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3 Myths About Women and Violent Extremism

Members of the Bring Back Our Girls group campaigning for the release of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists march to meet with the Nigerian president in Abuja, on July 8. / Philip Ojisua, AFP

Members of the Bring Back Our Girls group campaigning for the release of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists march to meet with the Nigerian president in Abuja, on July 8. / Philip Ojisua, AFP

When it comes to violent extremism, women are not just victims — they play diverse roles. In some cases, they sign up with extremist groups as recruiters, volunteers and fighters. In others, they seek to protect their people from terrorists as police officers and soldiers and organize communities to fight back. They are not, as one writer put ‘an exotic novelty’ in the fight against terrorism, but a central part of it.

As the involvement of women increases and diversifies, it is vital to understand their role in both propagating and countering violent extremism in order to effectively address it. Because there is so little information available, responses in this area often fall short of meeting the diverse needs of women.

To address this gap, the U.S. Government and the U.S. Institute of Peace are convening an event Tuesday that seeks to inform policy responses and interventions to ensure an inclusive approach. It will contribute directly to the discussion on countering violent extremism during the United Nations General Assembly in September.

As part of this effort in thought leadership, USAID is funding research on the nexus between gender and efforts to counter extremism. One thing is clear, women are not monolithic actors in violent extremism. Here are three myths about women and countering violent extremism.

Myth #1: Women are always victims of violent extremism, men are always perpetrators

Truth: As the introduction states, women play critical roles in limiting the spread of terrorism by challenging and delegitimizing violent extremist narratives. They are not victims but instead powerful agents of change and even play a crucial role in detecting early signs of radicalization and intervening before individuals become violent. The traditional roles ascribed to women in many societies, such as wife, mother and nurturer, can empower them to shape their home, school and social environments to make extremism and violence a less desirable option. We have witnessed this firsthand while working in Pakistan, where women’s groups such as Pamian unite across ethnic and geographic divides to take a stand against terrorism. The group works village by village, meeting mothers and their children to discuss the potential danger of radical group recruitment and looking to create job opportunities for young at-risk men.

A Kurdish female fighter of the Women's Protection Units looks on at a training camp in al-Qahtaniyah, near the Syrian-Turkish border on Feb. 13. Syrian Kurdish forces have been fighting advances by the Islamic State jihadist group. / Delil Souleiman, AFP

A Kurdish female fighter of the Women’s Protection Units looks on at a training camp in al-Qahtaniyah, near the Syrian-Turkish border on Feb. 13. Syrian Kurdish forces have been fighting advances by the Islamic State jihadist group. / Delil Souleiman, AFP

Myth #2: Anti-recruitment should focus on young disenfranchised men, who are most at risk

Truth: Up to now, the international community has focused on young men and boys in our struggle to identify what is driving recruits to violent extremist organizations. We also have relied on traditional development programs that are gender blind. Traditional assistance in governance, education or economic empowerment have served a mostly male beneficiary base – for the purpose of overcoming diagnosed inequalities for an entire society. In some cases we have missed half the picture. Groups such as Sisters Against Violent Extremism are changing this trend. In Tajikistan, they’ve created ‘mother’s schools’ to work with local women leaders to ensure mothers can identify at-risk youth. Following their lead, we need to better understand gendered motivations to participate in violent extremist groups and develop interventions to counter this trend.

Myth #3: The international community lacks the tools necessary to engage women in countering violent extremism

Truth: U.N. Security Council resolution 1325 laid the groundwork for involving women in all areas of peace and security. This includes engaging women who work within the security sector, where they can improve overall effectiveness of police and judicial systems to respond to diverse (often gendered) needs of those who have been radicalized. Additionally, a more recent resolution addresses foreign terrorist fighters with explicit direction to member states to address gender-related conditions that are conducive to the spread of extremism. The United States National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security is the U.S. Government’s road map to advancing the empowerment and protection of women and girls in crisis and conflict situations, including the full spectrum of its prevention, response, recovery, and transition efforts. Now, we must follow that roadmap to an inclusive response countering violent extremism in countries around the world.

As USAID continues to use development to address unstable environs with shifting and diverse dynamics, engaging women in all areas of countering extremism is a vital component to ensuring our success.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sustainable Finance Key to Health Equity

A newborn in Nigeria. USAID is intensifying efforts to develop, test and scale up simple, low-cost approaches to preventing newborn deaths in lower-income countries. / Amy Fowler, USAID

A newborn in Nigeria. USAID is intensifying efforts to develop, test and scale up simple, low-cost approaches to preventing newborn deaths in lower-income countries. / Amy Fowler, USAID

The world faces an alarming shortfall of funding needed to transform global health. If the world is to end preventable child, adolescent and maternal deaths, we need new forms of development finance to close a $33.3 billion annual funding gap.

A new financing platform announced this week at the Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia aims to do just that. The Global Financing Facility (GFF) is a country-driven financing partnership to accelerate efforts to end preventable maternal, newborn, child and adolescent deaths by 2030.

The launch of the financing platform brings together $12 billion from public and private partners, both domestic and international, to scale up national strategies in four countries particularly in need: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Their five-year strategies include life-saving interventions based on evidence of what works best that will be expanded to reach those that are most in need.

Why is this financing platform important?

