarantee to fill critical skills gaps and engage in diplomatic dialogues that drive reform so that the power sector we help build can be managed and maintained for generations to come.

There are many continuing challenges in sub-Saharan Africa, conflict and fragility chief among them. But with the U.S. and our partners working to put African countries in the driver’s seat on their respective development paths, the promise and potential of the SDGs becomes, as in a rear view mirror, much closer than they appear.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Thier is the Assistant to the Administrator in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning. Follow him @Thieristan.

Solar Lamps Shed Light in Rural Communities

Paris Wanjiru, 17, uses a solar-powered light created by M-Kopa to study at night. Before her home had electricity, she was ranked sixth in her class; now, she ranks second. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Paris Wanjiru, 17, uses a solar-powered light created by M-Kopa to study at night. Before her home had electricity, she was ranked sixth in her class; now, she ranks second. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

When Paris Wanjiru, a 17-year-old student in Muranga, Kenya, first saw the solar-powered lamp her mother bought, she was so excited she stayed up until 1 a.m. studying chemistry. Now that she can study after the sun sets, her grades have improved; she now aspires to study chemistry at Kenya University.

Her mother, Nancy Wambui, 45, had saved for three months to buy the home solar system, providing the family with a personal power supply. Before, the family had relied on kerosene lamps for light, but their fumes are dangerous and they are costly to fuel — off-grid households spend about $200 a year on kerosene.

Off-grid alternatives to energy access benefit more than just families. Farmers who use solar lights to display their crops at evening markets sell more than they otherwise would, says John Njorge, a local solar lamp vendor in Muranga. Even shopkeepers with access to the grid use solar kits to keep their business running during power outages.

Besides providing school‐aged children with reading light, lowering household energy costs, and generating hours of productivity for businesses, these partnerships help generate income for small‐business owners like John.

Paris and John are two of many benefiting from companies selling affordable energy access to people in remote communities in sub‐Saharan Africa where electric lines have not reached. In partnering with the private sector, President Obama’s Power Africa initiative aims to help companies like these realize their potential and scale access to modern lighting across the region — a key ingredient for spurring economic growth.

Here are a few of Power Africa’s Beyond the Grid partners:

1. d.light

John Njorge, a “solar‐preneur,” sells about 60 d.light solar lamps a month at his shop in the small town of Maragua, Kenya. He also uses the lamps to light the shop so he can stay open later. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

John Njorge, a “solar‐preneur,” sells about 60 d.light solar lamps a month at his shop in the small town of Maragua, Kenya. He also uses the lamps to light the shop so he can stay open later. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

The company d.light was co-founded by Sam Goldman, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Benin. After a neighbor severely burned himself from a kerosene lamp spill, Sam says he was determined to find a safer, more reliable way for rural people to light their homes.

After meeting co‐founder Ned Tozun in graduate school, the two developed a prototype LED lamp that ran on solar power, and in 2008 d.light’s first commercial solar power lamp debuted on the market. Today, the company offers five off‐grid solar‐powered products that provide at least twice as much light as kerosene — and they’re cheaper and safe. The most affordable solar lamp goes for $5.

“Just as mobile phones adoption rates skyrocketed in the ‘90s, we see tremendous opportunity in the off‐grid solar market to enable consumers to secure basic energy access and radically improve their lives and opportunities,” Sam says.

Sam says public-private partnerships are key to bringing energy access to the most rural parts of Africa. “Market‐based approaches and policy decisions working together will accelerate efforts to electrify Africa.”

2. Solar Sister

Justina Balankena is a Solar Sister entrepreneur and small business owner in Bomani, Tanzania, where she sells small solar lights and energy-efficient cookstoves. Justina’s store brings the benefits of solar technology right into her town.

Justina Balankena is a Solar Sister entrepreneur and small business owner in Bomani, Tanzania, where she sells small solar lights and energy-efficient cookstoves. Justina’s store brings the benefits of solar technology right into her town.

Solar Sister eradicates energy poverty in Africa by empowering women with job opportunities. The company uses a women-focused sales network, recruiting and training female entrepreneurs to sell solar lamps, mobile phone chargers and fuel-efficient cook stoves.

Women like Justina Balankena, a small business owner in Bomani, Tanzania. At first, Justina’s customers simply weren’t familiar with solar power. When the unreliable grid in town goes out, Justina switches on her solar lamps. Her little kiosk lights up. “When people pass by, they say, ‘There is no power here! How do you have power?’ So they come and ask. That is how we sell,” she explains.

The store provides income for Justina’s family. It also brings her a strong sense of personal pride and independence. “I run the business. The advertisements are even in my name,” she says.

