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Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa

If Fighting Hunger Were an Olympic Event

Emmanuel Ngulube visits programs in the field. /USAID

Emmanuel Ngulube visits programs in the field. /USAID

It’s been a bad two-year stretch in Malawi: The southeast African nation has suffered back-to-back devastating natural disasters. In 2015, record-breaking flooding left tens of thousands stranded in southern Malawi, and this year El Niño brought historic drought and widespread crop failures, pushing 6.5 million people into dangerous levels of food insecurity.

One of USAID’s best weapons for fighting hunger in Malawi is Emmanuel Ngulube, an officer with the Agency’s Office of Food for Peace who has dedicated his entire career to fighting hunger across Africa.

Emmanuel grew up in Zambia and remembers the effects of drought in the 1980s. “We were lucky,” he said, “My father worked for the mines and he could afford to buy food imported by the government, but others relied on emergency food assistance.”

Before beginning his career with USAID 10 years ago, Emmanuel was already heavily involved in food security issues as a planner in the Office of the Minister of Agriculture in Zambia, as well as a manager in Zambia’s Food Reserve Agency.

As a program specialist for Food for Peace in the USAID mission in Zambia, Emmanuel spent four years deepening his passion for helping rural communities find long-term solutions to hunger. That fervor traveled with him when he relocated to Malawi to help communities recover from crises and develop lasting food security.

On the banks of Shire River in Nsanje district, Malawi /Emmanuel Ngulube

On the banks of Shire River in Nsanje district, Malawi /Emmanuel Ngulube

Reflecting on his career, Emmanuel said, “The more years I work in food security, the deeper my roots grow and I become more passionate about it.”

Emmanuel’s favorite part of his job is getting out into the rural communities to meet with people, work together and see the fruits of his work flourish. He says he’s always impressed at how many ideas the communities contribute to become more resilient and break the chronic cycle of hunger and poverty.

One woman’s innovative idea in particular stands out to Emmanuel: Ezelyn Kazamira participated in a USAID-funded Village Savings and Loan group and used her dividend to purchase and rent out a motorized pump to farmers in her village to assist with irrigation.

According to Emmanuel, “Not letting development gains be eroded by recurrent floods and drought or climate change is the biggest challenge [to USAID’s efforts to improve food security].”

He’s referring to disasters such as the historic floods in 2015, during which Emmanuel helped USAID and the U.N. World Food Program successfully preposition stocks of food in order to reach the communities hit hardest. Or regional disasters like the Ebola outbreak—Emmanuel’s most memorable and biggest emergency to date. He, alongside others in USAID’s disaster assistance response team, made sure families could still access food, despite closed borders, limited movement and depleted markets.


In the midst of the Ebola crisis, another less visible crisis arose–a food crisis. / USAID

Despite these food security challenges, food insecure families are in good hands with Emmanuel on the ground. For the last 10 years, he has been championing both emergency and development food assistance efforts. And if food assistance were an Olympic event, Emmanuel Ngulube would win a gold medal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emma Fredieu is an information officer for USAID’s Office of Food For Peace. Follow FFP’s tweets @USAIDFFP.

Responding to Madagascar’s ‘Silent’ Emergency

With support from Catholic Relief Services, Sisters of Charity provide hot meals to the elderly and children in Tshiombe./Christopher LaFargue, USAID

With support from Catholic Relief Services, Sisters of Charity provide hot meals to the elderly and children in Tshiombe. / Christopher LaFargue, USAID

Because of its slow onset, Southern Africa’s drought may not be headline news. But its impacts are being felt by millions. At least 12.8 million people in Southern Africa will face crisis levels of food insecurity by the end of this year.

Madagascar has been especially hard hit. About 80 percent of the population in the country’s seven southern districts—665,000 people—are in need of emergency food assistance.

I recently traveled to Madagascar with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture David Lane. There we met with communities struggling to find enough to eat after three years of consecutive drought made worse by El Niño.