Donor resources alone are not sufficient to reach our targets and meet the Sustainable Development Goals. We need innovative approaches to financing, with increased domestic commitment from countries and regional development banks, as well as more involvement from the private sector. Our core intent is to support countries as they work to provide for the health of their own citizens, and help them along the pathway to sustainable financing.

How is this different from business as usual?

As a financing mechanism, the GFF is an example of how to use official development assistance to catalyze additional private sector funding. The GFF is partnering with the World Bank to raise money from capital markets for countries with significant funding gaps for child, adolescent and maternal survival.

Every $1 invested into the GFF is expected to mobilize between $3 and $5 from the private capital markets. The investments in the GFF are designed to help countries transition to self-financing for maternal and child survival programs.

Who is contributing money?

USAID is investing $50 million, subject to Congressional approval, into the financing platform at the country level to scale up national strategies to end child and maternal deaths in the DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Other donors include Canada, Japan, multilateral organizations, host governments, civil society, and the private sector.

Is it working?

Tanzania is one example of the increased focus on women and children that the GFF can help bring about in country. By blending some of our grant funding through the GFF, we have enabled the Government of Tanzania to significantly increase financing for women’s and children’s survival and health.

A mother in Rwanda with her ​newborn ​daughter. Investing in survival & health can lead to greater individual and national productivity and growth. / Amy Fowler, USAID

A mother in Rwanda with her ​newborn ​daughter. Investing in survival & health can lead to greater individual and national productivity and growth. / Amy Fowler, USAID

Why just these four countries?

Over the next five years, the ultimate goal for the global facility is to support 62 high-burden low- and lower-middle income countries through the GFF. The DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania are part of the first wave of countries. Results from these nations will inform the best way forward for any continued U.S. government funding of the GFF.

The next group of eight countries eligible to benefit from the global trust fund will be Bangladesh, Cameroon, India, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda.

Why invest in global health?

In low-income countries, child mortality is 15 times higher than in high-income countries, and maternal mortality almost 30 times higher. Despite remarkable progress across global health, the brutal fact is the world’s poorest people still pay the most for things like clean water and basic health services.

There is substantial evidence on the “health-to-wealth” pathway, and how investing in survival and health can lead to greater individual and national productivity and growth. Increasing access to health services — especially for the poor – is a sound and sustainable investment that can command great economic returns. To put it simply, people who are healthy are more productive at work.

We have a clear and conclusive case to invest in health. Now we must summon the will to mobilize domestic resources and activate creative co-financing approaches that will transform societies.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez was appointed by President Barack Obama to lead the Global Health Bureau at USAID. He is also the Agency’s child and maternal survival coordinator.

Keeping Up with the Times: Local Media Outlets Help Georgia Move Into the Digital Information Age

To help media in Georgia stay ahead of changing trends and technology, the USAID supported New Media Initiative is working with media organizations like the Information Center of Kakheti to  build TV studios for streaming news programming online. / Photo by Gela Mtivlishvili

To help media in Georgia stay ahead of changing trends and technology, the USAID supported New Media Initiative is working with media organizations like the Information Center of Kakheti to build TV studios for streaming news programming online. / Photo by Gela Mtivlishvili

If there is any universal truth, it is that information is power. With the right information, people can make informed decisions to positively affect their lives. A thriving independent media is critical for educating the public and building democratic societies.

In Georgia, many media organizations are struggling to keep pace with the rapid rise of technology.With the expansion of internet to virtually every part of the country, USAID saw an opportunity to help media outlets and journalists reshape how they produce news. So, several years ago, the New Media Initiative took root.

USAID’s New Media Initiative (NMI) works with regional media outlets through trainings, mentoring and individual consulting around four focus areas: multimedia content production, management practices, website design and operation, and new media sales.

Demand for the resources offered through the program is high. During a first round of outreach, 27 media organizations applied to work with NMI. After assessments and interviews of candidate organizations, 12 media outlets were selected to participate in the program based on their capacity to implement new ideas and their level of commitment.

To maximize the benefit to each organization, NMI tailored training plans to the needs of each individual media outlet.

Before participating in the NMI training, Speqtri—an online local news source—posted their stories to a blog platform that limited visual content, interactive features and advertising. With the technical support and trainings provided through USAID, Speqtri created a new webpage that improved the way the newspaper reported and interacted with its readers. The new site incorporates slide modules to generate income through web-based commercials (banners, hyperlinks, portals, etc.), as well as tools for gathering feedback from readers. Multimedia training also enabled the news outlet to complement its written stories with videos, photos, audio clips and infographics.

Journalists for SK News gather around a laptop to learn about online TV broadcasting during a New Media Initiative training Akhaltsikhe, Georgia. / Photo by Nino Narimanashvili

Journalists for SK News gather around a laptop to learn about online TV broadcasting during a New Media Initiative training Akhaltsikhe, Georgia. / Photo by Nino Narimanashvili

Taking multimedia to the field

To support their multimedia training work, NMI invested in laptop computers, cameras, voice recorders, microphones and other audio-visual production accessories. This equipment served as the backbone for workshops conducted in Tbilisi, and at newsrooms across the country. By taking the program on the road, participants could leverage their skills in native environments using the computers and software.

