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Diving with Decapods: the Smithsonian-Indonesia PEER Partnership

A woman examines a piece of coral on a lab table, while an outstretched arm holds the coral

Angka Mahardini from Diponegoro University, sampling a dead coral head from Bali

If you are one of the 7 million people who visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History each year in Washington, D.C., then you may have seen a coral reef exhibit in the Sant Ocean Hall.

This exhibit shows the dazzling array of different species you can find in a dead coral head, just one small section (about a cubic foot) of these vast reef systems. The data for this exhibit came from Indonesia’s Diponegoro University to tackle the immense diversity of the country’s coral reefs, explain why they are so diverse and help determine how to best manage and sustain these incredible ecosystems. The work is supported by USAID’s Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program.

The PEER program funds scientists and engineers in developing countries who partner with U.S. Government-funded researchers to address global development challenges, in this case, using decapods found in coral reefs to assess reef health and help determine management units.

Decapods are crustaceans, which consist of different types of crabs, lobsters and shrimp, and play a critical role in maintenance of coral ecosystems. Christopher Meyer, the U.S. partner for the PEER project from the Smithsonian Institution, has been studying marine life for 30 years. The ocean, and especially reefs, still have many fundamental unknown qualities, which drove Meyer to pursue his career exploring marine life. This PEER program gives him an opportunity to pursue questions in this biological hotspot that haven’t been asked before.

Meyer and his Indonesian research partner, Ambariyanto, who uses one name, are working with multiple universities, government partners and foundations in Indonesia to analyze local coral reefs in order to better understand how to prioritize critical coral reef conservation units in the region.

A woman looks into a microscope in a lab

Coral reefs are essential for healthy ocean ecosystems.

One third of all saltwater fish depend on coral reefs at some stage in their life. Fish make up an estimated 40 percent of all animal protein in the Indonesian diet, making healthy reefs critical to regional food security.

Fish are also an important component of the Indonesian economy exporting close to $4 billion worth of fish in 2012. Meyer says that marine conservation can be harder to promote, because anything covered by water is out of sight. If you can’t see what lies beneath, you are less likely to appreciate the full impact humans are having.

Current estimates predict that by 2050, nearly all coral reefs on Earth will be at a highly threatened status. Causes for the endangerment of coral reefs include pollution, overfishing, natural disasters and climate change.

Meyer’s attraction to Indonesia stems from the intricacy and pure spectacle offered by its coral reefs. “To have the most impact in sustaining coral reefs, you have to focus on countries like Indonesia, due to both the uniqueness of their ecosystems and the heavy dependence on fish in the local diet,” he explained.

During his research with Ambariyanto, they found that one coral head alone can serve as host to almost a hundred decapod species. Twenty-five coral heads from Bali alone contained over 300 species. Coral heads in Indonesia contain more than twice the number of species than those from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. All this from a ‘dead’ piece of coral, now used as a barometer to measure ocean conditions.

Funds for developing country researchers can be few and far between. Meyer said that “PEER helps international researchers have an equal partnership with U.S. researchers, which builds and sustains relationships after the project.”

A large component of this PEER project helps Indonesia become a more self-reliant country by building research capacity. “The most important thing I can do is to help create the next generation of scientists in Indonesia,” Meyer says. “Decisions about how to manage marine resources are up to Indonesians. We can work together to develop tools to help make good decisions.”

A man stands in front of a white board, while people sit around him

Chris Meyer teaching in Bali

Two Indonesian students got a chance to work with Meyer for a few months at the National Museum of Natural History. Both learned new research skills in museum curation and genomic analyses. It is currently cheaper to bring samples for DNA work to the United States than it is to do the work in Indonesia. However, it is becoming more difficult to send DNA from one country to another, so gaining knowledge in DNA approaches will contribute to future research efforts in Indonesia.

The PEER project will be disseminating the researchers’ results in Indonesia this summer to government and fisheries representatives. Meyer says, “We aim to provide a standardized method for collecting data for coral reef assessment and sustainability, helping to provide guidelines on fishery management, which in turn helps preserve food security.”

A lot is still unknown about coral reefs, but you can bet that Meyer is ready and willing to dive in and explore coral reefs for years to come.


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

Where It’s Risky to Tell the Truth: Press Freedom Declines in Too Many Countries

A low angle of a man in a colorful shirt, with his arms out, as if he is dancing

Youth energize the crowd in attendance for the National Elections Commission’s USAID-supported “Elections and You” radio broadcast, in Bong County, Liberia in July 2017. / Jessica Benton Cooney, USAID

At the turn of the century, improved internet access, greater mobile phone ownership and easy-to-use digital media platforms transformed social participation in urgent issues of the day. These tools promised to lift the voices of previously silenced citizens and journalists in a new digital landscape—even in some of the more repressive corners of the world where access to information had been limited and freedom of expression curtailed.

Around the world, USAID’s programs work with local civil societies, media and governments to develop media laws and regulatory systems that seek to take into account best practices and international covenants around freedom of expression.

As a media specialist, I have spent the last two years advising on USAID programming to support the development of a free and vibrant press sector and a free and open internet.

I was captivated by independent and citizen journalists, who in the new millenium have shown their fellow citizens and the world popular protests in Burma, Russia, Egypt and other countries. Along with many, I believed these movements were ushering in a great era of democracy and freedom of expression.

