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How USAID Is Working to Prevent Sexual Misconduct and Exploitation

David Moore, USAID acting deputy administrator, center, addresses the International Safeguarding Summit on the importance of building organization accountability on issues of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, Oct. 18, 2018. Moore is flanked by Yves Daccord, director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, left, and Aneeta Williams, a development practitioner and expert on sexual exploitation and abuse. / Keetah Salazar-Thompson, USAID

 

It was March 2018. I had been at USAID for less than a year and had just been asked to serve as acting deputy administrator. The #MeToo movement was in full swing and the international aid community was reassessing its part in devising ways to prevent and hold individuals accountable for misconduct.

Administrator Mark Green, who had expressed zero tolerance for sexual misconduct from his earliest days as administrator, asked me to lead the Agency’s new Action Alliance for Preventing Sexual Misconduct (AAPSM), the first of its kind in USAID history.

From the outset, the response from within the Agency was inspiring — more than 100 staff from Washington and the field volunteered to participate in the AAPSM, and more would join later. To effect sector-wide change, we knew it was important to engage a wide range of external stakeholders.

In March, Administrator Green consulted with implementing partners and USAID mission directors around the world. Our mission directors, in turn, consulted closely with our implementing partner community, connecting with more than 1,700 representatives from NGOs, private contracting companies, and public international organizations in 100 countries.

Our ultimate goal is a sector-wide culture of respect and inclusion.

Administrator Green and I also briefed members of Congress, including the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on our efforts. By June, we had issued an online toolkit, through the AAPSM’s new website, to educate and provide resources to USAID staff and implementing partners on these issues.

Flash forward seven months from the beginning of our efforts. Last week, I stood with leaders from around the world at the Department for International Development (DfID) International Safeguarding Summit in London as we pledged our commitment to preventing sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment within the international aid community. The summit brought together international donors, NGOs, private companies, U.N. agencies, and research organizations.

We reached important agreements to ensure support for survivors and whistleblowers, strengthen our reporting and accountability structures, and uphold a shared set of standards around preventing sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse.

While the real work of implementation has just begun, USAID is committed for the long haul. Gratefully, I can tell you that USAID has a head start.

Our humanitarian assistance programs include protections to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse. For example, funding recipients must submit plans to protect beneficiaries and to strengthen the ability of local partners to implement these protections on the ground.

These protections existed before creation of the AAPSM. But over the last seven months, we’ve begun to expand these protections into all our assistance programs. We’ve updated our implementing partner codes of conduct to ensure that all USAID activities adhere to international standards on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse.

Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary for the U.K.’s Department for International Development, addresses Kathryn Hancock, business improvement leader for IMC Worldwide, and Raquel McGrath, general counsel and company secretary for Oxford Policy Management, at the International Safeguarding Summit. / Photo courtesy of DfID

We’re working on our first-ever comprehensive Preventing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse policy, which will roll out early next year. We’re also developing standard business processes to improve the way we handle and address allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse.  

Preventing sexual exploitation and abuse in our assistance is critical; we must also eradicate sexual harassment and misconduct in our own workplace. We’ve taken important steps since the formation of AAPSM to ensure a respectful workplace for our employees. We reviewed and updated existing policies, and will release a new comprehensive policy targeting internal sexual misconduct in early 2019. We issued a new Standard of Conduct for all USAID staff that affirms staff responsibilities to uphold USAID’s Policy on Diversity in the Workforce, Equal Opportunity Employment, and Non-Discrimination, among other policies.

We’ve implemented mandatory, agency-wide sexual harassment training and enhanced Countering Trafficking in Persons training, while also piloting a new Sexual Harassment, Unwanted Attention, and Bystander Intervention training. And we’ve identified employee performance standards tied to promoting a respectful work environment.

Next week, USAID mission directors from around the world will gather in Washington, D.C. We will discuss ways to cultivate both assistance and a workplace where there is no tolerance for sexual misconduct and perpetrators are held accountable, where people are empowered to thrive in a safe environment, and where human dignity is at the heart of everything we do. Our ultimate goal is a sector-wide culture of respect and inclusion. Each of us has a role to play in this effort. I am proud to work alongside you to achieve this vital goal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Moore is USAID’s acting deputy administrator and chair of  the Action Alliance for Preventing Sexual Misconduct.


RELATED LINKS

2018 International Safeguarding Summit Donor Commitments

 

It’s All In the Evidence: Water Challenge Demonstrates the Power of Doing Development Differently

Five years ago, USAID and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency came together at World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, to ask a crucial question: How can we grow more food with less water while supporting small farms?

Sustainable agriculture was, and remains, an important part of the answer. According to our Agency’s own findings, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of the world’s fresh water use. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population could be without enough fresh water to meet basic needs – such as hygiene, growing food and having enough to drink.

To combat this urgent problem, our two countries, along with the Foreign Ministry of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the South African Department of Science and Technology, launched an experimental program to provide inventors and innovators working to improve water use in farming with resources and expertise to refine and test their inventions, reach more farmers and develop financially sustainable businesses.

Securing Water For Food: A Grand Challenge for Development (SWFF) — one of USAID’s 10 Grand Challenges — was that program. Two months ago, we returned to World Water Week – a conference teeming with the experts, academics, development practitioners, innovators and governments that could put lessons into practice – to share findings from this effort I helped lead.