20160519 Tshiombe CRS Community Canteen 1

Soeur Josiane from Sisters of Charity speaks to Dina Esposito about the soup kitchen in Tshiombe. / Christopher LaFargue, USAID

During our trip, we saw visibly malnourished children and adults, including many elderly. In Tshiombe, we spoke with Soeur Immaculata, a nun from Sisters of Charity, who opened up an emergency soup kitchen to provide regular hot meals to children and the elderly. She told us she had not seen so much suffering since the severe droughts of 1992 and 2006.

We also visited Ankilimafaitsy Primary School in Ambovombe, where the U.N. World Food Program is providing children with lunch as part of a school lunch program that feeds almost 300,000 Malagasy children daily. For most of these children, this school lunch is the only food assistance they receive; it has become a vital lifeline in these communities as parents struggle to put food on the table.

Here are three steps we—and other donors—must take to help the people of Madagascar during this “silent,” but devastating emergency:

20160518 Ambovombe WFP School Canteen 3 (1)

Children receive hot meals from the Sisters of Charity soup kitchen supported by Catholic Relief Services in Tshiombe. / Christopher LaFargue, USAID

1. Coordinate support

During my trip, we announced an additional $8 million in food assistance to the Malagasy people, bringing the United States’ total El Niño response in Madagascar to $17 million. But we must work with the government and the donor community to coordinate our assistance. We encourage Madagascar’s national and local officials to assess immediate needs, more proactively mobilize their own response, and more effectively draw global attention to the crisis, mobilize contributions, and facilitate donor planning.

Ready-to-use supplementary food provide children with much needed protein, vitamins and minerals to fight malnutrition./Christopher LaFargue, USAID

Ready-to-use supplementary food provide children with much needed protein, vitamins and minerals to fight malnutrition. / Christopher LaFargue, USAID

2. Plan early for a scaled up emergency and recovery response 

As in the ongoing Ethiopia drought response, early warning is the key to early response. Forecasts indicate that Madagascar’s lean season could begin as early as August rather than October. Children under 5 in this area have unusually high rates of malnutrition. It is urgent that we complement expanded food assistance for families in these southern districts with specialized foods to prevent and treat malnutrition.  

I was particularly impressed by Madagascar’s National Office of Nutrition and its efforts to screen and treat cases of moderate acute malnutrition. We met with well-trained volunteers who were educating young mothers about nutrition. With USAID support, children are being provided with ready-to-use supplementary food. Sustained assistance will be critical in the months ahead to prevent children from sliding into the more serious condition of severe acute malnutrition.

Equally important will be ensuring that families can grow their own food in the next cropping season. A seed distribution plan must get seeds in the hands of farmers by September.

Women farmers in Amboasary tend to a cleared communal vegetable field through a World Food Programme food for assets activity. / Christopher LaFargue, USAID

Women farmers in Amboasary tend to a cleared communal vegetable field through a World Food Programme food for assets activity. / Christopher LaFargue, USAID

3. Continue to invest in resilience

Although the current drought is outpacing the ability of many Malagasy farmers to cope, some farmers have remained self-reliant with our investments. Some of our disaster mitigation efforts include working with farmers to grow more drought-resistant crops like sweet potato and cassava. We are also helping farmers to build assets, access more land near water sources, and improve nearby water points for humans and cattle. Voucher programs help fishermen buy tools and other resources during this drought.

Under a creative arrangement, local farmers are growing corn on large-scale plantations, between rows of sisal (a plant used to make rope and rugs), in exchange for keeping the fields cleared and tended. The farmers keep one-third of what they grow to sell or eat, they reserve a third for seeds for the next season, and another third is sold to the World Food Program for its school lunch program.

The program has especially benefitted women farmers, one of whom told me, “We used to have to take our children out of school when they turned 15. Now they can stay on into high school. Our girls no longer have to ask men for money to buy soap [a local euphemism for prostitution].”