Instead, today, I see the opposite. There is currently a global democratic decline in 129 developing countries.

USAID partner Freedom House’s 2017 Freedom of the Press report cites only 13 percent of the world’s population enjoys a free press—a media environment where coverage of political news is robust, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and the press is not subject to onerous legal or economic pressures.

Media, according to Freedom House, is in the line of fire of authoritarian leaders.

Even in democracies, we have seen unprecedented threats to journalists and media. Countries where just years back I saw vibrant, pluralistic media playing important roles in creating democracy, checking government power, exposing corruption, and bringing marginalized voices to the fore are now muted, even silenced.

A man in a white t-shirt holds up a small portable radio

A minicab driver listens to VDO broadcast in Abeche market, April 2009

Clamp down on a free press

Recently, I saw one of the more dismaying cases of the loss of freedom of speech.

This country experimented with democracy in the recent past until a democratically-elected leader sought to keep his grip on power. He set up a system of patronage and mechanisms to divert state resources for his own personal gain, undermining the checks and balances designed to hold the executive accountable—including journalists.

The country’s free market served as a convenient mask—he and his family bought nearly all of the country’s newspaper, radio and TV outlets.

In such a country, on whose shoulders rests the traditional “watchdog” functions of the media?

It is journalists and citizens who publish on social media—using their voice to demand transparency and accountability. Worldwide, authoritarian-leaning governments, including the country I speak of, are reacting to the impact of citizen’s voices on social media. Here, that includes mobilizing a pro-government troll army that targets people who criticize the government and acquiring sophisticated technology to better surveil or shut down dissent online. Cruder methods include stealing laptops and phones from activists, using cheap keystroke-loggers to hack into their targets’ accounts, and compelling telecom providers to turn over their data.

The stakes are high. Checks on power are only within the hands of citizens. And those too may slip away. On top of that, this government has said it will propose new regulations that could further chill public discourse.

Already, citizens said they were more afraid to be active online than usual, and are less likely to post their comments, “like,” or share on Facebook. Some even told me that if you “liked” the page of the activist who raised the issue of government corruption, family and friends might ask, “Why did you do that? It’s dangerous.”

Making their voices heard

However, there were some inspiring moments that I saw; as always, it’s the youth.

While their parents attended protests when they were younger to make their voices heard, the new generation does so online. “I grew up with social media as the way I express myself. I’m not about to give it up,” one activist told me.

And they’re not about to give up their freedom without a fight.

A man in a red shirt sits on the floor of a TV studio, while two people sit at a news anchor desk in front of him.

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. /Gela Mtivlishvili

They take to social media to hold discussions online, make and share satirical videos, raise attention to the issue in the media, and organize and hold rallies before parliament. This may possibly be the entry point through which they engage more broadly in protecting their country’s democracy.

I am energized by how USAID programs and interventions are working to strengthen news coverage, bolster the professionalism and safety of journalists, create an enabling environment (through legislation if necessary), and restructure media companies’ business models so that they can flourish, even under the harshest of conditions. In some countries, media is the only institution in society that keeps power in check, and we need to support it.


Josh Machleder is the Advisor for Media, Technology, and Internet Freedom in USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance

Generating Trade With — and Within — East Africa

Kenyan flowers are about to become more prevalent in the U.S. market with new direct flights from Nairobi to New York. Here, a Kenyan flower worker prepares roses for export. / Riccardo Gangale

Where does your morning coffee come from and how many jobs did it create? You may be surprised to learn just what it takes to get that cup of joe into your hands.

East Africa — the source of some of the world’s best coffee — is poised for robust growth in agriculture, financial services, medicine, textiles and apparel. In fact, sub-Saharan Africa is home to six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world.

So what does it take to get that cup of coffee to you? From efficient farm management to the transport system of trucks, planes and cargo ships that ride on the backbone of roads, weigh stations, ports and efficient border crossings, an entire infrastructure is necessary to ensure that the coffee crop meets your cup. But there’s much more to the story.

A Kenyan coffee farmer holds a coffee cherry from the high-altitude fields near Mount Kenya, where farmers have been producing coffee for over 100 years. / Joe Mwihia

The infrastructure in Africa was built to extract Africa’s natural resources and export them abroad. It wasn’t designed to move goods across and within the continent, impeding the ability of African countries to trade with their neighbors. This in turn created trade policies that slowed trade across borders and increased its cost to prohibitive levels. The cost of most goods in the region is nearly 40 percent above retail because it costs that much to get it to consumers.

Only 13 percent of trade in East Africa is within the region, compared to 60 percent in the European Union and 40 percent in Asia. In 2017, the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa determined that adequate transportation infrastructure and harmonized border systems are necessary for American companies to grow and thrive in Africa. In fact, the council determined that “unhindered import/export networks are a basic operating need for all global business.”

USAID works to remove trade barriers in Africa through partnerships with government, civil society, and private sector regional institutions such as the Common Market for East and Southern Africa, the East African Community, TradeMark East Africa, and the East Africa Grain Council. We are reducing the cost of doing business in Africa, leveling the playing field, reducing the risk, and cutting through red tape to make trade freer and fairer for everyone.

