USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for USAID

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

Eka Kurniasih, from Diponegoro University, sampling a dead coral head in Misool, Indonesia

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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


Keeping the Peace: Her Work Helps Prevent Crises Around the World

A woman stands on an airplane tarmac, smiling, with a plane behind her.

Alexa arrives in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria where her team embedded with NERI and interviewed a number of local civil society organizations (CSOs), academics, and members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) as part of Frontier’s broader research on organizational adaptation as a means to counter violent extremist organizations (VEOs).

Running her own business is liberating for Alexa Courtney, the founder and CEO of Frontier Design Group, which is based in Arlington, Va. and is a USAID implementing partner.

However, she did not start out on a traditional entrepreneurial path.

She began her career as a federal civil servant — including time at USAID and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) as a conflict specialist and civil-military advisor — but yearned for something different.

When she returned from an assignment at USAID’s Afghanistan mission, Alexa says a senior leader at the U.S. State Department asked her how the Agency was adapting the way it does business to environments like Afghanistan and Pakistan. “I quickly realized that I needed to cultivate new knowledge and skill sets to answer that question effectively, ” she said.

She left the federal government for the private sector, consulting for U.S. Special Operations Command and honing the skills she gained during her field experiences in Afghanistan. But life took a different turn where she could be her own boss.

On Sept. 21, 2015, International Peace Day, Alexa took the plunge and started Frontier, a human security strategy and design firm that builds new collaborative approaches to help USAID, DoD and U.S. Department of State engage more effectively in conflict-affected countries to prevent crisis and terrorism.

Today Frontier works on some of the most critical national security questions: How do you design government entities that can innovate and adapt faster than ISIS? How do you prioritize investment in fragile states? What are the metrics of cost effective CVE programs?

“Frontier believes that everyone has a fundamental right to live free from violence and the fear of insecurity,” says Alexa, who believes the nation’s development strategy must evolve just as the threats to national security are evolving.

A group of three people poses for the camera

Alexa and Justin with a member of the NERI team in Maiduguri.

Small Businesses, Big Impact
USAID continues to prioritize support to scores of entrepreneurs and small businesses like this one. While the Agency highlighted these efforts work at last year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, India, this work has been happening for decades.

In fiscal year 2017, the Agency awarded a record 13.12 percent, or over $634.3 million, of total acquisition dollars to U.S. small businesses, exceeding the Agency’s goal of 11.5 percent. USAID awarded $184.5 million awarded to women-owned small businesses. Additionally, in 2017, USAID issued 12.69 percent of its total prime contract dollars to small businesses. Not only has the Agency focused on meeting its worldwide small business goal for all small business categories, it also works towards increasing prime and subcontract opportunities for women-owned small businesses.

For Alexa, being an entrepreneur is fulfilling and inspiring. “It was a game changer for me to learn about a new sole source authority for woman-owned small businesses that promised to help level the competitive playing field. Now, all of a sudden, women-owned and economically disadvantaged women-owned businesses can be awarded federal contracts on a sole source basis up to $4 million, leveraging their special status much like 8a, Veteran Owned and Service Disabled Veteran Owned small businesses.”

Frontier has worked with USAID’s Global Development Lab and conducted a case study on the Office of Transition Initiatives’ countering violent extremism (CVE) programming in northeast Nigeria. The study aimed to observe, assess and document organizations that operate in complex and insecure environments. The company has also worked with the Army Special Operations Forces CVE organizations, the National Counterterrorism Center on new assessment approaches, and Silicon Valley organizations.

Endless Possibilities, Long Hours
Alexa describes her business as thriving in a constant state of creativity and possibility; if workers there can dream up an idea and get it funded, they can do it. The endless possibilities are incredibly energizing, but also come with hard work and long hours.

“Fortunately, everyone here is having fun together and learning from each other. We are alums from USAID, State, USIP and industry. We’re an eclectic crew but we are deeply motivated by the meaningful work of our clients and partners,” Alexa said.

Alexa’s advice for prospective women entrepreneurs who want to follow her lead is: “Go for it! But be realistic about the commitment and be prepared for total immersion—60-plus hour work weeks over several years. If you have the right clients and team, it won’t always feel like work but it will take up most of your time and attention.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Hochenberg is a Program Analyst in USAID’s Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs.