These efforts are making a clear difference as communities cope with drought. We must continue to scale up these investments—and help expand opportunities for populations to make a living during both good and bad times.

The people of Madagascar will inevitably face future climate shocks in addition to the current drought. We can help them to mobilize, plan and build resilience to those shocks to promote security and avert emergencies.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dina Esposito is USAID’s Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance. @DEsposito_FFP


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Q&A: How Power Africa is Investing in a Brighter Planet

The energy sector is the world’s largest source of carbon pollution – yet two out of three people in sub Saharan Africa lack access to electricity.  Power Africa – a partnership among African governments, the U.S. Government, the private sector, and the donor community – aims to double access to electricity in sub Saharan Africa.  Building cleaner, more climate-resilient power sectors that serve all people will require the inclusion and participation of all stakeholders – including those that have traditionally been sidelined from the energy industry.

In Africa alone, about 60 million homes and businesses are poised to access power for the first time in the coming years. President Obama launched Power Africa in 2013 to meet this need. On World Energy Day and every day, Power Africa is working to bring more affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern forms of energy to users once reliant on kerosene, diesel and disposable batteries.

In working toward the newly established Sustainable Development Goal on energy, Power Africa and USAID are ahead of the curve by pushing forward new models of development for clean energy. Our teams of experts on the ground are working to establish a better “enabling environment” where the legal, regulatory and financial frameworks clear the path for the energy sector to meet the demands of all customers.

In an interview, Power Africa Coordinator Andrew M. Herscowitz shares some insight into how we’re empowering the next generation of energy consumers.

 

Herscowitz_IMG_3295C_PAdams EWhat have been Power Africa’s greatest accomplishments since President Obama established the initiative two years ago?
Power Africa has become a global effort and has helped over 4,100 megawatts (MWs) of transactions reach financial close since 2013.

In a two-year period that’s an important accomplishment. Around the world, and even in the United States, it can take up to a decade for an energy project to be completed. With our African partners leading the way, we’re helping to reduce the legal, financial, and regulatory barriers that for too long have stood in the way of projects moving forward.

In August of 2014 President Obama tripled Power Africa’s goals 10,000 MW and 20 million connections to 30,000 MW and 60 million connections. More importantly though, the collaboration now includes more than 100 private sector partners.

How does Power Africa promote our mission of ending extreme poverty? How does this way of doing business reflect USAID’s new model of development?
Access to electricity is a critical part of ending extreme poverty around the world. The 600 million people in Africa who are “off-grid” spend a significant portion of their household income on kerosene for lighting, batteries for radios and paying someone to charge their mobile phone. This expenditure traps them in poverty by limiting their ability to invest in education and economic opportunities.

Power Africa is working with the private sector to deploy large scale electricity projects that will help expand grid connections, as well as with our Beyond the Grid partners, who are using innovative technologies and business models to provide electricity services in areas that are far from the grid. Instead of directly financing these projects and businesses, Power Africa encourages investment by offering loans, insurance and technical support.

Can you talk about a community that you visited that has been impacted by Power Africa?
A few months ago I visited East Africa’s largest grid-connected solar project east of Kigali, Rwanda. Built by Gigawatt Global, the 8.5 MW solar project was built on the same land as the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, a home for orphans of Rwanda’s genocide. In addition to producing clean energy, the project also provides employment opportunities. Not only is this new model adding vibrancy to the local community, but also increasing Rwanda’s power generation capacity by 6 percent.

Partnerships play an important role in the success of Power Africa. Can you speak to the role of partnerships in development more generally?
To tackle the world’s biggest challenges, the world’s leading problem solvers need to work together. As the world addresses global challenges, partnerships across all sectors will be required to pull together in new ways. Our partners bring their expertise, capital, and the commitment to solving Africa’s energy crisis.