Sub-Saharan Africa is establishing itself as the next sourcing destination for global apparel buyers. Here, a United Aryan Ltd. textile worker prepares garments destined for the U.S market via the African Growth and Opportunity Act. / Riccardo Gangale

USAID Trade and Investment Hubs work on the ground to boost trade and investment opportunities in Africa. To date, the hubs have created investment opportunities across the continent worth close to $600 million and growing; and for every $1 of public money spent, the hubs leverage $9 in private sector investment.

For example, through the East Africa Trade and Investment Hub, USAID has facilitated $98 million in private sector investments since 2015.

The USAID East Africa Trade and Investment Hub works on the ground to reduce the cost of doing business in Africa — a win-win for the United States and our African partners. / East Africa Trade and Investment Hub

Trade and investment are also critical to food security, which is vital to Africa’s long-term development. Even though East Africa grows enough food to feed its entire population, over 27 million people still go to bed hungry and 46 million live in poverty. Getting food to the people who need it most remains a challenge that regional trade integration should help to solve.

The free flow of goods across Africa’s borders should ultimately reduce the need for financial and food aid, empowering the African people on their journey to prosperity and self-reliance.

These approaches, in combination with promoting two-way trade with the United States under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, are seeing promising results. In recent years, the cost of importing or exporting a shipping container in East Africa has been cut in half, and almost all goods entering the region clear customs only once.

Since 2011, U.S. businesses have exported $37 billion dollars worth of goods to East Africa, which support nearly 13,000 American jobs every year.

In partnership with the Initiative for Global Development, USAID is on the road with the Africa Investment Rising Roadshow, visiting U.S. businesses and investors in Des Moines, Houston, New York City, and Washington, D.C. As we tour the United States, we’re reminded that African-driven solutions continue to be on the rise and U.S. private and public sectors are an important part of the picture.

There’s a lot of work left to do, but we have come a long way. East Africa is truly rising, and with just a sip of coffee, you can be part of our growing trade partnership, too.


Scott Cameron is office chief of the USAID/Kenya and East Africa Office of Economic Growth and Integration.


On the Road to Self Reliance

A graphic display commemorating USAID's 10 years in Kosovo, with a hashtag #kosovo10 printed on the base.

Kosovo marked 10 years of independence on February 17, 2018. Credit: Nazmije Bajrami/USAID

During my first official trip to Pristina in the fall of 2002, I remember how long it took to maneuver streets marked with potholes and blocked off with barricades and armored cars. A very visible NATO-led international peacekeeping force patrolled the streets, a holdover from the Kosovo war. Because power was unreliable, small generators dotted the sidewalks along the busy main streets; their noisy engines pierced the air with fumes that made it hard to breathe. It was a stark picture of a dark time.

Fast forward to 2018. Kosovo welcomed me for yet another first official trip, this time as the recently confirmed Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia, the same bureau at USAID where I had previously served as Chief of Staff in 2002.

Today, Pristina is a bustling metropolitan city with a modern airport and paved roads. The ride from the airport to my hotel was smoother than traveling the 26-mile journey from Dulles International Airport to Washington, D.C. As my car made its way through the main streets of Pristina, I couldn’t help but notice the incredible changes.

A view of Pristina, Kosovo from atop a building

Signs of progress in Kosovo’s capital city Pristina: the view from the famous Bell Tower; new roads in downtown Pristina; the impressive National Library. Credit: Nazmije Bajrami/USAID

While 2002 was a depressed time for Pristina, Kosovo is now an independent nation moving toward European integration, and a shining example of successful development.

Our work in Kosovo is not done, but positive and concrete changes have taken hold in this new nation, and the country now has a clear path ahead.

My visit marked Kosovo’s 10th anniversary of independence. I met with government leaders, young business entrepreneurs, members of Parliament, and civil society advocates to talk about the progress achieved in that short time. They all shared a similar message: We’ve come a long way, but we still need your help.

Kosovo exemplifies the journey to self-reliance. USAID’s work evolved from a post-conflict humanitarian assistance program in 1999 to a robust program that strengthens governance, catalyzes reform, leverages resources, and enhances economic potential. We are working to end the need for foreign assistance by focusing on European integration, building local ownership, and creating conditions for American and other foreign investment.

USAID supports programs in Kosovo that strengthen democracy and governance, increase investment and private sector employment, and expand access to quality education. One program in particular helps farmers identify new crops that increase their produce yields by more than 10-fold while also opening new markets. Another program ensures more women claim the property rights they are entitled to, greatly expanding their access to credit and opportunities as small-business owners. These are just two examples of inclusive development taking root in Kosovo.

From overhead, a large group of people stand in a circle around a circular compass design in the floor.

Brock Bierman meets with recent graduates of USAID’s Transformational Leadership Program to discuss the role of young leaders in Kosovo’s development journey. Credit: Nazmije Bajrami/USAID

Signs of progress are also visible in the public sector. I met with five impressive members of Parliament who are part of the 38-member Women Caucus. The caucus, a key partner of our Political Process and Parliamentary Support program, works on common issues across political parties, a potentially bright opportunity to address fractious issues that deter Kosovo’s further development.

I also met with the mayor of Pristina, who is a strong ally in our effort to promote government transparency and to combat corruption. Our meeting included young NGO leaders who provide a watchdog function to the municipality. It was impressive to see these NGO leaders sitting next to the mayor as we held our meeting and talked about the need for open government.