To make multimedia work even more accessible to newsrooms, NMI staff designed a Georgian language software kit for reporters. The kit includes trial and free software programs for recording audio, editing photos and videos, converting files and creating graphics. The kit distributed by DVD also includes tools that allow reporters to conduct Skype interviews, organize archives of materials and even create a schedule that can be shared with colleagues. By selecting free or low cost software, USAID is offering an affordable alternative to expensive software or the illegal download of pirated software.

The New Media Initiative hosted trainings at newsrooms across Georgia to help media learn about ways to produce multimedia and leverage the web to grow audiences. / Infographic by Dachi Grdzelishvili

The New Media Initiative hosted trainings at newsrooms across Georgia to help media learn about ways to produce multimedia and leverage the web to grow audiences. / Infographic by Dachi Grdzelishvili

News worth reading

News spread quickly about NMI. Almost a hundred journalists in Georgia participated in 75 training events during the first year.

In questionnaires conducted after the trainings, journalists reported new mastery of web skills and a 22 percent increase in online ad sales for their news outlets. A survey of Google analytics also showed on average a 79 percent increase in web page traffic for the media outlets who participated in the trainings.

The program also delivered some unexpected benefits. When a group of regional newspaper publishers expressed an interest in live internet video streaming to augment their multimedia content, they turned to NMI staff for support in developing a cooperative group that is now known as the Georgian Publishers ITV Network. NMI helps network partners set up small recording studios, learn how to operate their equipment and provide live, interactive coverage of major events such as elections.

With a new bevy of tools for telling stories, reporters in Georgia are now better equipped than ever to deliver important news to the public. The changes witnessed by the team of trainers at the NMI are inspiring— content quality is on the rise and newsrooms across Georgia are telling stories in interactive new ways. We can’t wait to help even more media organizations in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Davit (Dachi) Grdzelishvili is the Senior New Media Manager for the USAID-funded New Media Initiative. Follow Dachi @dachi444 or on Facebook.

Leadership at USAID Q&A: Susan Markham Shares Why Gender Equality Matters

Susan Markham, pictured in her office. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Susan Markham, pictured in her office. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Susan Markham, USAID’s senior coordinator for gender equality and women’s empowerment, recently celebrated her one-year anniversary with the Agency. I sat down to talk with her about her work and how it relates to the Agency’s mission of ending extreme poverty. Follow her @msmarkham.

An Ohio native, Susan went to The Ohio State University, majoring in political science and international relations, and later studied public policy and women’s studies at George Washington University in D.C.

After graduation she became involved in domestic politics. She worked at EMILY’s List recruiting and training state and local women candidates to run in 35 U.S. states. Later, through the National Democratic Institute, she traveled overseas to work with women voters, advocates, candidates and officeholders.

Could you briefly describe what your work involves here?

Little known fact, my position was actually created through a Presidential Memorandum. It recognized that gender equality is both a goal in itself and critical to achieving our country’s global goals. My job is to provide strategic guidance to the USAID Administrator and the agency to ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment is integrated throughout our programming–that it’s woven into the very DNA of the agency.  

How is gender equality and women’s empowerment related to USAID’s mission of ending extreme poverty?

We cannot end extreme poverty without addressing gender. Period. Women are key drivers of economic growth. In order to eradicate extreme poverty and build vibrant economies, women and girls must gain access to and control of capital, land, markets, education, and leadership opportunities.

This isn’t just lip service. Women account for one-half of the potential human capital in any economy. More than half a billion women have joined the world’s work force over the past 30 years, and they make up 40% of the agriculture labor force. These are big numbers showing that women are a powerful force for change that shouldn’t be ignored.

As USAID’s senior coordinator for gender equality and women’s empowerment, Susan advocates for the inclusion of issues affecting women and families into development work. A women and her children prepare food for dinner in the Aldoosh Village in Yemen with food provided through a USAID program. / Mercy Corps

As USAID’s senior coordinator for gender equality and women’s empowerment, Susan advocates for the inclusion of issues affecting women and families into development work. A women and her children prepare food for dinner in the Aldoosh Village in Yemen with food provided through a USAID program. / Mercy Corps

How is gender equality and women’s empowerment connected to other sectors such as education, economic development, health, etc.?  Do you have much interaction with them?

Of course! Development cannot be delivered in a vacuum. From education to health, there is no program or intervention that wouldn’t be more effective if it included gender at its foundation. Women are not only impacted by these issues, they have invaluable insight in how we can best address them.

When women are empowered, they often lead the way in managing the impacts of climate change and disasters. When they play an active role in civil society and politics, governments tend to be more responsive, transparent and democratic. When women are engaged at the negotiating table, peace agreements are more durable. And countries that invest in girls’ education have lower maternal and infant deaths, lower rates of HIV and AIDS, and better child nutrition.

That’s why I work closely with colleagues tackling water, energy, climate change, infrastructure and agriculture. Gender equality is not only in our job descriptions and policy goals, it’s in our best interest as development professionals.

The White House’s Let Girls Learn initiative has been getting a lot of buzz lately–could you touch on USAID’s involvement with that?

Let Girls Learn is really exciting and timely. It’s a United States Government effort to help adolescent girls stay in school. We know it’s not enough to build schools and equip classrooms. Girls in developing countries face complex and sometimes dangerous barriers while trying to get an education. Because USAID works on a range of issues from reproductive health to child marriage, we’re in a unique position to approach the challenge holistically by addressing the whole girl. All girls should have the opportunity to gain the skills, knowledge and self-confidence to chart their own course.