In addition to carrying the collective resources of the U.S. Government, Power Africa is achieving success by partnering public partners including the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Government of Sweden, the European Union, the African Union, and the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy. These public sector partners bring an additional $11.8 billion in resources to support Power Africa’s goals; this includes the African Development Bank ($3B), the World Bank Group ($5B), the Swedish Government ($1B) and the European Union ($2.8B).

With nearly $31 billion in private-sector commitments from more than 100 Power Africa private sector stakeholders, the program is making a visible difference in the lives of people who are on and off the grid.

Looking towards 2030, the target date for achieving the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals, how do you think financing for development will evolve?
Over the next 15 years we hope that the private sector’s investment in emerging and developing markets will become even more commonplace.”Development financing” may not even be required. With that hope in mind, Power Africa is focused on not only supporting private companies, but also working with governments to create an enabling environment that will encourage sustained investment and growth.

Pooja Singhi, an intern with USAID’s Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs, contributed to this blog.

Andrew M. Herscowitz is the Coordinator of President Obama’s Power Africa initiative.  Follow him @aherscowitz and use #PowerAfrica to join the conversation.

Subsistence to Surplus: How Gifty Went from Barely Making Ends Meet to Meeting President Obama


Gifty Jemal Hussein met President Obama this week during his visit to Ethiopia. Read on to find out how she transformed her life from a subsistence existence to extraordinary success that’s benefiting her entire community—with a little help from the United States.

Gifty Jemal Hussein was a typical smallholder farmer in Ethiopia. She grew Ethiopian banana, corn and a few coffee plants in her backyard to feed her family and earn a meager income to make ends meet.

Harvests were low and unpredictable. Land was limited. This was life.

But 2013 was different.

In 2013, Gifty planted her small patch of land with new corn seeds, using techniques she’d learned from a development program in her community. She used just the right amount of fertilizer and checked on the corn stalks as they grew. When it came time to harvest them, she exclaimed to herself: Thank God! Her crops had yielded three times as much corn in a single season as before.

It seemed almost too good to be true. She touched every ear of corn she’d harvested. The results were real.

Gifty was so surprised, happy and proud of her harvest that she laid the ears of corn out in front of her house for all to see. She went door-to-door telling others and inviting them to see it with their own eyes. She took a quarter of the harvest to her four adult children in the capital city.

Her neighbors, impressed and happy for her, wanted to know how she’d managed to turn a sparse backyard garden into an abundant farm.

Gifty Jemal Hussein, a smallholder farmer in Ethiopia, spoke with President Obama today. Through a USAID-DuPont partnership, she began using high-yield corn that allowed her to increase her household income. / Daniella Maor, USAID

Gifty Jemal Hussein, a smallholder farmer in Ethiopia, spoke with President Obama today. Through a USAID-DuPont partnership, she began using high-yield corn that allowed her to increase her household income. / Daniella Maor, USAID

Unlocking Agriculture’s Potential

Gifty had been a leader in her community before 2012, but it took on new meaning now. People were paying more attention. She had newfound confidence that life could change—and she would be the one to make it happen.

Gifty went to the local government and asked to lease one hectare of land – for free – for her women’s group to farm. She rented a tractor with her own money to plow the land. She gathered other women in her community to help her sow the corn seeds that had given her a bumper harvest last season and then apply fertilizer, which she bought on her own.

As the corn grew, she brought the 20 women in her group to show them how tall the plants were getting. Then she asked each to invest in this farming venture – to become stakeholders in their shared success. Each woman paid a portion to compensate her for the cost of the tractor and fertilizer. The following season, they also helped buy the seeds.

“It isn’t reasonable to invest in something that doesn’t give you a return,” Gifty said. “So I don’t invest in the [old seed], instead I invest in the new hybrid seed.”

Gifty and her group opened a savings account for the income they were earning from better corn harvests. With it, they’re making investment plans for the future and have a safety net for tough times.