Innovative energy technology, combined with economic opportunity, goes beyond measurable results and really transforms lives.

3. M-KOPA

Lucy Sakuda, 47, uses her M-KOPA solar powered light in her home in Olorien, Kenya to cook at night. Before buying a solar panel, the nearest power source was 15 miles away. She has saved so much from not having to buy kerosene that she was able to get new furniture. / Morgana Wingard

Lucy Sakuda, 47, uses her M-KOPA solar powered light in her home in Olorien, Kenya to cook at night. Before buying a solar panel, the nearest power source was 15 miles away. She has saved so much from not having to buy kerosene that she was able to get new furniture. / Morgana Wingard

M-KOPA helps assure poor families nervous about investing in a new technology that this is a risk worth taking.

Enter June Muli, hired by M­-KOPA with one goal in mind: Establishing a real network of customer service. Raised in Nairobi, June joined as head of customer relations, making her the 10th employee. June is helping M­-KOPA build a spirit of “umiliki” — a Swahili word meaning “ownership” — in their community.

“We work very hard to keep our customers happy,” June says. “You don’t just go to the supermarket and pick it up; someone has to convince you that you should own the responsibility and that the investment is worth it for you and your future.”

M-KOPA boasts a 24-hour call center and uses a pay-as-you-go platform, allowing customers to pay for solar lighting systems over time via mobile phone. More than selling a product, M-­KOPA sells the vision of a better connected, more efficient Africa. “This starts with the human voice of a person and the real human connection,” June says.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rudy Gharib is the head of communications for Power Africa. Follow her @rudygharib and use #PowerAfrica to join the conversation.

First Time Loans Give Grassroots Farmers a Chance to Grow

Carlos Sigue, an agribusiness owner in Mozambique, with his 15-hectare plot where he grows several vegetables, including potatoes, cabbage, and cucumbers. / Scott Haller, USAID

Carlos Sigue, an agribusiness owner in Mozambique, with his 15-hectare plot where he grows several vegetables, including potatoes, cabbage, and cucumbers. / Scott Haller, USAID

Carlos João Tovela Sigue, a small farmer in Maputo, Mozambique, had bigger dreams than the small plot of land where he eked out a living for himself and his family by cultivating potatoes, cabbage, cucumbers and other vegetables.

He dreamed of improving his lot in life by expanding his small farm, but he had to put this dream on hold when he discovered a roadblock ahead. “It is difficult to expand production without a bank loan,” Carlos says.

For many small farmers like Carlos, accessing a loan to buy seeds, fertilizer and other supplies to expand their businesses can be difficult. Most banks assume that lending to farmers like Carlos is very risky, so they often offer limited finance on undesirable terms.

Fortunately for Carlos, he discovered a USAID program that provides a partial guarantee on loans for small farmers through the Agency’s Development Credit Authority (DCA) to reduce risks and encourage local banks to lend to underserved borrowers.

Through a partnership between USAID and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), two banks in Mozambique received DCA guarantees to encourage lending to farmers and entrepreneurs, the main populations that local banks often overlook.

Since receiving a loan backed by USAID and Sida two years ago, Carlos’s farm grew from 3 to 15 hectares. With this financing, Carlos mechanized his farming processes and upgraded his irrigation system. This loan also allowed Carlos to hire more seasonal workers.

Harvesting a return on investment

Carlos Sigue received a loan from Banco Terra with the backing of USAID and Sweden’s development agency. He used the funds to grow a thriving business that won awards for its success. / Scott Haller, USAID

Carlos Sigue received a loan from Banco Terra with the backing of USAID and Sweden’s development agency. He used the funds to grow a thriving business that won awards for its success. / Scott Haller, USAID

Carlos paid off his entire first loan and took out a larger second loan to help him reach bigger goals and greater financial security. With this credit, he plans to farm 350 hectares of family land, accumulate 700 cows, and buy a larger truck for taking crops for sale to the market.

When small businesses and entrepreneurs can access credit, they can create a better economic future for themselves and their communities. Carlos is a case study in success and the Government of Mozambique recognized his excellence in agricultural entrepreneurship with multiple awards.

Many other farmers like Carlos are accessing credit for the first time because of the DCA guarantee program. Since 2006, the DCA program in Mozambique has helped to guarantee 795 loans.

When these borrowers were surveyed regarding the performance of the DCA guarantees in Mozambique, the results were positive. Most borrowers reported that this was their first experience with a financial institution, and about one-third of these first-time borrowers were women. Borrowers said the guaranteed loans helped them expand their businesses, create jobs, and improve the quality of their lives.