Susan takes a photo with  participants of a youth council roundtable in West Bank, Gaza. /  Global Communities

Susan takes a photo with participants of a youth council roundtable in West Bank, Gaza. / Global Communities

What are you working on right now that you’re most excited about?

Ha, everything. This is a great gig. That said, I’ve noticed real momentum in two interesting areas. First, countering violent extremism. For too long, women have been seen only as victims. Yet recently a movement began  that recognizes women as potential recruiters and perpetrators, as well as influencers and leaders who can help prevent the growth of terrorist groups and provide critical information on how to counter them. Thanks to this perception shift, USAID is re-examining counterterrorism issues and possible solutions.

Second, USAID’s Global Development Lab. It both confounds and fascinates me, but I know that if we can harness technology, we can close gender gaps more quickly. Women in developing countries are 25 percent less likely to be online than men. 200 million fewer women have access to mobile phones. And a woman is 20 percent less likely than a man to own a bank account. Technology has the power to create connections, foster learning, increase economic growth, and provide life-saving information. It can also help change social norms and stereotypes, and reduce inequality. At USAID, we’re doubling down to make sure women and girls can take full advantage.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Clara Wagner was an intern for USAID’s Bureau of Legislative and Public Affairs working on content and public engagement.

The Power of Africa: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Watts

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a schoolgirl is introduced to Little Sun – her first solar-powered light – and the concept that she can hold power in the palm of her hand. / Merklit Mersha

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a schoolgirl is introduced to Little Sun – her first solar-powered light – and the concept that she can hold power in the palm of her hand. / Merklit Mersha

Imagine a world without light above a dim path at night or no wall outlet for charging your phone beside your bed. Unfortunately, a world without power is reality for two out of every three people in sub-Saharan Africa.

That is why President Obama launched Power Africa two years ago. He had a vision for bringing power to the 600 million sub-Saharan Africans who live without electricity by encouraging collaboration between leaders in energy, commercial lending, innovation, and trade. The private sector-led initiative aims to not only double access to electricity across sub-Saharan Africa, but also create opportunities for sustainable economic growth.

Since its launch, Power Africa has evolved into an effort that engages a host of multilateral organizations and over 100 private sector partners. In August of 2014, President Obama expanded Power Africa’s reach to all of sub-Saharan Africa and tripled the original goals. Power Africa plans to  generate 30,000 MW of new and cleaner power and increase electricity access with 60 million new connections.

When President Obama visits Kenya and Ethiopia this summer, he’ll find that the foundation for Power Africa’s exponential growth is underway. The Power Africa team and its international partners are working with citizens, entrepreneurs, private sector businesses, the public sector, and our government counterparts in African nations to further advance Africa’s energy sector.

This solar field at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in the hills east of Kigali, Rwanda is the first utility-scale, grid-connected, commercial solar field in East Africa. The 8.5 MW, $23 million project increased Rwanda’s generation capacity by 6%. / Photo by Sameer Halai, SunFunder

This solar field at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in the hills east of Kigali, Rwanda is the first utility-scale, grid-connected, commercial solar field in East Africa. The 8.5 MW, $23 million project increased Rwanda’s generation capacity by 6%. / Photo by Sameer Halai, SunFunder

Visualizing Power Africa

We see real change  — but, it’s not always easy to show the impact of a signed deal or additional megawatts of power added to a grid. That’s why we asked our partners to show the world what Power Africa looks like by sharing their favorite photos with us in a contest celebrating the project’s two year anniversary.

We asked our partners, our colleagues, and our implementers to answer a simple question with their photos: What does energy innovation look like?

The answers surprised even us. Each of the more than 60 photographs submitted revealed the creativity, vision and innovation that our partners are embracing to increase power access in Africa. This week we announced the eight winning photos of the Power Africa photo contest.

Impact through energy innovation, supported by the Power Africa Beyond the Grid initiative, empowers rural families in Tanzania to extend their productive day well beyond nightfall. / dLight

Impact through energy innovation, supported by the Power Africa Beyond the Grid initiative, empowers rural families in Tanzania to extend their productive day well beyond nightfall. / dLight

Hands-on exercise referring to manual, ASU-led VOCTEC program, all-women training Strathmore University, Nairobi April 2015. / Ambika Adhikar

Hands-on exercise referring to manual, ASU-led VOCTEC program, all-women training Strathmore University, Nairobi April 2015. / Ambika Adhikar

As revealed in the photo entries, access to electricity is more than just a signature on a dotted line when project developers close a deal for project financing. It’s the face of a girl as she holds her first solar lamp, it’s the handshake of two people agreeing to do things differently, it’s a classroom of women taking over an entire sector that was led by men for generations, and it’s a solar field built in a village recovering from genocide.

Whether fostering small-scale energy solutions through Beyond the Grid, early-stage financing, feasibility studies, or policy support, Power Africa is delivering diverse clean energy solutions and more importantly, opportunities for the future.

Over the next month, Africa’s energy challenges will be a popular topic of conversation among world leaders. Power Africa is a case study for how diverse partners can foster innovation and sustainable investment in Africa’s future — one watt at a time.