Women representatives visited from other districts to see the group’s bountiful corn crop. They were so impressed that they gifted Gifty a set of farm tools to honor her for her initiative and entrepreneurship.

Taller plants and larger ears of corn translated into more income for Gifty. She’s invested the returns into her farming enterprise, buying a cow, which she’s leveraged into an additional revenue stream by selling the milk and calves. With this money, she’s purchased extra seeds to grow more nutritious and lucrative crops like teff, cabbage, carrots and potatoes. She’s expanded the number of coffee plants she grows too.

Gifty is also using her income to improve her family’s standard of living. She built a new home—her proudest undertaking. She’s paid for her husband’s medical treatment for a disability he has and for her son’s final years of high school. She even had enough to contribute to one of her daughters’ weddings.

From Individual Success to Global Impact  

Fortunately, Gifty’s story is less and less unique these days. Rural communities across countries like Ethiopia are establishing a new normal: One with less poverty and hunger and with more prosperity and opportunity.

Smallholder farmers, with help from the United States, are moving from barely surviving off their farms to running profitable farming businesses—ones that give them enough income to pay for things like school, health care and new homes.

In Ethiopia last year, the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative helped more than 218,000 producers like Gifty use new technologies and management practices to increase their yields. And through nutrition programs, the U.S. Government reached more than 1.3 million young children in Ethiopia with help—including training more than 20,000 adults in child health and nutrition.

Results like these add up to impact, in the lives of individual farmers like Gifty and – increasingly – nationwide. Between 2011 and 2014, stunting – a measure of malnutrition often associated with undernourishment – among young children dropped in Ethiopia by 9 percent. This impact reflects the leadership and efforts of the Government of Ethiopia as well as U.S. Government.

The United States has led the world in taking hold of the tremendous opportunity to unlock the transformative potential of agriculture to connect more people to the global economy and pave a path out of poverty through initiatives like Feed the Future and partnerships like the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

In fact, as President Obama was meeting with Gifty today, we announced that the program that helped Gifty jumpstart her success with new seeds – a public-private partnership between Ethiopia, the United States and DuPont Pioneer – is expanding to reach 100,000 more farmers and help them flourish, much like Gifty has.

The work is far from finished, but the results and impact are promising. The future looks bright for rural families like Gifty’s.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tjada McKenna is the Assistant to the Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Food Security. She also serves as the Deputy Coordinator for Development for the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative.

Equipping Africa to Support Its Own Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

Solar Lamps Shed Light in Rural Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. d.light

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Solar Sister

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. M-KOPA

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

Sustainable Finance Key to Health Equity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this financing platform important?

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

How is this different from business as usual?

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

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

Who is contributing money?

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

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

Is it working?

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

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

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

Why just these four countries?

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

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

Why invest in global health?

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

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

South Sudan Government Expels Top UN Aid Official—Why It Matters

Internally displaced women and children sit in a tent in Ganyiel village in South Sudan. Conflict since December 2013 has left tens of thousands dead and more than 2 million displaced and dependent on food aid. / Samir Bol, AFP

Internally displaced women and children sit in a tent in Ganyiel village in South Sudan. Conflict since December 2013 has left tens of thousands dead and more than 2 million displaced and dependent on food aid. / Samir Bol, AFP

News that the Government of South Sudan expelled the United Nations’ top humanitarian official in the country on May 29 has sparked outrage.

The UN Secretary General, the UN Security Council, the U.S. government, the alliance of U.S.-based NGOs InterAction, the South Sudanese NGO Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, the European Union and many other governments voiced condemnation of the action to expel Toby Lanzer.

Why are so many so frustrated?

Because South Sudan’s leaders and warring parties have put their struggle for power before the needs of their own people.

After nearly 18 months of fighting, the man-made crisis is only worsening. Renewed fighting, displacement and economic hardships have left the country on the brink of collapse.

And now they are punishing the brave humanitarians whose mission is to help the people of South Sudan.