“In all interviews, farmers who benefited from the loans mentioned increasing the area [of land] cultivated and…productivity.”

“All farmers mentioned having financial means through the loan to hire additional labor, [which included] mostly women as seasonal labor…more food for the family and having [a] surplus for commercialization purposes.”

—ELIM Serviços Lda, the organization that led the independent evaluation

Everyone wins when development agencies partner with banks to bring financing to promising entrepreneurs. While USAID and Sida continue unlocking private capital for hundreds of borrowers like Carlos in Mozambique, similar DCA partnerships are providing over 160,000 borrowers in 74 countries across the world with much-needed financing.

Scott Haller, a USAID Development Credit Authority portfolio manager, and USAID Communications and Evaluations Analyst Beth Pappas contributed to this story.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Claire Everhart is the communications specialist for USAID’s Development Credit Authority.

Healing Plants to Feed a Nation

The following is an abridged version of a blog post by Miriam Otipa, a research scientist and leader in Kenya supported by the United States through a fellowship program. Read her full story on the Feed the Future blog.


High res photo Miriam Otipa

Miriam Otipa pursued a degree in science out of a desire to develop solutions for farmers to combat crop losses and help ease their suffering. Today, she does just that as a research scientist and leader at the Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization. / Miriam Otipa

Growing up in a small village in Western Kenya, I often accompanied my mother and other village women on customary weeding expeditions. Whenever we came across sick plants in the fields—which was all too often—my mother would instruct me to pull them out and cast them aside. I did as she asked, but wondered to myself: Why do we simply throw out the plants instead of doing something to make them better?

At times, my mother lost nearly 80 percent of her tomatoes to plant disease. The loss was so bad that she eventually stopped growing tomatoes all together. Yet when one of our cows got sick, my mother would call a veterinarian to come and treat the cow. I wondered: Were there no doctors who could also cure our plants?

I turned this curiosity into a career in science and became the first child in my family to attend university as well as the first woman in my village to earn a science degree. Seeking answers to my childhood questions, I studied botany and zoology as an undergraduate to better understand the diversity of crop and animal pests and diseases afflicting farmers like my mother in Kenya and her peers across Africa.

I wanted nothing more than to find a practical solution. So, I became a plant doctor.

Solutions Through Science

Eager to learn and improve my skills, I applied to the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development Fellowship and was selected as a 2008 fellow. Thanks to this training program, I was on my way to becoming an agent of change in my community by learning how to treat plant pests and diseases.

I was exhilarated to finally have the skills and knowledge to discover and develop solutions using science. With my new grant writing skills, I secured USAID funding to develop environmentally friendly crop protection technologies. Working with partners in the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management was an eye-opener. I used new equipment and learned from the experts around me. During this time, I also had an opportunity to attend Ohio State University as a visiting scholar, where I honed my diagnostics skills and developed Kenya’s first-ever methodology for screening passion fruit for disease at nurseries — to help stop disease before it made its way to farms.

Farmers spread a “mosquito net for plants” over crops to protect them from pests. A Feed the Future Innovation Lab is helping test the effectiveness of this eco-friendly technology and share it with smallholder farmers. / B. Dawson

Farmers spread a “mosquito net for plants” over crops to protect them from pests. A Feed the Future Innovation Lab is helping test the effectiveness of this eco-friendly technology and share it with smallholder farmers. / B. Dawson

Success Spreads Across Kenya

Today, I help farmers properly diagnose plant disease and heal their sick plants. I’m training others to be plant doctors, too. Through the PlantWise program, supported by an international non-profit called CABI, I’ve helped train more than 140 agricultural extension staff to operate 89 “plant clinics” in 13 counties across Kenya. I’ve also jointly trained 45 farmers as “plant nurses,” who regularly visit farms, assist with plant examinations, and encourage farmers to use nearby plant clinics. Farmers can take their diseased plants to these clinics and receive guidance from plant doctors on how to best tackle their plant pest and disease problems.

It is incredibly fulfilling for me to see such progress. Instead of throwing out sick plants, farmers can fight crop losses and adopt new farming practices to boost their harvests and incomes.

I am proud to say that my dream of becoming a “doctor of plants” has come true. I only wish that there were more like me in Kenya. As one of the few female plant doctors in my country, I’m passionate about training the next generation of plant doctors to narrow this deficit.

I am doing my bit to help feed my village and my nation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Miriam Otipa is a principal research scientist and head of the Plant Pathology Department at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization. She is also a former fellow and mentor with the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development program.
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