People, vision, and determination power this movement and we hope that other world leaders will follow our lead to bring a brighter tomorrow to Africa

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Andrew M. Herscowitz is the coordinator for President Barack Obama’s Power Africa and Trade Africa initiatives. Follow Andrew @aherscowitz

It’s Clear: Transparency Works


Transparency has real impact on our efforts to end extreme poverty and build resilient, democratic societies. Quality, timely information about development cooperation helps everyone — governments, civil society organizations, private citizens and donors — to manage and monitor aid resources more effectively and ensure mutual accountability.

USAID is leading the U.S. Government’s effort to enhance international aid transparency, and foster increased development efficacy and accountability.

In 2011, the U.S. Government became a signatory to International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) — a voluntary program that encourages governments, NGOs and other international aid organizations to make information about foreign aid spending easier to access, use and understand. IATI developed a standard for publishing up-to-date foreign assistance spending data in a common, open format that allows for comparison across organizations.

Users around the world can now explore the United States’ foreign aid investments by county, sector and year on ForeignAssistance.gov and in the IATI Registry.

To make U.S. government  data on development more transparent, anyone on the internet can visit foreignassistance.gov to see the geographic areas and sectors where funds are invested.

To make U.S. government data on development more transparent, anyone on the internet can visit foreignassistance.gov to see the geographic areas and sectors where funds are invested.

USAID was not satisfied with this level of transparency, however, and in June 2014, investigated the costs of fulfilling additional IATI reporting requirements. This week we are publishing an IATI Cost Management Plan that provides a detailed roadmap on how USAID will share more data about the work we do.

We are already seeing results. USAID’s score on Publish What You Fund’s 2015 Aid Transparency Review jumped by more than 20 points this year, propelling USAID from the “fair” to the “good” category. One big improvement is “standardized sector coding” which allows users to easily compare USAID funding data with that of other donors.

Improving data quality and accessibility is only the first component of USAID’s efforts to be more transparent. Educating and connecting stakeholders to data that they can leverage to improve their programs is also critical. Transparency allows citizens and civil society organizations to hold governments accountable and spurs participatory development and local ownership as highlighted in this video on efforts in Ghana and Zambia.

So we ask: How can we continue to improve data supply, demand and use? We encourage members of the development community and the general public to send their comments and suggestions to our team at aidtransparency@usaid.gov.

Moving forward, we want to do even better.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Alex Thier is USAID Assistant to the Administrator for Policy, Planning and Learning. Follow him @Thieristan , Angelique Crumbly is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Management

Q&A: How Technology is Transforming Ebola Response Efforts

In a new Q&A series, we are profiling the experts who have worked tirelessly to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa and are helping societies rebuild and strengthen health systems in the aftermath of the outbreak.

Eric King holds up a handprint to echo the wall of handprints from Ebola survivors at the Bong County Treatment Unit in Liberia.  Eric King worked to coordinate the flow of data for the international humanitarian response in Liberia for two months last Winter. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Eric King holds up a handprint to echo the wall of handprints from Ebola survivors at the Bong County Treatment Unit in Liberia. Eric King worked to coordinate the flow of data for the international humanitarian response in Liberia for two months last Winter. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Eric King, an innovation specialist with the Digital Development Team in the Global Development Lab, worked on USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in Liberia for two months in 2015, working to coordinate the flow of critical data. He came to USAID in September 2013 with a doctorate in Planetary Physics. Follow him @eric_m_king.

What innovations have been developed to combat Ebola?

Almost every aspect of the Ebola response has been innovative. We have never before fought a disease this deadly on this kind of scale. Response teams have had to educate remote communities, meticulously seek out new Ebola cases, provide new facilities for isolating and treating patients, safely bury infected bodies while observing local customs, and all on a massive scale and with no time to lose.

All of these efforts are critical to preventing further spread of the disease. To be successful, trust and solidarity must be created between responders and the communities they work in. Those relationships are fostered by weaving strong communication lines – including feedback loops – into the response network, often helped by harnessing existing technologies like radio and mobile phones.

How will the role that science and technology played in this response affect the way we approach future emergencies?

Among the technological tools that have amplified the Ebola response, arguably none has been more helpful than the mobile phone.

A decade ago, a small percentage of West Africans had access to cellphones. Now, mobile phones allow us to connect those in need with those who can help. Families of the sick can call emergency Ebola hotlines, social mobilizers can share tips for community engagement, individuals can resolve Ebola rumors by texting local radio stations, health workers can be paid electronically, and clinics can flag when they’re low on supplies.

The unique communications needs of the Ebola response have tested and ultimately strengthened the connections between all the many people and organizations that come together in times of emergency.

Technology is a key component of  managing information on the Ebola virus. A local dispatcher records 115 Ebola hotline responses at a community health office in Guinea, above left. Contract tracers also use mobile phones in the field to collect data for reporting, above right. / Eric King, USAID

Technology is a key component of managing information on the Ebola virus. A local dispatcher records 115 Ebola hotline responses at a community health office in Guinea, above left. Contract tracers also use mobile phones in the field to collect data for reporting, above right. / Eric King, USAID

In a crisis, efficiently managing the flow of information is key. How did USAID rapidly get things to where they were needed?

USAID’s logistics professionals have decades of experience managing supply chains in complex emergencies, ensuring that critical commodities like food, water, and medical supplies are available to those who need them, and they’re really good at it. Similarly, we recognize the importance of ensuring that actionable information is available when and where it’s needed.