All humanitarian staff — from the top UN official to truck drivers who deliver lifesaving food in highly insecure conditions — must be free to carry out their work and speak openly without fear of attack or retribution from the government, opposition forces or any other party.

Punishing those who are shining a light on the catastrophe in South Sudan creates a chilling effect and an atmosphere of fear for aid workers at a time when people need them most.

South Sudan — the world’s youngest country — is one of the most food-insecure countries in the world. Up to 4.6 million people — almost half of the population — will face life-threatening hunger by next month.

A woman carries a sack of food aid after a food drop in a field in Nyal, near South Sudan's border with Sudan. USAID is the largest donor to the UN World Food Program in South Sudan. / Tony Karumba, AFP

A woman carries a sack of food aid after a food drop in a field in Nyal, near South Sudan’s border with Sudan. USAID is the largest donor to the UN World Food Program in South Sudan. / Tony Karumba, AFP

Parts of the country are at risk of famine for the second year in a row. Desperate to feed their families, many South Sudanese have sold or slaughtered valuable cattle — and now have nothing left.

Conflict has forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes, half a million of them as refugees in neighboring countries. Tragically, many who fled have nothing to return to. Their homes, markets, schools and hospitals have been wiped out.

The number of severely malnourished children has doubled since the start of the crisis, and many people are at risk of deadly, but preventable, diseases.

The humanitarian community has done everything possible to alleviate the suffering amid widespread violence. USAID has been working in Sudan, including present-day South Sudan, for 35 years.

The U.S. government has long been the largest donor to South Sudan, providing $1.1 billion in emergency assistance alone to affected populations in South Sudan and neighboring countries since the start of the crisis.

USAID has also provided more than $1.3 billion in long-term assistance since South Sudan’s independence in 2011, directly helping the South Sudanese people withstand the catastrophic effects of conflict and build foundations for a peaceful future through education, health, agriculture and livelihoods assistance, as well as support for media, civil society and conflict mitigation.

Last year, the U.S. government, other donors and humanitarian actors helped avert the worst-case scenario of famine — only to see the same dynamics driving communities into extreme life-threatening hunger again this year. Time and again, we have had to resort to costly air operations to deliver food and relief items.

Women in Ganyiel, South Sudan, carry home food distributed by the World Food Program (WFP). USAID is the largest donor to WFP in South Sudan, where up to 4.6 million people — almost half of the population — will face life-threatening hunger by next month. / Waakhe Simon Wudu, AFP

Women in Ganyiel, South Sudan, carry home food distributed by the World Food Program (WFP). USAID is the largest donor to WFP in South Sudan, where up to 4.6 million people — almost half of the population — will face life-threatening hunger by next month. / Waakhe Simon Wudu, AFP

Aid workers, particularly South Sudanese, risk their lives daily delivering lifesaving assistance to people in need throughout South Sudan. Several South Sudanese aid workers have disappeared while carrying out their humanitarian work. They remain unaccounted for. Others have been killed on the spot.

Renewed fighting since mid-April, including direct attacks on humanitarian workers and supplies, has severely reduced the ability of aid organizations to reach people in need.

At a time when multiple humanitarian emergencies worldwide demand international action, speaking candidly about the situation in South Sudan is critical to garner the vast support needed to keep people alive and ease suffering caused by this crisis.

Toby Lanzer advocated tirelessly on behalf of the people of South Sudan. Expelling him or silencing anyone who speaks about the dire situation in South Sudan is misguided and a grave disservice to the South Sudanese people.

The government should act responsibly, end the suffering, and move the country past this senseless cycle of violence.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Tom Staal is acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Linda Etim is deputy assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Africa.