I am always asking how do we transform the development enterprise by doing things faster, smarter and better? One way is sharing lessons learned. And, sharing lessons learned is built into the DNA of SWFF.

A panorama of an auditorium, looking from the rear toward the stage

SWFF Innovator in Panel Presentation at 2018 Stockholm World Water Week. / Benjamin Arthur

SWFF has exceeded the expected outcomes envisioned when the program was created. Innovators have reached a combined 6.25 million smallholder farmers, their families and other customers. For every $1,000 of donor funding spent, innovators impacted 267 customers and end users, produced 267 tons of crops, reduced water consumption by more than 810,000 liters, improved water management on 93 hectares of agricultural land, and generated more than $226 in sales. Through the program, many SWFF innovators have become gender champions, implementing strategies that promote the participation and leadership of women by actively looking for ways to design their projects in a gender inclusive way.

USAID’s team hosted a session covering topics such as how to build momentum among innovators, the timing of funding, promoting women’s participation and the importance of local knowledge and context. Innovators supported by SWFF came from across Africa, Asia, the United States and Europe to speak about their challenges and successes.

Two men smiling and laughing

SWFF Innovators Gabrielle Okello, Green Heat and Bacelar Muneme, FutureWater ThirdEye Mozambique at the Unconference in Stockholm. / Benjamin Arthur

Fauzia Hirome, a farmer from Uganda, talked about using the GreenHeat system to turn organic waste into renewable energy. The system has saved Fauzia time and water while helping her grow more crops – all while making enough money to send her kids to school.

And Nompendulo Mgwali came from South Africa, where the Meat Naturally program has helped cattle ranchers adopt sustainable practices, while also helping local women get jobs as eco-rangers. Not only did Nompendulo start making enough money with Meat Naturally to leave a government assistance program, she became a full-time employee of a for-profit company that Meat Naturally played a role in creating.

A woman speaks at a podium

Fauzia Hirome, a farmer from Uganda, shares details at the SWFF panel session at Stockholm World Water Week about how GreenHeat, a SWFF innovation, has impacted her life and economic livelihood. / Benjamin Arthur

While SWFF has wrought many successes, were always trying to improve and learn.

Outside investment provides our innovators with the capital they need to be sustainable and grow, and not all SWFF innovators have been able to get the investment they need to grow to sustainable scale. Additionally, SWFF is focusing on opportunities to involve the private sector in development work. Many companies, from Pepsi to IKEA to H&M, need water to make their products, prompting them to create their own development goals – some even more ambitious than those created by governments.

A man speaks at a podium

Ku McMahan, SWFF Team Lead, provides innovator data and results at the SWFF panel session at Stockholm World Water Week. / Benjamin Arthur

No matter who we work with, SWFF will always focus on improving lives as farmers are now taking what they’ve learned from us and are using it in their daily lives in different ways.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ku McMahan, is the team lead for Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development, LAB/CDI



Temperature Check: Border Screening of Travelers Key to Stopping Ebola from Spreading

A person wearing a protection suit

A health worker dons personal protective equipment. / Alma Golden, USAID

With confirmation of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 10th outbreak of the Ebola virus in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, health officials have focused on border screening as a method to identify travelers who could pose a danger to local communities.

Recently, I traveled to the border between the DRC and Uganda with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield and U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Deborah Malac to see border health screening and surveillance efforts at two key checkpoints.

The border between Uganda and DRC is porous. Several times a week, small-scale traders, mostly women, ferry goods and food across the border by bicycle, cart or on their heads. In addition to traders, local farmers, merchants, business people and refugees move through the area.

At Busunga, a border crossing in western Uganda, the shallow Lamia River acts as a physical barrier between the two countries. People wade across the river by foot, while others do laundry, wash their motorbikes and take baths in the river that flows from the nearby Rwenzori Mountain Range. On market days there, Wednesdays in Uganda, almost 500 people are screened for Ebola.

A woman in a red medical vest greets USAID officials

USAID Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Global Health Alma Golden receives information about Ebola at a border crossing between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. / Courtesy Photo

There are another 16 informal crossing points nearby. At the busiest border crossing point, Mpwonde to the south, more than 12,500 travelers pass through each day. And on Tuesdays and Fridays, which are market days at Mpwonde, there can be a fivefold increase in travelers and shoppers.

Early identification, confirmation and isolation of possible Ebola cases is critical for stopping the outbreak as early as possible. Ugandan Red Cross Society volunteers are screening travelers at all border crossings. Volunteers have been trained on the signs and symptoms of Ebola and are equipped with tools for screening.

Health screening procedures include hand washing with chlorinated water and soap, and a temperature check of travelers using a thermoscan thermometer that can detect a fever in seconds. Those who are screened are given simple, illustrated brochures that provide information about the symptoms of Ebola and how to prevent the spread of the virus.

People with Ebola can have symptoms similar to those with malaria and other endemic infectious diseases, including typhoid and Rift Valley fever. Ebola spreads from an infected sick person to others when there is direct contact with bodily fluids.

Travelers suspected to have Ebola symptoms are referred to Bwera hospital for further assessment; ambulances are available to transport individuals with symptoms to an isolation unit until tests are completed. Health workers have been given protective gloves, gowns, masks and other equipment provided by WHO to reduce the chances of contact with the Ebola virus.