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

 

RELATED LINKS:

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.

Helping Ukrainians Attain the Prosperity They Deserve

Doctors and nurses training in Odesa to use HIV rapid tests. (Photo: USAID HIV Reform in Action Project.)

Doctors and nurses training in Odesa to use HIV rapid tests. / USAID

In late 2013 and early 2014, the EuroMaidan demonstrations in Kyiv and the subsequent Revolution of Dignity engulfed Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians demonstrated across the country and at least a hundred gave their lives to rid the country of a thoroughly corrupt regime.

Ukrainians demanded extensive reforms, more accountability and increased transparency in all sectors of the government. A new government, including a newly-elected president, responded to citizens’ demands by promising widespread reforms that would bring Ukraine closer to European standards and norms.

Today, change is underway.

The justice sector and the health care system are being restructured. Decentralization is bringing government resources closer to citizens, and newly consolidated communities are working to make government services more efficient and accountable. E-governance is helping automate government systems to provide transparency and accountability to government processes. Energy sector reform and the restructuring of the energy supply system, once completed, will provide the country with more energy independence and security. A revamped electoral system, if done properly, will provide safeguards for free and fair elections.

Empowered civil society activists and watchdog organizations oversee these efforts and prod the government forward when uncertainty arises or political will lags. When things go awry, media outlets undertake investigations and report on the scandals.

The effort is not seamless, and progress is often a tough slog. Many citizens complain that they don’t see or feel the changes underway. Sometimes, the government finds it easier to hem and haw rather than push forward.

Yet the dream of many Ukrainians — for Ukraine to become a self-reliant, economically stable country where rule of law and low levels of corruption attract foreign investment and provide them with a degree of prosperity — is certainly attainable.

USAID is working closely with the government and civil society to push through difficult reforms. We’ve adjusted our programming to support reform efforts and boost the ability of civil society to monitor the government and hold it accountable.

This past year, we focused on reform initiatives that Ukraine’s leading civil activists identified as crucial for fighting corruption and strengthening democratic governance.

While Ukraine has quite a ways to go before it can declare success in its reforms process and victory over corruption, we believe we’ve helped make considerable inroads.

In October, Ukraine’s Parliament passed landmark health care reform legislation that President Poroshenko signed into law just before the new year. USAID provided substantial support to the Ministry of Health in this effort. The new legislation places primary health care at its center and introduces a “money follows the patient” principle that will increase the quality of care while reducing opportunities for corruption in the system.

Volunteers beautify public spaces in Eastern Ukraine as part of the Build Ukraine Together camp. (Photo: USAID Ukraine’s Confidence Building Initiative)

Volunteers beautify public spaces in eastern Ukraine as part of the Build Ukraine Together camp. / USAID

As part of a reform effort to decentralize government and have more decisions and policies set at the local level, communities are being encouraged to consolidate to more effectively manage resources. USAID continued to guide 50 newly consolidated communities in 2017 to efficiently allocate increased budget revenues and promote local economic development. Notably, USAID supported the successful first-ever elections in nearly 600 newly consolidated communities in Ukraine through assistance with grassroots activism, polling and analytics.

USAID also supported Ukraine’s Public Integrity Council, which worked with the High Qualifications Commission on the appointment of a new Supreme Court. While the results of the appointment process were mixed, the new Supreme Court is considered to be better than the previous one, and the selection process was more transparent, including with civil society engagement.

Other achievements included the legislative adoption of a package of USAID-supported laws, which established the legal basis for sustainable energy development in Ukraine and significantly improved the energy sector’s regulatory framework. USAID also provided support to develop and open 16 local Administrative Services Centers in eastern Ukraine, improving service delivery and reducing opportunities for corruption.

USAID continued to work with government ministries and civil society on e-governance initiatives that further reduce opportunities for corruption. One such USAID-supported effort – the online public procurement system, ProZorro – has saved the government $1.4 billion since 2015.

We are backing additional civil society-led reforms, including the development of a land market to attract investors and the establishment of an Anti-Corruption Court to adjudicate high-visibility corruption cases. We are confident that with time all the changes Ukrainians are demanding will occur.

At the core of the USAID mission remains a deep commitment to working as partners to aid Ukraine’s development and improve the lives of the Ukrainian people. We are proud of our strong partnership with the Government of Ukraine and civil society, and what our cooperation accomplished last year.