For example, ambulance teams need to know where to find the sick as soon as they show symptoms so they can be quickly isolated and treated. Contact tracing teams need to know where to find those who have recently been in contact with confirmed Ebola patients so they can monitor them for symptoms. Food distribution teams need to know where to find at-risk households who have volunteered to stay at home to protect their neighbors so that they can deliver necessary supplies.

During the Ebola response, USAID deployed an information management advisor to work with local government and partners to coordinate the flow of information throughout the response network. These efforts are often amplified by integrating proven digital technologies and mobile data tools.

As a member of an Ebola case investigation team in Liberia, Justina M. Morris interviews people who may have been in contact new patients to control and monitor the disease. Information gathering is an important component of USAID’s Ebola fighting strategy. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

As a member of an Ebola case investigation team in Liberia, Justina M. Morris interviews people who may have been in contact new patients to control and monitor the disease. Information gathering is an important component of USAID’s Ebola fighting strategy. / Neil Brandvold, USAID

USAID believes in tapping the ingenuity of nontraditional sources. How did this play a role in the Ebola response?

USAID launched the Ebola Grand Challenge, the first-ever open innovation platform for a disaster response. Through the challenge, anyone anywhere could offer a solution for how to better fight Ebola. We received more than 1,500 applications from individuals and organizations from all over the world, many of whom had never worked with USAID. From all of these diverse, creative ideas, 15 innovations have been selected to receive support.

The porous nature of borders can make tracking and containing Ebola difficult. How did the international community work to counter this?

When Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced in February that the country’s land borders were reopening, response organizations worked with the Liberian government to quickly develop and deploy a set of best practices for border health security.

This involved two major components: border screening and community surveillance. People passing through official border crossings are screened for signs of Ebola in order to identify, isolate, test, and treat those who may be infected.

This is a vital first step, but we also recognize that there will inevitably be travellers that cross the border unofficially. So, we’ve also brought communities near the borders into the formal surveillance process — effectively crowdsourcing an Ebola alert system.

Furthermore, communities on either side of the border are working together to make sure that communication channels are available to alert one another.

Amid the Ebola crisis, many stories have emerged describing heroic aid efforts and acts of bravery. What stories touched you most?

I’ve found inspiration in the selfless dedication of the medical professionals who put themselves at risk and extreme discomfort to treat those in need. Working in full protective equipment in sweltering heat and humidity, they have been tirelessly and skillfully fighting to save as many lives as they can.

In some treatment units, some of the Ebola patients themselves began helping to provide care for the other patients who were suffering most. And some Ebola survivors, now immune, have organized themselves to work with health professionals to provide care to those in need. It inspires me to see such compassion and solidarity emerge from this unprecedented tragedy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Clara Wagner was an intern for USAID’s Bureau of Legislative and Public Affairs working on content and public engagement.

This Ramadan, Like Most, It’s Personal

Islamic Relief-USA CEO Anwar Khan delivers remarks during USAID Iftar / Robb Hohmann, USAID

To celebrate the month of Ramadan, USAID employees and members of the community came together for an Iftar dinner. / Robb Hohmann, 

For me, working at USAID goes beyond the mundane: It helps to deepen and solidify my faith.

As a Muslim employee, I am privileged to work for an agency that promotes many of the same core values that my faith inspires in me. Last night’s Iftar dinner hosted by USAID represented the best of those values: partnerships reinforced by good intentions and an elevated desire to help those less fortunate across the globe.

USAID has been hosting annual Iftar dinners in Washington for over a decade. These events bring USAID leadership and staff together with NGOs and religious leaders to meet and celebrate our partnerships. Through these partnerships, we strive to alleviate the suffering of the neediest and to raise the quality of life for so many around the world.

Islamic Relief-USA CEO Anwar Khan delivers remarks during USAID Iftar / Robb Hohmann, USAID

To celebrate  the work of USAID’s many partners to end hunger in communities around the world, Islamic Relief-USA CEO Anwar Khan was invited to deliver remarks during the Iftar celebration. / Robb Hohmann, USAID

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world reflect on their many blessings while abstaining from food and water during the daylight hours. For most Muslims, it’s a challenge of spiritual and physical discipline, but one made easier by the certainty of a fortifying meal at sunset.

However, as we broke our fast last evening, I was reminded of the nearly 1 billion people across the globe who face hunger on a daily basis—200 million of them children. Their hunger is without end; not of choice, but of desperation. During Ramadan, fasting gives Muslims a degree of empathy with the less fortunate—and it can move us to do more.

Today, the United States supplies 46 million people with food aid. President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative has hit its stride by improving nutrition for 12 million children and helping nearly 7 million farmers grow their way out of poverty. The partners attending last night’s Iftar help us deliver that food aid and improve the lives of communities around the world without regard for race or religion.

USAID/ Bangladesh Mission Director Janina Jaruzelski delivers remarks during USAID Iftar / Robb Hohmann, USAID

USAID Bangladesh Mission Director Janina Jaruzelski shares a few words with guests before breaking fast at sunset with guests at USAID’s Iftar dinner. / Robb Hohmann, USAID

While the focus last night was on the work that USAID does in Muslim communities, our partnerships go well beyond that. Hunger and suffering afflict all and all need to be involved in the response. Events like last night’s Iftar dinner help to celebrate the progress we have made, but we are also inspired to continue the hard work that remains.