Border screening is just one important element of the complex response to this crisis.

In Uganda’s neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the U.S. Government, through USAID, is supporting core interventions to control the spread of Ebola, including: disease surveillance, contact-tracing, triage and isolation, and case management in Ebola treatment units; the prevention and control of infection; diagnostic laboratory support; community engagement; risk communication; interventions in water, sanitation and hygiene; and safe and dignified burial activities.

In DRC, through trusted messengers, community leaders and radio, communities are quickly learning how to protect themselves by learning the basics of the disease, how it is transmitted and what they can do to prevent it, care for and transport the sick, and to safely bury the dead. A targeted vaccination campaign is underway and is initially following a ring vaccination protocol: vaccines are being given to frontline health-care workers and response teams, contacts of confirmed cases, and contacts of those contacts.

The U.S. Government is also providing expertise and supplies. CDC and USAID have deployed over a dozen technical experts to the region in support the response. And USAID supported the World Health Organization (WHO) to send 20,000 personal protection equipment kits (including full body coveralls, heavy duty gloves, and goggles) and 50,000 universal care kits (surgical masks, face shields and gloves, and disinfection materials) to support response efforts in the DRC provinces affected by Ebola.

The Congolese and Ugandans have demonstrated a strong capacity to manage outbreaks. However, never before has Ebola struck in an area quite like this one. The region suffers from chronic insecurity due to local militia groups, and is under a long-term humanitarian crisis, which limits international and national responders from fully deploying disease control measures.

USAID has a long history of engagement in the health sector in the DRC, having worked to improve maternal and child health, immunizations, HIV diagnosis and treatment, and the prevention and management of malaria and tuberculosis.

Map of ebola cases in Democratic Republic of Congo

Map shows the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as of Sept. 5, 2018. Latest figures from the World Health Organization indicate deaths have risen to 92, and confirmed or probable cases are now at 137.

The clinics, health workers, laboratories and health systems supported through USAID funding in both Uganda and the DRC provide the backbone of the response to the current outbreak. The DRC national laboratory, with supports from USAID and other donors, rapidly sequenced the virus, and provided critical laboratory capacity in the field to diagnose the disease at the site of the outbreak. The Ministry of Health is providing essential leadership, coordinating the response in the provinces and nationally.

My visit to the DRC and Uganda was enlightening. I am impressed by the dedication, determination and skill of our partners in the ministries of health and the countless epidemiologists, clinicians, logisticians, social mobilizers, vaccinators and volunteers working to stop the outbreak.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alma Golden is Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Global Health at USAID.



The Nature of Self-Reliance: Charting 20 Years of USAID’s Work in Community Enterprises and Conservation

This summer is an exciting time for me—how often does a donor get to go back and see what happened 20 years after support ended? I’ve spent a significant part of the last two years working on an evaluation of USAID’s conservation enterprise investments.

Conservation enterprises are community businesses that generate income for rural communities and conserve nature at the same time. Going back to a site after 20 years is a pretty rare opportunity in the development world and one that provided a lot of lessons about how and why our efforts to improve community self-reliance work, or don’t, and what we need to do to improve the chance for success.

To compare approaches at six different USAID-funded sites, we worked through our assumptions about how our actions would lead to results. In short, we think that if the right conditions are in place and people receive benefits from the enterprises, then their attitudes and behavior toward conservation will change, which will reduce threats and ultimately conserve nature. Maybe money really can grow on trees!

A woman sorts plants for processing and sale

By setting up their own community based sorting and processing ‘bodega’ for xate, palm fronds used in many flower arrangements, the community of Uaxactún, Guatemala, has converted a very low value resource to a more value-added one. But more importantly, this effort has created an opportunity for a majority of the families in the community to earn a better basic base income. Photograph by Jason Houston for USAID

The good news is that the enterprises are still operating at all of the sites. At some of the sites, we could see how people’s lives have changed because they make money from well-managed forests.

More girls have been able to go to school, more people have rights to their resources, and more people are very proud of their forests.

A row of jars of various kinds of jams and jellies

‘Mountain Fresh’ products, a brand of the Kalahan Educational Foundation, is part of and distributed by the Federation of Peoples’ Sustainable Development Cooperative in Pasig City, Metro Manila, Philippines. Photograph by Jason Houston for USAID

We saw first-hand how the more valuable the product, the more difficult it is to navigate competing interests and ensure access rights. In the Philippines, almacega is used to make resins and is burned as incense. Managing who has access to these forests and rights to harvest it has often led to conflict.

Two hands holding a chunk of resin

Almacega (Agathis philippinensis) resin is a valuable natural resource important to indigenous people of Palawan, Philippines. Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines. Photograph by Jason Houston for USAID

The role that visionary local leadership plays was evident at each site—they all had leaders who could inspire people and lead through conflict and change.

At all of the sites, though, I learned that more expertise is needed to measure and monitor progress so we can connect what we do with what really happens for impact. Also, as a project planner at a large donor institution, I need to find a way to allow more time to get to results—they don’t magically appear in a five-year funding period. It was satisfying to see how sustainable conservation enterprises can generate income for people that depend closely on the land and lead to multiple benefits like education, health and security.