But despite the real progress I witnessed, Kosovo faces serious challenges and while I was on the ground I could see that ethnic tensions remain at the heart of its move ahead.

This was especially evident in the northern town of Mitrovica, where a bridge connects ethnic minority communities otherwise living separate lives, flying their own flags, and speaking different languages. Mitrovica illustrates how differences can be exploited, leaving its people in a state of uncertainty and vulnerability. But even here we are making inroads with minority business leaders, young political leaders and judges from both ethnicities who are finding ways to work together and break the gridlock between cultures.

Regardless of ethnicity, perhaps my greatest source of optimism is Kosovo’s young people. This huge segment of the population yearns to move past today’s challenges and create a better future for Kosovo. USAID’s programs have laid the foundation for these future entrepreneurs, opinion leaders and potential reformers in government to lead the way forward.

A group of people wearing lab coats and hair nets, examines a product produced in the factory the group is visiting

Brock Bierman visits USAID-supported factory to see how USAID generates economic expansion in Kosovo. Credit: Nazmije Bajrami/USAID

My biggest takeaway from this trip was that Kosovars understand that their country cannot accomplish meaningful progress unless they are willing to take on their own challenges. The government leaders, civil society representatives, business owners and citizens I met highlighted U.S. expertise, investment and engagement as critical factors for helping overcome these challenges. We can help build their infrastructure, build their capacity and build consensus, but without self-reliance, nothing is sustainable.

Sixteen years ago I thought it would be some time in coming before Kosovo would pick itself up from a terrible time in its history. Fortunately, Kosovars have done a remarkable job in a short period of time, and I am certain that it won’t take another 16 years before Kosovo is joining our efforts to help others in need.


Brock Bierman is Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Europe and Eurasia. Follow him @BBiermanUSAID

The Beauty of a Wastewater Treatment Plant

A concrete area with water flowing through it

Before: Wastewater flowed untreated through this neighborhood, increasing the risk of waterborne and airborne diseases. / Center for Urban and Regional Excellence

Most people are familiar with the breathtaking view of the Taj Mahal with its waterways, walking paths and topiary. Of course, this is the perspective from the south, but personally I find that the view from the north is just as moving. From there, you can see the mighty Yamuna river. The poet Rabindranath Tagore once wrote: “The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time.”

But the Yamuna is not the same river it was when Tagore wrote those words or when Shah Jahan commissioned the Taj Mahal. Nowadays, the Yamuna is one of the most polluted waterways in India, putting communities at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.

I’ve worked as a health and development professional for 22 years and arrived in India a little more than a year ago to be the Mission Director for USAID. If there is one thing my career has taught me, it is to never lose hope that every problem has a solution. That is exactly what people in a slum community in Agra achieved with the help of the local municipal body.

In 2009, this slum community near the Taj Mahal did not have access to sanitation facilities, disposal systems or waste collection. Therefore, 85 percent of residents resorted to open defecation. For the most part, the waste flowed directly into the river, from which residents—and many others—draw their water for drinking and irrigation. Needless to say, this caused high rates of sickness and even death.

The Agra Municipal Corporation — the local governing body for the city — collaborated with a USAID-supported NGO called the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence to reduce the risks of disease. The solution was to construct a wastewater treatment plant that would make the waters flowing by the mausoleum cleaner — and the more than 2,000 people living in this settlement healthier.

The wastewater treatment plant, designed by sanitation experts, was completed in 2011 and does not use polluting chemicals. Instead, it uses natural methods that required a relatively low primary investment, low power consumption and low maintenance demands, making it cost effective to build and operate.

From nearby houses, the treatment plant resembles a picturesque wetland tucked into their neighborhood.

Additionally, the treatment system is designed to channel treated water back into the community’s systems, allowing it to be reused by farmers and for toilets. The result is less water wasted and less wastewater polluting the Yamuna and the local environment.

An area of concrete with a metal grate, with water flowing on either side

After: This wastewater treatment system cleans water and channels it back into the community to be reused by farmers and for toilets. / Center for Urban and Regional Excellence

After construction was complete, USAID trained engineers and community members on the plant’s operation and maintenance. In 2017, the Agra Municipal Corporation took over all operations and committed to ensuring the plant improves residents’ lives for years to come.

One development project isn’t going to make the Yamuna river perfectly clean, but life has improved for these Agra residents living in the shade of the Taj Mahal. The community is no longer one of the many communities whose daily defecation pollutes the surrounding environment, threatening their health and the health of their neighbors. It’s also proof that a wastewater treatment system and its maintenance can be affordable.

What the Agra Municipal Corporation and our NGO partner managed to do with USAID support is impressive. Now, other municipal corporations are following Agra’s model — such as East Delhi and Rourkela. I encourage others to also follow their example.

The Government of India is working to make the entire country clean by 2019 through its Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission. At USAID, we are committed to helping in any way we can. Every step taken towards providing people with clean water and access to sanitation facilities is a step in the right direction.



A brick building with a small canal flowing past it, with plants growing alongside the canal

From nearby houses, the treatment plant resembles a picturesque wetland tucked into their neighborhood. / Center for Urban and Regional Excellence



Mark Anthony White is the Mission Director for USAID in India. Follow @usaid_india

The Time to Make Progress? Right Now.