Slam Dunk: Empowering African Women Through Sports

 Astou Ndiaye shows off her ball-handling skills at last year’s launch of Live, Learn, and Play, a partnership between USAID and the National Basketball Association. / Zack Taylor, USAID

Astou Ndiaye shows off her ball-handling skills at last year’s launch of Live, Learn, and Play, a partnership between USAID and the National Basketball Association. / Zack Taylor, USAID

In Senegal, where I grew up, I guess you could say girls look up to me. After all, I’m 6-foot-3. I also won a professional basketball championship, worked my way through graduate school, and now manage a successful career while raising three kids.

Sure, I was a natural fit for basketball. But there was more to it than just the rebounds and my jump shot. The skills I learned playing the sport have led to my success off the court as much as on it.

I was back in Senegal last year to share this idea with hundreds of my compatriots at the launch of a new partnership that brings together the development expertise of USAID and the global cachet of the National Basketball Association.

The project — called Live, Learn and Play — provides opportunities few of us had when I was growing up. As an alumna of the WNBA, the women’s counterpart to the NBA, I was happy to support this new project, which uses basketball to train youth ages 13-18 in leadership, gender awareness and equality, and community participation.

Basketball changed my life. During the course of my career it opened doors, exposed me to new experiences, and taught me a lot about the world and myself.

But in any capacity–professional or not–getting involved in a sport means mastering skills, having the discipline to stay in school, keeping out of trouble, and leading a healthy lifestyle. These little things give young people the inspiration and ability to become leaders in any field. What you learn on the court can apply to any aspect of life.

Growing up in Dakar, I was fortunate to not lack the basics. However, with 20 siblings you can bet I learned to fight for my share. My mother always emphasized the importance of a good education–when I had to find a creative way to pay for schooling, those lessons in “fighting” paid off.

From the age of 13, I focused all of my strength and toughness on basketball. I practiced all the time: in the rain, and even through Ramadan, when I couldn’t get a drink of water until sunset. Luckily, some great coaches showed me that basketball was something positive that could lead to better things down the road. Mentoring is critical.

A few years later, I made Senegal’s national team. When I figured out that my game could open academic as well as professional doors, I took advantage of an athletic scholarship to go to university, where I graduated cum laude. After being drafted into the WNBA in 2003, I not only had the joy of having triplets, but also of being a part of the Detroit Shock championship team.

Girls learn basic basketball skills under the Live, Learn, and Play partnership with the NBA.“What you learn on the court can apply to any aspect of life,” former WNBA star Astou Ndiaye says. / Zack Taylor, USAID

Girls learn basic basketball skills under the Live, Learn, and Play partnership with the NBA.“What you learn on the court can apply to any aspect of life,” former WNBA star Astou Ndiaye says. / Zack Taylor, USAID

Basketball careers can’t last forever, so in 2008 I retired, became a coach and pursued a graduate degree in human resources. I’ve settled down now, and work with the state Health Care Authority in Oklahoma.

I know that my natural athletic gifts and supportive upbringing gave me better chances than many girls in Senegal. Still, I am convinced the principles I learned on the court led me to where I am today. If you understand early that hard work will pay off, everything else “comes around at the boards,” as they say in basketball. That means stay healthy, pay your dues, and know nothing will be handed to you.

Back in Dakar for the Live, Learn and Play launch, I had a chance to speak to the kids in the program. I told them that the odds of making it to the big leagues are tough, but that’s okay.  Dedication to basketball–at any level–teaches the toughness and resilience you need to find a pathway to a bright and successful future.

What’s great about Live, Learn and Play is the development of a network of skilled coaches, mentors and role models who will help thousands of kids become solid, productive citizens and active community members, whether they continue with sports or not.

This program can help empower girls in Africa, an issue close to my heart. Senegal is among the more forward-thinking countries in West Africa, but women there still face significant hurdles because of their gender.

Wherever I go, I encourage women and girls to push themselves to the forefront in whatever they do. Get out there and own it. Because when women get that, they are the real champions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Astou Ndiaye, a former star in the WNBA, is a human resources specialist at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and motivational speaker.