As we broke our fast and soothed our hunger in the company of so many who share a common goal, my resolve increased to do more to help those who remain hungry: to make sure they have access to clean water, basic education, economic opportunities and good governance.

I am thankful that my work allows me to wake up each morning and do just that every day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Croshelle Harris-Hussein is a career foreign service officer currently serving in Washington, but on her way to Abuja, Nigeria. Croshelle also heads the USAID Muslims Employee Resource Group (UMERG).

Setting an Example, Emblematic of Recovery Possible in Nepal

A young girl plays with her doll outside her family's tent at Camp Hope. More than 330 families from the Sindhupalchowk district are taking temporary shelter at the camp. / Kashish Das Shrestha/USAID

A young girl plays with her doll outside her family’s tent at Camp Hope. More than 330 families from the Sindhupalchowk district are taking temporary shelter at the camp. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

The summer sun is scorching the ground beneath our feet, and it is barely past 7:30 in the morning.

We move to a perch on an elevated platform, shaded by a large old tree. From here, we see a sweeping, yet jarring view. A horizon line of neat concrete houses, dotted with seasonal potted plants on their roofs, stands in stark contrast to fabric roofs covered in plastic tarp that dot the landscape in the foreground.

This is Camp Hope—a one square kilometer tent city in Jorpati, Kathmandu that serves as a temporary home to 330 households from five villages in the Sindhupalchowk district, just north of Kathmandu. The earthquake damaged or destroyed approximately 88 percent of houses in the district.

“We had to move,” said Sukra Tamang, an 18-year-old who now lives at Camp Hope with his family. “With all the debris and the ground shaking constantly, there was no space to even rest our feet.”

The April 25 earthquake and aftershocks displaced more than 500,000 families, uprooting the foundations of their homes and turning the hill terrain that supported their villages into rubble.

Camp Hope demonstrates the positive outcomes that are possible when private and public sector partners work together.

Tents made of materials strong enough to withstand monsoon season are built at Camp Hope for families displaced from their homes by the April 25 earthquake. / [PHOTO CREDIT: Kashish Das Shrestha/USAID]

Tents made of materials strong enough to withstand monsoon season are built at Camp Hope for families displaced from their homes by the April 25 earthquake. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

Welcome to Camp Hope

At the camp’s main gate, young volunteers check and register all visitors before they are allowed to enter. Inside, a group of senior citizens, already freshened up and dressed for the day, bask in the morning sun as chickens cluck as they scurry past them.

Camp Hope is alive and teeming with activities. It looks, feels, and even sounds like a village. Murmurs of conversation fill the air, people line up at the hand water pump, and children fill open spaces with laughter and play. A group of women wash clothes as the din of construction echoes in the background.

Built on a community football ground, Camp Hope is an exemplary model of private-sector led humanitarian assistance – a clear demonstration of the impact that is possible when the private sector engages with other partners.

“When we wanted to start a camp for these communities, we couldn’t get any government land,” says Sangeeta Shrestha, camp founder and operator of Dwarika, a boutique heritage hotel, owned by her family. “A local youth club came offering their football ground, so here we are.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) soon stepped in with additional support. Heavy-duty plastic sheeting provided by USAID was utilized to create shelters that are strong enough to endure the monsoon season. In addition to building temporary homes for displaced families at Camp Hope, USAID provided shelter and protection for approximately 310,000 Nepalis across earthquake affected districts.

A full-stocked kitchen offers three meals a day for residents of Camp Hope. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

A full-stocked kitchen offers three meals a day for residents of Camp Hope. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

A partnership of hospitality

There are many advantages when a world-class hotel owner steps in to lead and manage a shelter like Camp Hope.

“We always have a lot of resources at our disposal, and I am lucky to have my hotel team of engineers and technicians whom I could call on to help set up the camp,” said Sangeeta, who now manages the camp full-time.

Adding a bit of comfort to the lives of displaced villagers, the camp offers a fully stocked kitchen and store room tent that is maintained by Sangeeta’s hotel. Camp residents are offered chicken once a week and eggs twice a week during their meals.

While shelter, food, and basic medical services address the physical needs of residents, their social and emotional needs are also important. Camp Hope offers a variety of programs and spaces to help residents as they heal. A prayer tent allows the community to continue their spiritual rituals in a minimalist manner. In the afternoon, women in the camp engage in sewing, knitting and other crafts in a facility has been set up for training. The camp also enrolled 83 children in a local school and regularly schedules field trips for youth.

“The plan, we hope, is to build back their villages so they can return to their communities,” said Sangeeta as she discusses what the future might hold for Camp Hope.

Camp Hope is designed to be a safe and comfortable space for residents. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

Camp Hope is designed to be a safe and comfortable space for residents. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

Looking Ahead: Charting a roadmap to rebuild a better Nepal

But, returning home for many of the residents of Camp Hope will be a challenge. Questions remain, about when, if, and how rebuilding of some villages may happen. Massive landslides during the April 25 earthquake completely destroyed many communities.

A discussion about the road forward—for vulnerable villages in the most affected regions and across the country—is at the forefront as the Government of Nepal convenes key donors and development stakeholders together at this week’s International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction.