A woman carries a bundle n her back

Producing Lokta bark paper at Malika Handmade Paper Pvt. Ltd. in the remote mountain town of Kailas, Bajhang District, Nepal. The process involves collecting Lokta (Daphne spp) bark, soaking it in a caustic bath, pulping it in a manual beater, pouring the pulp onto screens and drying it in the sun. The paper is then carried in 50 kilogram bundles on a four hour hike about 2,000 meters down the mountain to Chainpur where it is loaded on buses for the 1,000 kilometer, 25 hour journey to Kathmandu. Kailas, Bajhang District, Nepal. Photograph by Jason Houston for USAID

I saw examples of how courageous people like Felisa Navas Pérez in the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Guatemala stood up to illegal loggers after they killed the community president’s son—because she thought they would be less likely to murder a woman.

A woman stands outside a workshop

Felisa Navas Pérez is the president of the the Asociación Forestal Integral Cruce la Colorada (AFICC) in Carmilita, Guatemala. She stepped up and assumed the leadership role after a former president was murdered and no one else wanted the job. The AFICC sawmill in Carmelita sustainably harvests mahogany and other timber from its community forest concession. Carmelita was the first concession in the region 20 years ago and is looking towards renewing its contract with the government in five years. Photograph by Jason Houston for USAID

This retrospective evaluation helped show me how valuable it is to go back to project sites and learn from the experiences of our partners, and that building local self-reliance catalyzes a virtuous cycle of benefits that flow from businesses to people to forests, and then back again.

A panorama of a misty rainforest with a temple in the foreground

Surveys show that deforestation rates in community concessions are lower than in surrounding protected areas. A survey of six active community concessions in 2017 revealed that on average, each enterprise had 13 full-time and 49 part-time employees. Tikal, Guatemala. Photograph Jason Houston for USAID.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Megan Hill is an Environment Protection Specialist in USAID’s Office of Forestry and Biodiversity



Youth Continue to Drive Change in Belgrade

Four young people show a tabletop display

Team Georgia created a board game designed to enhance children’s motor skills. Different closures – buttons, zips, etc – conceal new scenes behind the big picture. Photo Credit: Junior Achievement/USAID

As we celebrate International Youth Day this month, we can look to the entrepreneurial spirit of young people in Serbia for inspiration. I first noticed this streak of industriousness in 1988 during a trip to Belgrade, then the capital of Yugoslavia. At that time, the city was abuzz about a brand new coffee shop, one of the first of its kind to be owned and operated by a young entrepreneur.

Today in the United States, most people might not remember what a splash Starbucks made when it first came on the scene. The same was true back then in Belgrade, and the stakes were a lot higher than in Seattle. Belgrade was still part of a communist country and independent businesses were unique and difficult to start, let alone a coffee shop where young people could meet and talk openly about the events of the day.

Today, Belgrade is the capital of Serbia and is a bustling city, which boasts a pedestrian shopping area with small, fashionable boutiques, busy restaurants and the now ubiquitous independent coffee shops. There are signs of entrepreneurship everywhere. And, yes, Starbucks is planning to open a store in coffee-loving Belgrade this year.

Not far from this lively downtown scene is the home of a new type of business endeavor catering to young innovators, Impact Hub Belgrade.

With a grant from USAID, Impact Hub helps young entrepreneurs and startups attract potential investors. This focus on youth is significant as Serbia has a 40 percent youth unemployment rate. And like many countries of the region, a lack of job opportunities compels large numbers of young people to leave Serbia in search of work elsewhere.

How does it work? The Impact Hub’s Launch Pad program gives young innovators the tools and skills they need to develop new products, validate their business models and link them to regional and international investors. Access to finance is the number one obstacle for start-ups, so bridging this gap is critical for creating opportunity for young entrepreneurs.

Five young people pose for the camera

Team Macedonia, UnicaSpera, created Ringobit, a disc with numbers set on rotating rings that generate answers to math questions to assist children with learning difficulties. Photo Credit: Junior Achievement/USAID

While the project ended in March, participants raised $230,000 in new investments from a mix of Serbian public sector and domestic and international private investors, and these new investments have continued over the past few months, including an additional $100,000 from Dubai’s Innovation Impact Grant Program.

Almost 30 years after my first visit to Belgrade, I had the opportunity to again witness the entrepreneurial spirit of Serbians when I met with young innovators working at the Impact Hub.

One ecologically – and business – minded innovator, Nikica Marinkovic, showed me his Box System, a new prototype for transporting organic produce that replaces Styrofoam. He already has funding from an Austrian investor, and is actively assessing access to the U.S. market. Another entrepreneur used the Launchpad support framework to create a competitive niche product targeting the growing men’s skin care market in Serbia and internationally.

Serbia’s entrepreneurial spirit is also demonstrated by the success of the Junior Achievement (JA) program in the country. With USAID’s support, JA advances entrepreneurship through programs to help high school students enter the job market with business-friendly technical skills.

With the JA training curriculum, students learn all facets of setting up a business, from writing a business plan to identifying product placement and forecasting earnings. While JA has an active presence throughout Europe, the Serbia JA program is among the strongest, as demonstrated by recently hosting the European Student Company Competition. Thirty-nine student companies from throughout Europe convened in Belgrade to showcase their businesses and present to a jury of prominent business leaders from the region. The students excelled at modeling business skills, teamwork, problem solving, organizational management, and communication and presentation skills.