Young Storytellers and the Power of Literacy

A Rwandan child reads with his teacher. / Jackie Lewis, EDC

A Rwandan child reads with his teacher. / Jackie Lewis, EDC

Editor’s Note: Parts of this blog post originally appeared as a longer feature story from Education Development Center (EDC).

The tale “Old Woman and a Hyena” tells the story of a Rwandan mother and her four sons who live in terror of a marauding hyena. Each day, while the sons are away hunting, the hyena comes to the family’s hut and steals their food. The boys are hungry but too scared to confront the creature. One day, the sons finally muster up the courage to fight the beast—and it is the youngest who finally kills it. He is then richly rewarded by his mother, for though he had been the most scared, he was the one to show the most bravery.

In a land with an oral history as rich and beautiful as the hills that roll across it, this tale is special—it was written by an 11-year-old boy named Francois Hakizimana.

Andika Rwanda, a national writing competition, was popular because it presented a nationwide opportunity to improve reading and writing in a way that was culturally relevant and important. / Jackie Lewis, EDC

Andika Rwanda, a national writing competition, was popular because it presented a nationwide opportunity to improve reading and writing in a way that was culturally relevant and important. / Jackie Lewis, EDC

Hakizimana was one of the winners of Andika Rwanda (Rwanda Writes), a national writing competition that captured the minds (and pens) of young and old storytellers alike. Three thousand entries of original children’s stories and poems poured in;12 winners were honored at an awards ceremony last fall. Their entries have been professionally illustrated and published in a book that will be distributed to every primary school in the country.

The competition was organized by Education Development Center’s USAID-funded Literacy, Language and Learning project in partnership with the Rwanda Educational Board and the Rwanda-based book distributor Drakkar Limited. Since 2011, the project has worked to improve literacy education in Rwanda through development of instructional materials, teacher training, policy development, and delivery of education materials directly to Rwandan communities.

According to Jackie Lewis at Education Development Center, Andika Rwanda was so popular because it presented a nationwide opportunity to improve reading and writing in a way that was culturally relevant and important.

“Rwanda prides itself on homegrown solutions,” she says. “Many schools have a shortage of storybooks, especially for younger children, and especially ones written by Rwandans in the local language of Kinyarwanda. The competition was meant to generate locally authored stories for primary school children, as well as contribute to a culture of reading and writing.”

Rwanda Literacy Week celebrated reading and writing across the country. / Jonathan Padway, USAID

Rwanda Literacy Week celebrated reading and writing across the country. / Jonathan Padway, USAID

A Global Effort

Rwanda is a success story and representative of the education work being done in dozens of other countries around the world. In addition to the Andika Rwanda competition, USAID supports many other innovative teaching and learning tools that target basic literacy and numeracy skills at the primary level. These efforts are focused on improving school quality now that Rwanda has increased access to education – in 2012, 96.5 percent of children were enrolled in primary school, and girls were enrolled at a slightly higher rate than boys.

Literacy isn’t just about kids, either–it’s about the economy, too. The Government of Rwanda has laid out ambitious plans to create a knowledge-based economy built on a skilled workforce that will allow Rwanda to compete both regionally and internationally. A literate population is the foundation of these efforts.

Improving literacy can also play a critical  role in addressing other issues faced by developing countries, including gender equality, economic growth, environmental sustainability, health and food security. Unfortunately, illiteracy is still widespread, with disadvantaged groups – including girls, minorities and people living with disabilities – suffering the most.

This is why, for decades, USAID has been a global leader in improving reading for developing countries. The Agency’s strong focus on reading is in itself an innovative practice. Driving and supporting a strong focus on reading puts us in the forefront of educational development.

On this Leaders for Literacy Day, we must remember the importance of policies that advocate for quality and equality in learning for all children and youth, so that stories like Hakizimana’s turn from extraordinary to commonplace.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christie Vilsack is the Senior Advisor for International Education at USAID working to ensure ALL children have access to a quality education. Follow her @ChristieVilsack.
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