As Nepal’s longest standing development partner, U.S government’s commitment to Nepal has stood the test of time. Our pledge at this week’s International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction increases the total amount of U.S. emergency relief and early recovery assistance to $130 million, and is only the beginning of our contribution to Nepal’s earthquake recovery, which will span multiple years.

As recovery efforts continue, aid and investments from the U.S. Government will support efforts to get the most impacted people back on their feet and to create a Nepal that is more resilient in the future.

  • We will train Nepalis to rebuild seismically-stable houses in affected areas.
  • We will help build temporary learning centers for children who are learning outside in makeshift tents. Efforts are underway to establish approximately 1,000 Temporary Learning Centers in earthquake affected districts.
  • We are helping people rebuild livelihoods by injecting cash and strengthening agricultural systems, the economic lifeblood for nearly 75 percent of the population of Nepal. USAID has already jump started early recovery— our resilience and livelihood program is distributing cash for work to the hardest-hit families, so they can begin the enormous task of rebuilding damaged homes and much-needed infrastructure.
  • We will continue to protect Nepal’s most vulnerable, including those susceptible to human trafficking.
  • We will lay the foundations for a more resilient Nepal by building institutions that can respond effectively to future disasters.

All of these efforts, along with support leveraged from the private sector, can and will help build back a better Nepal.

Those in Camp Hope know that this dream is possible.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Beth Dunford is USAID/Nepal’s Mission Director. Follow her at @beth_dunford, usaid.gov/nepal  and nepal.usembassy.gov.

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Raising the Bar, Honduran Singer Fights Violence through Music

With an inspiring message about peace and non-violence, Eduardo Umanzor performs at a Community Heroes event organized by USAID. / Photo Courtesy Eduardo Umanzor

With an inspiring message about peace and non-violence, Eduardo Umanzor performs at a Community Heroes event organized by USAID. / Photo Courtesy Eduardo Umanzor

Growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, Honduras in the 1990s, the only concern I had was being yelled at or spanked by my parents because I was out late riding my bicycle or playing with kids in the street.

Today, it is a different story.

San Pedro Sula is now one of the most dangerous cities outside of a war zone, with a homicide rate about seven times higher than what health experts consider to be an epidemic. Some have dubbed my hometown “the murder capital of the world.” It fills me with deep sadness to see the city devolve into such violence.

So when the staff of USAID’s Alianza Joven program contacted my band Montuca Sound System to write the theme song for the campaign “Sí podemos Sampedranos”– or “Yes, we can, citizens of San Pedro Sula” — I felt honored. I saw it as a huge opportunity to give hope to a lot of young people through song.

At the time, my band had just become very popular across Honduras thanks to a contract with a mobile phone company, which beamed us into people’s homes with jingles we wrote for TV commercials. I was happy to use my newfound influence to raise social consciousness.

The 2011 launch of the “Sí podemos Sampedranos” campaign to end violence in San Pedro Sula coincided with the development of a Municipal Violence Prevention Plan and the construction of new outreach centers for at-risk youth.

Through nearly 50 youth outreach centers in seven Honduran cities, USAID’s Alianza Joven Honduras program, implemented by Creative Associates, offers a variety of activities to keep young people away from gangs and drugs. The youth outreach centers serve as safe spaces in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country.

By participating in sports, art, school tutoring, life skills coaching, volunteerism and job training, vulnerable youth are developing the skills they need to live a better life.

Musician Eduardo Umanzor is inspiring young fans to take pride in their communities through uplifting songs.  / Photo Courtesy Eduardo Umanzor

Musician Eduardo Umanzor is inspiring young fans to take pride in their communities through uplifting songs. / Photo Courtesy Eduardo Umanzor

I’ve been impressed with the success of the outreach centers in bringing hope to the community. Many of my songs are about restoring pride in San Pedro Sula and bringing more love and peace to the city and youth. I’m always happy to sing them at graduation ceremonies and community talent shows with youth from the neighborhoods where Alianza Joven works.

Music can be a powerful force for social change. As soon as I get on stage and start singing the song “Un Poco De Amor,” which says, “Honduras needs a little bit of love,” I see the way my fans sing along. I see the way they feel inspired. Then they come to me and say, “Eduardo, these songs help me feel positive about the future.”

I sensed a burgeoning social movement while playing in my past band, Montuca Sound System, several years ago. I was writing songs about bloodshed, injustice and inequality in Honduras, and I saw how that led my friends and other kids my age to open their eyes and become interested in politics.

It’s hard to believe, but a lot of the people that I knew didn’t know they were living in such a troubled place.

I’m optimistic about the future for Honduras. Two and a half years ago, I had the chance to visit my sister in Bogota, Colombia, a city that once struggled with high rates of violent crime. My brother-in-law told me stories of how dangerous the area used to be, the near-constant fear he felt growing up, not knowing when a car was going to explode. You couldn’t feel safe anywhere.

Today, Bogota is beautiful, and not for one second during my stay did I feel unsafe. The transformation Bogota underwent gives me hope for the future of San Pedro Sula. It’s a matter of the community coming together to figure out what’s wrong and then working hard to fix those problems.

It’s never too late to start again for a new beginning.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eduardo Umanzor is a singer and songwriter in Honduras. Follow him @EduardoUmanzor_
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