The team representing Serbia, called Groove Street, is a group of students in Belgrade who started a business to make special wristbands that contain computer code with the medical information of the person wearing it – inspired by the medical needs of fellow students in their own classroom. These young innovators observed a problem and got to work solving it. Their goal was to make first aid in medical emergencies faster and more efficient. The best part? Not only did they create a useful product, their wristbands may help save the lives of their fellow students.

Five young people pose for the camera

Winning team from Serbia, Groove Street, invented a special wristbands imprinted with the wearer’s medical information. Team members adopted as their motto a quote from German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “Health is not everything, but without health everything is nothing.” Photo Credit: Junior Achievement/USAID

The JA initiative is also supported by local businesses and the Government of Serbia. Serbian companies and the Ministry of Economy provided financial support for the competition and the Ministry of Education approved JA’s entrepreneurship curriculum – both important investments in Serbia’s youth!

While it’s true that aspiring entrepreneurs in Belgrade still face challenges, once again, young Serbian entrepreneurs are making a statement. The innovation and dedication of these young businesswomen and men is something to celebrate. Perhaps by going to the local coffee shop, the one owned and operated by a young entrepreneur who has chosen to stay local and launch a new business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gretchen Birkle is Deputy Assistant Administrator of USAID’s Bureau for Europe and Eurasia. Follow her at @GBirkleUSAID



Building the Next Generation of Business-Minded Global Health Leaders

Graduate students from all over the world joined partners GlaxoSmithKline, Northwestern University and USAID to apply their business and private sector expertise to global health challenges. Sherif Hassane of GSK, far left, and David Milestone of USAID, far right, flank the first-place winners of the competition, from left: Teertha Arora of Harvard University’s School of Public Health, Lamia Mamooon of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, Babatunde Ajayi of Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, and Jennifer Jarboe of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. / Tom Whipps, GlaxoSmithKline

If we are to achieve the targets set out in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we need to prioritize new ways of thinking, cutting-edge innovation, and different  partnerships. In global health, we must continue to apply a business mindset to find lasting solutions. Skills like those involved with strategic planning, finance and marketing are becoming more relevant as traditional development assistance (i.e., USAID funding) is leveling off and new sources of funding are on the rise.

Furthermore, since Africa and Southeast Asia are among the fastest growing health care markets in the world, private sector companies are eager to hire people who can seamlessly bridge global health and business. Doing good and doing it well is no longer a “plus.” It is a business imperative for breaking into new markets.

For these reasons, USAID joined forces with the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 2018 to launch the GSK | Kellogg | USAID Global Health Case Competition.

Students in the competition spent up to 36 hours preparing proposed methods to tackle a case study from Northwestern University on childhood pneumonia in Uganda. / Tom Whipps, GlaxoSmithKline

By targeting top business and public health graduate students across Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States, USAID and partners sought to build business-minded global health capacity across a vast network of universities to inspire more students to consider global health as a viable career option.

When the competition was launched in January, the response was overwhelming. Nearly 600 students from around the world applied, but only 20 made the final selection. Some of the finalists have been advisers to ministries of health in sub-Saharan Africa, while others have private sector experience.

Finalists came from prestigious schools such as the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, the Lagos Business School at Pan-Atlantic University, the School of Management at Yale University, the Harvard School of Public Health, the post-graduate program in management at the Indian School of Business, and the School of Business at the University of Nairobi.

When students were asked what motivated them to apply, Adaobi Ejike, a student from the Lagos Business School at Pan-Atlantic University, explained, “This competition is a platform to integrate my experience and education in the field of management with those of diverse team members and partners to develop lasting strategies that address critical global health challenges. This will, in no small measure, provide an invaluable learning experience for me.”

In April, the 20 selected students came together at GlaxoSmithKline’s headquarters in London and were given 36 hours to tackle a case study provided by Northwestern University on childhood pneumonia, the largest infectious disease killer for children under 5 worldwide. Although illustrative, the case study was based on a real-life problem that the global health community faces. It is indeed challenging  to prevent, diagnose and treat childhood pneumonia in high-burden countries like Uganda, where the case study was based.

Students leveraged their diverse backgrounds and applied a business mindset to identify transformative solutions to a frequent global health problem. The purpose of this group exercise was to create a hands-on learning experience for the students and, more importantly, to test the practicality of the solutions generated.

As part of the learning, students also met with representatives of both the public and private sectors in the global health field, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IDEO, the Boston Consulting Group, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Girl Effect. During the site visits, the students learned how to apply private sector approaches such as design to global health to increase cost-effectiveness and sustainability of investments.

When asked what made the competition special, Zoe Li from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management replied, “With most case competitions, you work on a team with students from your university and therefore have a lot of commonalities. [At this competition], my team ended up being from all different countries. It changes the way you think about diversity.”

Ultimately, the GSK | Kellogg | USAID Global Health Case Competition is a real-world example of how we harness ideas from all sectors to accelerate and expand critical interventions in global health. This model offered a select group of emerging global leaders with business and health backgrounds to build the skills, network and understanding necessary to create greater development impact.