How USAID and our partners are supporting innovations to save mom’s lives around the globe

A group of women medical practitioners share a smart phone to look at the app

Providers in Liberia using the mobile application Open Development have developed through their SL@B award/ Ilyse Stempler, Open Development

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is Press for Progress—a call to action for the global community to come together to demand gender equity.

While women deserve fair treatment in health care throughout their lives, there is no other milestone as poignantly deserving as the moment when a woman becomes a mother. It is a time when she and her baby are most vulnerable and their health outcomes are inextricably linked to each other.

Through Saving Lives at Birth (SL@B), USAID and its partners—the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the U.K’s Department for International Development and the Korea International Cooperation Agency—support 116 unique innovations spanning new or improved technologies, scientific advancements, improved service delivery models and innovative approaches to empower and create demand for health services. Each addresses a critical challenge during the continuum of care for both mom and baby.

Here’s why our work is so important. Over the last two decades, we have seen a 37 percent reduction in maternal mortality and 40 percent reduction of under 5-mortality globally.

Still, those efforts aren’t enough. Progress to reduce newborn deaths has been significantly slower. Today, an estimated 2.6 million stillbirths, 2.7 million neonatal deaths and 303,000 maternal deaths occur globally each year, signaling a major gap in interventions specifically around the time of delivery.

This gap is particularly acute in poor, underserved communities and among women who are disadvantaged.

So how do we address this gap? We have some innovative ideas that have leapfrogged conventional approaches, and are showing success.

With Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), we are helping tackle the most common cause of maternal morbidity and mortality in developing countries, postpartum hemorrhage (bleeding after birth). With SL@B support, MGH is scaling its next generation uterine balloon tamponade (UBT) system and training curriculum for health care workers who treat uncontrolled postpartum hemorrhage. They have introduced the device in over 550 facilities across Kenya and Sierra Leone and saved over 600 lives, while encouraging interest and use of the UBT in 22 countries.

We are helping the Liberian government engage private health care providers, drive improvements in quality maternal care and empower women by giving them greater choice in where to seek care. In partnership with D-Tree International and Results for Development, SL@B is supporting Washington, D.C.-based Open Development to streamline and automate patient, provider and payer transactions in Liberia through a mobile application.

A newborn baby wears the BEMPU Hypothermia Alert device on its wrist

“At the weekly follow-up, [the mother] came back [to the clinic] and said that the funniest thing had happened—the grandfather had [been alerted via the bracelet that the baby’s temperature was dropping] and started doing kangaroo care. In that region, it’s pretty uncommon for men to be caring for the infant. For me, that was a really powerful moment. Annika Gage from Bempu recalling her interaction with a midwife in Papua New Guinea who had put the bracelet on a premature baby before she left the hospital./ Bempu Health

We are equipping mothers with tools and resources that empower them to seek care for their newborns, like the BEMPU Hypothermia Alert Device. It is a newborn temperature-monitoring wristband that a baby wears and can alert mothers or other caregivers if their newborn’s temperature falls too low. Moms can immediately spring into action with Kangaroo Care, also known as skin-to-skin care and usually between mom and baby. It is a simple, yet effective way of regulating a baby’s heart rate and body temperature to prevent the onset of hypothermia-related complications or death, particularly for low-birth weight and premature babies. This innovation, named one of Time’s Top 25 Inventions of 2017, has not only improved health outcomes for an estimated 10,000 babies, but it is enabling women and their families to practice healthy behaviors in caring for their newborns.

SL@B is grounded in the belief that significant breakthroughs in innovation often come about when new ideas and disciplines are applied to long-entrenched problems. The projects described above are just three examples of how innovations can help us accelerate progress in reducing maternal and newborn mortality and achieving gender equity in health outcomes globally.

Our innovators are a testament to the fact that good ideas can come from anywhere and with strategic partners, support, and determination to save lives, they can create real impact.

Let today serve as a reminder that together, we have the opportunity to close the intervention gaps for pregnant women and their babies and turn insurmountable development challenges into solvable problems. Their futures―and our world —depend on it.

Sofia Stafford is a Program Assistant in the Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact and helps manage the Saving Lives at Birth Grand Challenge.

Ghanaian Chef Works to End Hunger by Reducing Food Waste

In 2011, Elijah Amoo Addo was taking out the trash at a restaurant in Accra, Ghana where he worked as the head chef when he came across a homeless man scrounging through the dumpster for food. The man said he was collecting the leftovers to feed his friends on the street.

Founder of Food for All Africa, Chef Elijah donates bags of recovered rice to beneficiaries.

Founder of Food for All Africa, Chef Elijah donates bags of recovered rice to beneficiaries. / Paul Osafo Buabeng

Elijah was touched by the encounter and from then on, he vowed that no more food from the restaurant would go to waste. He started recovering surplus food from the kitchen to feed the vulnerable and mentally challenged in his community, but he envisioned something bigger.

Initially, it was difficult for Elijah to communicate his vision, as he had little knowledge of the problem of food waste and hunger in Ghana. He started an advocacy group to research these issues and create a social intervention program.  