Our goal at USAID is unwavering: to continue partnering with the Government of Ukraine, the private sector and civil society to stem corruption, deepen democracy and stimulate inclusive economic growth. We are committed to making Ukraine self-reliant and helping Ukrainians attain the prosperity they desire and deserve.

Susan K. Fritz is the USAID Regional Mission Director for Ukraine and Belarus.

RELATED LINKS:

Honoring Aid Workers We Lost

Memorial in USAID lobby honoring John Granville and Abdel Rahman Abbas Rahama, December 2017 / Angela Stephens, USAID

Ten years ago in Sudan, USAID Foreign Service Officer John Granville and Foreign Service National staff member Abdel Rahman Abbas Rahama, who went by “A.R.,” were murdered in Khartoum by four men who plotted an attack and targeted their vehicle.

It was not the first time, and unfortunately not the last time, USAID staff have been killed in the line of duty while carrying out objectives to help end extreme poverty in the world and build resilient, democratic societies. In 2012, our colleague Ragaei Abdelfattah was killed in a bombing in Afghanistan, in which four other people also died. In 2016, our colleague Xulhaz Mannan was brutally murdered in Bangladesh.

The losses we endure and the risks of working in some of the world’s most dangerous places do not deter us from our mission. As we bring 2017 to a close, we honor John and A.R. and all those working for USAID and our partner organizations who have lost their lives carrying out the work we dedicate our lives to—work we believe is essential for a just, humane and collaborative world.

John Granville, who was killed at age 33, helped lead an effort in Sudan to distribute 50,000 wind-up, solar radios to people who had been isolated by decades of marginalization and war in what was then Southern Sudan. When the deadly 22-year north-south civil war ended in 2005, the radios helped citizens in the south exercise their rights and learn their responsibilities under a new governance arrangement resulting from the peace agreement. This simple source of independent information made a profound difference to those who would become citizens of the independent country of South Sudan several years later in 2011.

Staff view USAID’s memorial wall, December 2017. / Angela Stephens, USAID

A.R., who was 39 when he died, left behind a widow and young son. He started working with USAID four years earlier as one of the original members of the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team for Darfur, where conflict that began in 2003 created one of the world’s most dire humanitarian crises.  

Despite the hope and jubilation of independence in July 2011, South Sudan has become the most deadly country in the world for aid workers. In Sudan, violence that erupted before and after South Sudan’s independence affected the Granville-Abbas Girls’ Secondary School in Kurmuk, Blue Nile state, which was dedicated in 2010 to honor John and A.R. and continue their legacy of assisting people in Sudan. The school accommodated 120 female students, but since 2011, the Sudanese military has occupied the school in response to conflict in the state, preventing it from being used for its intended purpose.   

That part of the world where John and A.R. worked continues to be a dangerous place for those responding to urgent humanitarian needs, trying to secure peace and stability, and helping spread democratic principles of transparency, inclusion and access to independent sources of information. But while the deaths of John and A.R. were sudden, shocking and tragic, they also sparked a legacy that continues to support and inspire USAID staff around the world.

The Granville-Rahama Staff Care Award recognizes USAID employees who make significant contributions to the morale and well-being of USAID staff. And USAID’s Staff Care program has grown to incorporate many services to support USAID staff worldwide, including helping staff cope with and recover from high-threat and traumatic situations.

We also hope that the Granville-Abbas Girls’ Secondary School will be returned to the community in Sudan, so that girls may again pursue their dreams and reach their potential there, continuing the legacy of John and A.R.

The commitment to helping other people that John, A.R., Ragaei, Xulhaz and all our fallen colleagues showed daily continues to inspire us. They all represented the goodwill of the American people to other people around the world. We begin another year recommitted to the principles for which they paid the ultimate sacrifice.

RELATED LINKS:

Andrea Freeman is deputy director of USAID’s Office of Sudan and South Sudan Programs, where she has worked since 2005. She worked with John Granville and Abdel Rahman Abbas Rahama. Angela Stephens is a communications adviser in USAID’s Office of Sudan and South Sudan Programs, where she has worked since 2009.

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.”

RELATED LINKS:

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.

Page 1 of 119:1 2 3 4 »Last »