Looking forward, USAID will continue to partner with the likes of GlaxoSmithKline and Northwestern University to engage future global health leaders, build in-country capacity, tap into university talent, and entice the private sector. These are the types of partnerships where private sector expertise can amplify social impact.

And these are the types of partnerships that can best support countries on their journey toward self-reliance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Fowler is a program analyst in USAID’s Center for Innovation and Impact in the Bureau for Global Health.



 

In Belarus, Women Lead the Way

A woman sits with a microphone in front of a USAID banner

Margot Ellis speaking at Venture Day Minsk 2018. / Imaguru

One thing I’ve learned from working at USAID is no matter what the data says, you need to see what’s happening on the ground, too. This proved to be the case in Belarus, where USAID is transforming the business and social landscapes for women.

Last month, our Belarus Country Office Director Victoria Mitchell Avdiu was asked to speak on a panel about women’s representation in entrepreneurship. Current data suggests that gender equality is relatively high in the country. However, at Victoria’s presentation, the room was unexpectedly packed.

On a Tuesday evening in Minsk, nearly 100 young women came to hear guidance about how they could break through the barriers that too often hold working women back. They wanted to know how to build confidence, where to find mentors, and how to pursue meaningful professional paths when there may be few female role models ahead of them.

A combined image of women speaking into a microphone

Victoria Mitchell Avdiu (right) and crowd during Q&A at a Women in Entrepreneurship event. / Imaguru

Do those questions sound familiar? I imagine every woman reading this, no matter what country they’re from, can relate. I certainly can.

During my career in business, I spent some time working in the automotive industry. Like so many women in male-dominated fields, I assumed that I should hide my skills more traditionally associated with women. I had no one around to tell me otherwise. I quickly realized, though, that those very skills – empathy, observation, cooperation, sensitive communication, humor – were actually some of my strongest assets. My instinct was to build relationships.

I learned that embracing my skills and instincts as a woman offered a new perspective in my workplace and demonstrated that I could be an effective leader.

This is an area where the data and on-the-ground experience perfectly align: numerous studies indicate that the participation of women leads to better development outcomes. It’s the reason that one of USAID’s global objectives is empowering women and girls. We need to make sure women have the support they need to not just be included, but to succeed.

In Belarus, USAID provides strong support for women as they gain new opportunities and work to become leaders. New startups in Belarus’s tech and business fields usually have male-dominated teams, with women making up less than 10 percent. In contrast, at USAID-supported startups, women make up more than 30 percent of the teams. In fact, last year more than half of the beneficiaries of our business finance programs were women.

In USAID’s Community Connections Exchange Program, interested Belarusians undergo a rigorous selection process to participate in a short-term exchange to the United States, where they learn about best practices in a variety of professional fields and take part in programs including innovative entrepreneurship, teaching business to youth, and empowering women to resolve community issues. This past year, close to 60 percent of participants were women. In the past decade, over 400 women have benefited from this exchange, gaining new skills from America and returning to become leaders within their home communities in Belarus.

I’m proud of the data coming out of Belarus. But, of course, what often matters most is not just numbers but what’s happening on the ground. That’s why I’m especially proud of who is delivering USAID support in Belarus because we lead by example.

Our Belarus office is unique in that every one of our staff members is a woman – from the director who leads meetings with diplomats and government officials, to the private sector development specialist who supports a better environment for women entrepreneurs, to the administrative assistant who keeps the office organized and helps us accomplish our work.

Regardless of who benefits from USAID’s assistance to Belarus, women have had a hand in that powerful support.

For USAID to fulfill its promise to empower women and girls around the world, we have to look at not just the numbers but also the experience. If Belarus teaches us anything, it’s that women can lead the way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margot Ellis is the Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Europe and Eurasia.

The Next Generation of Scientists

For young scientists, going to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) feels like a trip to the Olympics. These bright kids are filled with pride at the opportunity to represent their country. Some students dress up in cultural attire and others carry signs to represent their community. The students are excited to showcase their projects and meet other people from around the world that share their passion for science and learning.

At the Intel ISEF fair this May, close to 1,800 high school students from more than 75 countries traveled to Pittsburgh to showcase their projects and compete for prizes.

USAID attends as a Special Award Organization to recognize students with innovative projects that could advance USAID’s ability to meet current and future development challenges. Over the last five years, USAID has provided honorable mention and monetary awards to 61 students.

USAID recognized 12 winning projects at Intel ISEF 2018 across four categories. The first place winners of the Science for Development Award in these four categories include:

Access to Clean Drinking Water: Pranav Shikarpur and Siddharth Viswanath (India)

Two young men face the camera, smiling and holding certificates

Siddharth Viswanath and Pranav Shikarpur, both from India, won First Place in USAID’s Science for Development Award in the category of Access to Clean Water. Photo Credit: Sara Cardelle, USAID

Pranav and Siddharth’s inspiration for their project came from Bangalore’s historical nickname, the “city of lakes.” In the 1960s, Bangalore had 262 bodies of water, but that number has dwindled to 81 today, and only 34 are recognized as live lakes due in part to pollution and untreated sewage that has been dumped in the lakes. Pranav and Siddharth built a portable self-propelled flotation device, called FloBot, to monitor the pollution levels of lakes in real time. The device transmits GPS-tagged pH and dissolved oxygen data virtually to a phone, creating a heatmap of pollution levels. The FloBot is cheaper and more portable than commercial devices, and provides data for the community to see the status of their lakes. Pranav and Siddharth used FloBot to figure out that low dissolved oxygen, as a result of illegal sewage dumping, was killing fish in their local lake. The team has tested the device in eight of Bangalore’s lakes and is working to improve their design and partner with more communities in the future.