Elijah came to learn that building a sustainable food system is a priority for the Ghanaian government and stakeholders within the food supply chain. About 95 percent of vulnerable communities across Ghana are not getting enough nutrition. One in five babies born in Ghana are stunted, which has been calculated to cost the economy $2.6 billion a year, about 6.4 percent of the country’s GDP.

Around this time, Elijah learned about the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), launched by the U.S. Government to invest in the next generation of African leaders. He applied to the West Africa Regional Leadership Center in Accra, but his restaurant supervisor was not supportive of taking time off to attend the training. In the end, Elijah decided to quit his job so he could fully immerse himself in the program.

The leadership and business skills he learned in the 2014 training helped him launch Food for All Africa.

 Food recovery and redistribution van of Food for All Africa. / Paul Osafo Buabeng

Food recovery and redistribution van of Food for All Africa. / Paul Osafo Buabeng

Elijah and his team operate the first community food bank in Ghana. The center creates efficient and sustainable nutrition streams for low income and vulnerable communities by redistributing surplus food from restaurants, working with rural smallholder farmers to connect their produce to urban hospitality companies.

The organizations also hold a forum for stakeholders to address the inefficiencies within our food supply chain and collaborate in building a more efficient and sustainable food supply chain across Africa.

Elijah said leaving his restaurant job enabled him to fulfill his passion for entrepreneurship and risk taking.

Elijah feels confident he made the right decision. Today, Food for All Africa recovers up to $5,700 worth of food each month from businesses within the food supply chain — including manufacturers, importers, farmers and hotels.

The organization aims to reach 1 million low-income people by 2020. To do so, Food for All Africa works with orphanages, schools and vulnerable communities.

 Food recovery and redistribution van of Food for All Africa. / Paul Osafo Buabeng

Food recovery and redistribution van of Food for All Africa. / Paul Osafo Buabeng

The most defining moment of Elijah’s career was in October 2015. “I envisioned feeding 5,000 beneficiaries on UN World Food Day and drawing global attention by attempting a Guinness World Record for the longest table on the day,” he said. “It was difficult work but we pulled it off even though we couldn’t break the record. To crown it up, it dawned on me when in July 2017 I did receive a Queen’s Young Leader award from Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace.”

Elijah hopes to scale his services to other parts of Africa in the next five years while building stronger partnerships with businesses.

“Every generation needs to sacrifice and build a better place for its children and future generations,” he said. “And Africa today falls on our shoulders to work in raising the aspirations of children and changing the African story. Africa needs you and me.”


Fridah Wanjiku is a Digital Communications Specialist based in Nairobi, Kenya. She serves as a Virtual Student Foreign Service intern with USAID on the Young African Leaders Initiative team.

Ensuring Effective Development

Jospeh Ebwalu, and family, beneficiaries of Village Enterprise’s skills building course. Credit: Village Enterprise.

Jospeh Ebwalu, and family, beneficiaries of Village Enterprise’s skills building course. Credit: Village Enterprise.

USAID is taking steps to ensure we make the most out of our investments, and one way we are doing so is by experimenting with a range of “pay-for-results” models.

“Pay for results” is an umbrella term for initiatives that pay out only after specified results have been achieved, rather than paying for the efforts to work toward those results.

It is seen as a disruptor that encourages innovation and attracts new funding sources. It can align interests and risk sharing among funders and implementers toward achieving evidence-based outcomes.

Interest in using these strategies in development has risen sharply in recent years, in line with growing attention to aid effectiveness and the need to use scarce resources efficiently.

But how exactly does this work? Let’s take the story of Joseph Ebwalu as an example.

Joseph, a farmer in Maaga village, Uganda, used to only grow enough cassava, millet and ground nuts to feed his eight children. Aside from the few extra cups he sold for profit, Joseph relied on local government support to provide for his family and lacked the financial history necessary to take out loans for a business of his own.

A few years later, things look quite different for Joseph and his family, thanks to a skills building course offered by the nonprofit Village Enterprise. The organization’s one-year poverty graduation program provided Joseph and fellow entrepreneurs with the business skills, economic stability and starting capital to not only get on their feet, but to stay standing.

Joseph now runs his own goat-rearing business with his two Village Enterprise group members. The profits he’s earned allowed him to move beyond subsistence farming to providing his family with three meals a day and sending all of his children to school. He’s now a role model for others in his community.

USAID provides support to the organization Instiglio to develop, with Village Enterprise and other donors, a development impact bond to scale Village Enterprise’s poverty graduation model in Kenya and Uganda. In this specific example, USAID and other donors agreed to pay a certain rate for rigorously verified outcomes from Village Enterprise—like increases in Joseph’s net assets and the number of meals his family eats.

Village Enterprise gets funding upfront from socially-motivated investors and free reign to deliver services as they see fit. This way, if the poverty graduation model doesn’t work in Kenya and Uganda, the donors wouldn’t have to pay. However, if Village Enterprise does meet its target and successfully helps more people like Joseph, then the nonprofit unlocks more funding from USAID and its partners.

USAID uses a few other pay-for-results structures, as well. Outcomes-based grants and contracts are agreements between a funder and a partner. In these relationships, after an initial transfer of money to launch or improve a project, the partner must meet agreed upon outcomes-based milestones or forfeit further payment.

An example is the Development Innovation Ventures program, under which grants are based on outcomes milestones, ensuring that both the funder and the grantee are incentivized by the same goals around results.