Healthy Mothers and Babies: Eden Sheinin (New York, USA)

A young woman stands in front of a display booth entitled "Inhibiting the Effects of Fetuin-B Upregulation Using TAK-242"

Eden Sheinin from Yorktown Heights, New York won 1st place in USAID’s Science for Development Award in the category of Healthy Mothers and Babies. Photo Credit: Kelly Tucker, USAID

Inspired by the fact that roughly 80 percent of patients waiting for an organ transplant are in need of a kidney, Eden wanted to address kidney damage and regeneration in mothers and babies. Studies show that malnourishment of a mother can lead to low birth weight babies, and low birth weight is linked to long-term kidney damage in the baby. Eden tested the ability of a protein called TAK-242 to reverse the effects low birth weight in the kidneys of mice. She found that TAK-242 can reduce kidney damage significantly. This protein is already an active ingredient in a drug being used to treat sepsis, which brings its potential market realization one step closer to reality. Eden hopes that her research can progress to the development of a treatment intervention that can be given to malnourished pregnant mothers to help prevent future kidney damage to their babies.

Agriculture and Food Security: Kaushik Singh (India)

A young man stands facing the camera, smiling and holding certificates

Kaushik Singh from India won First Place in USAID’s Science for Development Award in the category of Agriculture and Food Security. Photo Credit: Sara Cardelle, USAID

In India, approximately 35 percent of crops are lost due to plant disease, making it a major problem for the environment and economy. Farmers often rely on pesticides, increasing their exposure to toxic chemicals and driving a rising mortality rate among farmers related to improper pesticide use. Kaushik created the “Plant Doctor,” a mobile app offering real-time diagnosis and solutions for 60 plant diseases. The app compares a picture uploaded by the farmer to a neural network trained on pictures of many plant diseases, and has an accuracy rate of around 95 percent. If the app cannot identify the disease, the image is sent to a local agricultural extension specialist to diagnose the plant remotely. Kaushik hopes that the Plant Doctor can help farmers by easily diagnosing plant diseases and improve livelihoods.

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Mitigation: Chidchanok Inkaew, Pattadon Namwongnao, and Kasidet Sukkwai (Thailand)

Three young people stand in front of a display booth

Chidchanok Inkaew, Kasidet Sukkwai, and Pattadon Namwongnao from Thailand won First place in USAID’s Science for Development Award in the category of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Mitigation. Photo Credit: Kelly Tucker, USAID

Mangrove forests are extremely valuable resources in coastal regions in Thailand and beyond; the root systems of these trees stabilize the coastline and promote biodiversity, and can mitigate the destruction caused by a typhoon or tsunami. This team volunteers each year to replant mangrove seedlings. After replanting in the same area multiple years in a row, they decided to find a longer-term solution. They designed a cone structure to install during planting, providing the nutrients and protection a seedling needs to grow to a size that can withstand the force of waves. Each cone costs only 50 cents to construct, and will biodegrade by the time the mangrove is strong enough to grow on its own.

The world has pressing challenges that require rigorous scientific efforts, and you can bet that these young scientists are up for the challenge.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sara Cardelle is a Communications Analyst in USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab.

Communities on the Road to Recovery and Healing In Post-Ebola Sierra Leone

A group of women and men

Bintu Sandy explains how the CHD group helped pay her daughter’s school fee – Photo: Abdul Samba Brima

I’ve lived in Sierra Leone all my life, including during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 that left communities battered and hopelessness. Today people here are finding a way to heal and to address community issues, which is leading to resiliency, and, ultimately, stronger community-based systems that meet people’s needs.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa had the same psychological effects on individuals as war.

Not only did many people lose family and friends, but many survivors experienced stigmatization and discrimination once they were able to return to their communities. These stresses increased mental health problems in Sierra Leone, where there are very few mental health providers and little information about psychological pain.

COMMUNITY HEALING DIALOGUES

Nearly 30 kilometers from the district headquarters of Kailahun, in the heart of Kissi Teng Chiefdom, sits Koindu town, on the Sierra Leone border with Guinea. Before the civil war began in 1991, Koindu was a vibrant business hub, but was set ablaze by the rebels during the conflict.

People had barely recovered when Ebola struck. As the epicenter of the virus, the city was gripped with fear as families were obliterated and community relations shattered.

Recognizing the stigma Ebola survivors faced, the USAID Advancing Partners & Communities project introduced community healing dialogues (CHDs) to help communities hardest hit, like Kailahun, to address their problems head-on.

As part of the National Mental Health Strategy, CHDs offer psychosocial support that is having a positive effect on the lives of survivors as well as their communities.

A group sits outdoors, listening to a speaker

CHD sessions attract more people because of the impact on the ground. Photo: Abdul Samba Brima

The CHDs were readily received because so many people had ongoing frustrations and were ready for solutions. When I visited, I spoke to 25-year-old Taiwa, who spoke of her multiple traumas and how the CHDs helped her.

“When my husband died of Ebola, my children and I were thrown out of the house because everybody thought we carried Ebola,” Taiwa told me. “When I returned to my own family, they too shunned us, fearing we would spread the virus to them. We could not share anything, let alone eat together; it was a difficult situation for my children and me.”

Community healing dialogues are led by trained facilitators who bring community members together to air concerns and think of ways to settle them. The facilitators also refer community members to higher-level mental health or social welfare services as needed. Through these efforts, Ebola survivors who were stigmatized and ostracized are now being accepted back into their communities again.

In Koindu, the discussion groups gave Taiwa a chance to explain her concerns in front of other family members and the community as a whole. With the community group’s support and counseling, they found a solution. Today, Taiwa is reunited with her family. “My children and I are back in my husband’s house, getting along very well with his family. We work his farmland and are happy to carry on his legacy.”

After Koindu, I visited neighboring Kondeboithu, where community members use the CHD sessions to raise awareness about serious problems affecting group members—like economic and livelihood challenges—and find solutions within the community. A woman named Bintu explained how a small microenterprise group came together and helped pay her daughter’s school fee.

“My daughter passed the Basic Education Certificate Examination and was to progress to high school. But my husband had died during Ebola and I had no money,” she said. “I explained the situation to this group and they helped me.”

She said that other members have also benefited from the microenterprise group through different interventions.

To date, more than 705 community members in 45 communities have benefitted from this psychosocial intervention.

I could only admire the spirit and perseverance of this community—once a hot spot of war and Ebola—as it finds answers to the numerous mental health challenges and broader community issues.

I am encouraged to see communities recovering and demonstrating so much resilience in the aftermath of Ebola. With USAID support, communities are being transformed and poised for a better future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Abdul Samba Brima is a communications coordinator at John Snow, Inc./Advancing Partners & Communities Project.

Closing the Gender Digital Divide: WomenConnect Challenge Brings 20 Semi-Finalists to DC for Solver Symposium

A woman speaks from a podium

Michelle Bekkering, USAID’s Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, speaks at the Solver Symposium where aspiring innovators gathered to network and strengthen ideas to bridge the gender digital divide. Credit: Kevin Koski for USAID

If you are reading this, you are likely doing so on a smartphone, tablet or computer. Today, many of us take for granted how easy it is to stay connected, learn, network or even watch our favorite show, anytime and anywhere. Everything is at our fingertips.

We can take classes online, register our kids for school, make doctor’s appointments, buy groceries and even sell items from the comfort of our homes to destinations all over the world.

Unfortunately, while this is my reality, technology is not readily accessible to millions of women around the world, resulting in a growing gender digital divide.

Almost 2 billion women in low- and middle-income countries still do not own mobile phones. The number of women without access to a computer is even higher.

Barriers such as cost, lack of network coverage, fear on harassment or lack of digital literacy all contribute to the fact that women in developing countries are nearly 25 percent less likely to be online than men—and that number is closer to 50 percent in some countries.

This isn’t just about entertainment or social connections. We need to reduce this divide, so half the world’s population can benefit from life-enhancing information, and commercial networks and financial services which can reduce poverty and drive inclusive economic growth.

At USAID, we are leading efforts to close the gender digital divide and empower women and girls to access and use digital technology to drive improvements in health, and education and economic opportunities for themselves and their families.

Earlier this year, Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump and USAID Administrator Mark Green launched the WomenConnect Challenge to identify and accelerate comprehensive solutions to closing this critical gender digital divide.

The response was amazing. We received more than 500 applications from almost 90 countries in every corner of the world.

This week, we are welcoming the 20 WomenConnect project semi-finalists to Washington, D.C. at a Solver Symposium to hear their ideas for how to bridge this divide. These participants will benefit from the expertise of USAID and our partners in digital solutions as they focus on innovations that can advance women’s access to digital tools in the most underserved regions of the world.

USAID welcomed 20 WomenConnect project semi-finalists to Washington at the Solver Symposium to help them shape proposals for innovative ideas to help bridge the gender digital divide. Credit: Kevin Koski for USAID

The innovative solutions that Solver Symposium participants are proposing will shape the future of women’s empowerment in their respective countries. Their solutions aim to tackle deep-rooted social norms; teach crowdmapping skills; address women’s and girls’ safety on- and off-line; and increase women’s financial knowledge and inclusion through digital financial services and expanded markets.

Participants will learn to make their solutions the strongest possible in hopes of becoming one of 10 finalists that are funded to pilot their projects.

The workshop has another intangible bonus: it provides a platform to build goodwill among the United States and our partners around the world—solvers like these WomenConnect semi-finalists—leading to collective action around some of the world’s toughest problems. It’s about changing the relationship from benefactor and beneficiary, to recognizing we are partners on their development journey to self-reliance. And through WomenConnect, we are poised to get there even faster.

If you would like to join this effort or receive email updates from the WomenConnect team, please visit the WomenConnect Challenge website.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Bekkering is the USAID Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Economic Growth, Education and Environment Bureau and USAID’s Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. Follow her @USAIDMBekkering.
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