Data Driven Farming Prize: Teams get feedback on their proposed solutions during a Haat Bazaar in Katmandu. Credit: Kathaharu Studio.

Data Driven Farming Prize: Teams get feedback on their proposed solutions during a Haat Bazaar in Katmandu. Credit: Kathaharu Studio.

USAID also uses results-based incentive prizes to create open competitions that incentivize a wide range of organizations and individuals to accelerate a solution or achieve a specific outcome, while remaining open to innovation and out-of-the-box ideas on how to get there.

USAID has used results-based incentive prizes to award cash to competition winners that best achieve the specific outcomes or hit predetermined targets, stimulating the market to develop or improve solutions as diverse as small-scale desalination technologies, household refrigerators that function with off-grid energy systems and data solutions to enable decision making for smallholder farmers.

In lean financial times, USAID needs to continue to increase cost-effectiveness while also encouraging innovation. By integrating these practices into our everyday work, we have the potential to cut costs, make smart decisions, and transform international development.

Together with our partners, we are taking a step toward a future where our funding is more directly linked to results. And we do not expect the trend toward outcomes-based programs to slow.

To learn how to design for outcomes and integrate pay-for-results approaches into your work, reach out to us at or visit

Seema Patel is the Division Chief of the Innovation Design and Advisory Team in the U.S. Global Development Lab, Anne Healy is the Division Chief for the Source and Test Team in the U.S. Global Development Lab


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What Does ‘Back to School’ Mean for Children in Crisis and Conflict?

Aisha Mohammed, who fled with her family when Boko Haram attacked her village in Northeast Nigeria was able to continue her education through a non-formal learning center funded by USAID. Erick Gibson/Creative Associates International for USAID

Aisha Mohammed, who fled with her family when Boko Haram attacked her village in Northeast Nigeria was able to continue her education through a non-formal learning center funded by USAID. Erick Gibson/Creative Associates International for USAID

As summer winds down here in the United States, “Back to School” displays with colorful arrays of supplies remind us that students and teachers are preparing for the coming year.

But for many children around the world, going back to school in the traditional sense is elusive.

Each year, conflicts and crises halt or delay the education of 80 million children worldwide. Schools, books and materials are destroyed. Children are forced to leave their homes and communities, often with only the clothes they’re wearing.

In many long-standing conflicts, children spend a significant amount of time out of school. Because the average duration of displacement is 20 years, many children will spend their entire childhood outside of the traditional classroom. The longer they’re out, the less likely they are to ever go back.

However, we know that school is necessary not only for their continued education, but also their emotional and physical protection—and this is critical when their worlds are in chaos.

What ‘Back To School’ Means for Children in South Sudan and Northeast Nigeria

When people are forced from their homes, schools and communities by conflict, USAID partners with development and local organizations to act quickly to help redefine what “school” looks like—ideally so that children are back learning as soon as possible. The conflict or crisis may be ever changing, but USAID seeks to keep learning a constant factor in children’s lives.

Aisha Mohammed (third from left), age 17, and her friends take a break after classes at a USAID-funded non-formal learning center in the capital of Borno State, in Nigeria. Erick Gibson/Creative Associates International for USAID

Aisha Mohammed (third from left), age 17, and her friends take a break after classes at a USAID-funded non-formal learning center in the capital of Borno State, in Nigeria. Erick Gibson/Creative Associates International for USAID

In South Sudan, Nyaradio Gatkuoth and her family fled to a safe haven at the United Nations compound in the capital city of Juba after civil war erupted in 2013—when she was 15 years old. Nearly four years later, conflict continues to disrupt millions of lives in South Sudan.

South Sudan has the world’s highest proportion of out-of-school children, with nearly 70 percent of primary school-aged children missing out on education. Since a political crisis erupted into civil war in 2013, more than 800 schools have closed, and an estimated 900,000 children have abandoned their studies. Today, the formal educational system is still in crisis.

Nyaradio said living in the UN Protection of Civilians site in South Sudan was “like a prison” because she was never able to leave the site. However, she says, attending the Hope Primary School at a site run by UNICEF, and supported by USAID, is a bright spot in her day.

As part of USAID’s Back to Learning initiative, we have supported UNICEF in enrolling more than 430,000 South Sudanese children and adolescents in school, including recently demobilized child soldiers. We have also helped establish more than 950 temporary learning spaces since the civil war began.

Seventeen-year-old Aisha Mohammed grew up in the town of Gwoza, in Northeast Nigeria, and was forced to flee with her family when Boko Haram attacked her village.  Eventually, they settled in the urban center of Maiduguri, which houses hundreds of thousands of Nigerians seeking refuge from the horrors of the ongoing insurgency. As a result, Aisha missed out on formal schooling for nearly two years.

The Boko Haram insurgency has had devastating effects on the education sector in Northeastern Nigeria. UNICEF estimates that nearly 1 million school-aged children have been forced to leave their homes and communities as a result of the ongoing violence.  At the same time, an estimated 3 million children have no access to education across the Northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe—those most acutely affected by the insurgency.

Through the Education Crisis Response program, USAID is providing non-formal education in the places where formal schools don’t exist, or where they are too overcrowded to accommodate the influx of children fleeing the insurgency. The curriculum includes basic math and literacy, but is also helping children deal with the emotional effects of what they have experienced. USAID has established more than 1,400 learning centers in Northeast Nigeria, helping 88,000 children like Aisha go back to school.

What ‘Back To School’ Means for USAID During a Conflict or Crisis

USAID is working around the world to expand equitable access to education for children and youth in crisis and conflict-affected environments. For us, “Back to School” during a conflict or crisis means:

  • Providing safe learning opportunities for students and teachers, especially the most vulnerable (such as girls and children with disabilities);
  • Rebuilding education systems, including support to teachers; and
  • Using conflict-sensitive education programs, community engagement and disaster-risk reduction activities to prevent and mitigate future conflict.

Today’s humanitarian crises are more complex and protracted—like the ones in Northeast Nigeria and South Sudan—and require programs that are responsive, flexible and tailored to the context. These programs help young people thrive despite their circumstances, and contribute to peacebuilding and economic growth in their communities.

Although conflict forced her and her family from their home, Nyaradio has completed grade 8 and is waiting to join secondary school this year. “I want to study up to university. I want to be a journalist one day,” she says.

She also says school makes her happy: “We study, sing, dance and forget about our problems.”

Helping Salvadorans Build a Better Life at Home

USAID job training programs provide Salvadoran youth the skills they need for greater employment and economic opportunities as a deterrent to migration. /USAID Bridges to Employment Project

USAID job training programs provide Salvadoran youth the skills they need for greater employment and economic opportunities as a deterrent to migration. /USAID Bridges to Employment Project

In 1999, as a graduate student doing a research project in El Salvador, I was held up at gunpoint.  With a .45 pistol thrust into my chest, I had never felt such fear in my life. I know that my brush with violence was something that many Salvadorans are threatened with every day.

Faced with unimaginable violence at the hands of ruthless gang members, debilitating poverty and hopelessness, nearly 70,000 children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala embarked upon a treacherous journey in the summer of 2014, with a goal of reaching the United States.

Yet, a baseline survey in El Salvador, taken after the migration surge, indicated that 70 percent of citizens in high crime municipalities would prefer to remain in their communities than migrate, presuming improved security, education and economic opportunities. The data indicate that while the factors that attract people to migrate are strong, most Salvadorans would prefer to build a prosperous life closer to home.

Low-cost community outreach centers help reduce crime and violence, a leading cause of illegal migration, by providing youth in high-crime communities a place to learn computer skills or to play a musical instrument, engage in sports activities, or receive tutoring as alternatives to gang involvement. /USAID

Low-cost community outreach centers help reduce crime and violence, a leading cause of illegal migration, by providing youth in high-crime communities a place to learn computer skills or to play a musical instrument, engage in sports activities, or receive tutoring as alternatives to gang involvement. /USAID

In 2013, I returned to El Salvador as USAID’s Mission Director. In my time there, I found so many people working to do just that—people who care and love their country, people who are working together to make their communities safer and more prosperous. It is this El Salvador that people hear less about. Building this El Salvador contributes to our own safety and prosperity.

At the recent Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America that was held in Miami, Florida, Vice President Pence emphasized the U.S. Government’s commitment to continue to partner with the countries of Central America to root out crime and corruption, and to provide greater education and economic opportunities that will “give the citizens of Central America a better path and a brighter future.”

A secure and flourishing Central America will help to stop the flow of illegal migration and drugs and create new economic opportunities for all, including the United States. As Vice President Pence said, “We are in this together.”

The Northern Triangle presidents have created their own plan, the Alliance for Prosperity, which provides a framework for addressing the major obstacles to economic growth and demonstrates the political will of the governments in the region to advance prosperity, security and democracy. The plan integrates security, economic and good governance initiatives to build a safe, democratic and prosperous region where people can build a better life at home without having to leave.

As we stand together with the countries of Central America, USAID programs help to tackle the problems driving illegal migration, namely insecurity, lack of economic and educational opportunities, and weak governance. I believe that our support for El Salvador and Central America is making a difference that not only helps Central Americans build a better, safer life for themselves in their own countries but helps ensure our own security and prosperity as well.

In El Salvador, our education programs in high crime communities help keep over 100,000 vulnerable youth in school and out of gangs through quality education and extracurricular activities in a safe environment. Over 20,000 youth have received job training to increase employment opportunities. At the same time, USAID is helping to reduce corruption and impunity and increase citizen trust in the government through support for criminal justice reform and judicial transparency.

I have seen the impact of our programs when we have worked together with the government, with community and church organizations and with private businesses. Where we have integrated our efforts with better policing, improved education, safe parks and playgrounds, and increased job and economic opportunities, crime rates go down. People in these communities feel safer—their children play in new sports fields and parks, and businesses stay open later.

I have personally spoken to youth who have told me they were ready to leave the country but found new opportunities at a USAID youth outreach center or a job training program or as a student at a university. They tell me they now have hope for the future, and many are committed to making their communities and their country a better place.

That spirit and determination is what I will now remember the most about El Salvador. And through our continued collaboration, I can now envision a day when all Salvadorans will be able to build a secure, prosperous life at home.


Larry Sacks is the former USAID/El Salvador Mission Director   (Larry Sacks was sworn in as USAID/Colombia Mission Director on Aug. 4.)

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