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La Idea Initiative Seeks Entrepreneurs with Business Partnerships in Latin America

Last month, I sat in front of a crowd of over 240 aspiring entrepreneurs in Bogota, Colombia, to help facilitate a three-hour session on how to apply to start and scale up innovative businesses with the support of La Idea and the La Idea Business Competition. I was thrilled to be joined by our La Idea partners Susan Amat, Founder and CEO of Venture Hive; Arnoldo Reyes, Head of Market Development for Ebay/PayPal for Latin America and the Caribbean region and Paula Cortes of Accion International. We were blown away by the participants’ excitement about La Idea and their spirit of entrepreneurship.

La Idea connects entrepreneurs within the Latin American diaspora throughout the Americas to each other and to local and regional small business support centers, to provide resources and connections to help entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level. It promotes partnerships between businesses throughout the Americas and launched the La Idea Business Competition, an opportunity for innovative social entrepreneurs with breakthrough ideas to turn their business visions into reality.

Bogota, Colombia is not the only place where La Idea has convened eager entrepreneurs to learn more about its Business Competition. At business advising events it organized throughout the U.S. and Latin America, entrepreneurs have learned about a variety of ways to grow their businesses and partner across borders. Photo credit: La Idea

Entrepreneurs convene in Bogota, Colombia to learn more about its Business Competition and ways to grow their businesses and partner across borders. Photo credit: La Idea

Through the competition, ten businesses—which must represent a collaboration between a U.S.-based entrepreneur and a Latin America-based entrepreneur—will receive a coveted spot in the Finalist Showcase televised by Univision Media, where they will pitch their business ideas live in front of a panel of celebrity judges. Winners will receive a prize of $50,000 and tailored support services to help get their businesses off the ground.

In order to attract even more great business ideas, La Idea recently extended the deadline for applications to 5:00 pm EDT on September 20, 2013. More details on the application process and eligibility are available at

In the United States there are over 2.3 million Latino entrepreneurs opening businesses at twice the national rate—making them the fastest growing entrepreneurial segment in the country. Moreover, many countries in Latin America are on the rise. La Idea hopes to unleash the potential of Latino entrepreneurs to promote economic development that transcends borders. By supporting Latino entrepreneurs in the U.S. and throughout the Americas, La Idea aims to translate their knowledge and capital into tangible improvements in Latin America, as well as build on the emerging strength of networks and markets in Latin America.

La Idea is a public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Boom Financial, Inter-American Development Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Small Business Administration, Univision News, WellSpace, Accion, and FHI 360. It builds on the unique strength of each of the partners, including the U.S. Department of State and USAID’s experience coordinating similar business competition plans focused around diaspora communities.

These business plan competitions have included the African Diaspora Marketplace (ADM), Caribbean Idea Marketplace, and Libya Diaspora Marketplace (LDM). Each of which tapped the power of diaspora communities in the United States—and their strong ties to their countries of origin or heritage—to develop innovative enterprises that support USAID’s development objectives and grow small and medium-size businesses as drivers of economic growth.

Already, the winners of these competitions are making good on their businesses’ potential for development impact. Sproxil, a winner of the 2011 African Diaspora Marketplace, was recognized by Fast Company earlier this year as the seventh most innovative company of 2013 for its product that fights prescription drug counterfeiting in Africa. I cannot wait to see who wins the La Idea Business Competition and the innovative businesses they will bring us for 2014 and beyond.

To learn more about application and eligibility requirements for the La Idea Business Competition, visit and join the La Idea community on Facebook

Certificates to Irrigated Land Increase Resilience among Ethiopian Pastoralists

Ato Abdela Said Fulesa understands the importance of having secure land rights. As he explains how his income, food and nutrition security, and resilience have increased in recent years, he carefully holds the kaartaa that certifies his rights to a 0.45 hectare irrigated parcel. The kaartaa is a simple document – it contains a sketch map, a parcel number, and Ato Abdela and his wife’s names and their picture – but it is having a powerful impact.

Ato Abdela displays the kaartaa certifying his, along with his wife's, rights to their parcel of land in Oromia, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Gregory Myers, USAID

Ato Abdela displays the kaartaa certifying his, along with his wife’s, rights to their parcel of land in Oromia, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Gregory Myers, USAID

Ato Abdela is a member of the Kereyu community in the Oromia Regional State of Ethiopia, which for generations has followed the rains with their livestock. Their pastoral way of life has historically been the most efficient way to make use of the scarce natural resources scattered across the vast, arid scrublands that cover much of east and southern Ethiopia. While new developments, such as roads and agriculture schemes, have increased livelihood options in these areas, in some cases, these developments have been perceived to reduce access to seasonal water points and grazing areas, potentially making the Kereyu’s nomadic livelihood increasingly tenuous.

For example, some fifty years ago in Fentale woreda (district), a large irrigation scheme was built to support a commercial sugar plantation. Unfortunately, the people who had been using this land for generations were not compensated for the lost access to land and water caused by this development. In contrast, over the past five years, the district government has developed some 3,000 hectares of new irrigated fields for use by local people by diverting water from the nearby Awash River using lined earthen canals. Although initially residents were promised 1 hectare per family, due to a smaller than expected supply of irrigated land, residents were instead eligible to receive up to 0.5 hectare for a single-headed household or up to 0.75 hectare for a couple. USAID helped the government survey and certify over 5,000 parcels in this district. Ato Abdela received 0.45 hectare of irrigated land that he now uses to grow maize for his family, as well as tomatoes, onions, and green beans for sale.

Having access to an irrigated, certified parcel has helped Ato Abdela build both resilience and capital. “I used to sell cattle to buy food, and when I couldn’t sell cattle during times of drought, I relied on [food aid]. Now, I grow my own food crops and I sell the extras at the market,” he explained. He’s used the extra income to build a house made of mud bricks with an iron roof, a significant improvement over the modest pole and thatch homes predominant in his community. But he still keeps his cattle, preferring to add crop production to diversify his livelihood rather than giving up his pastoral way of life entirely. In fact, livestock numbers in the district have increased since the irrigation scheme became operational, suggesting that these entrepreneurial pastoralists are investing not only in built capital but also in natural capital. Rather than losing access to important land and water resources, it appears that the pastoralists in Fentale have gained an additional livelihood option that they can use as a safety net in times of drought.

Now that he has built his house, Ato Abdela intends to have the land around it certified so that if there is ever any challenge to his rights he can prove his claim. Given that Fentale woreda has some 13,000 hectares of potentially irrigable land remaining, there is considerable scope for scaling up this integrated approach to support small-scale entrepreneurs. To the extent that future irrigation developments recognize local land rights and help diversify livelihoods, they have the potential to increase resilience in this precarious environment.

USAID support to the Government of Ethiopia to strengthen land administration and property rights began in 2005 and continues under the U.S. Feed the Future Initiative with a new and expanded third phase under the Land Administration to Nurture Development (LAND) program. Building on the positive impacts demonstrated through certifying individual holdings in Fentale, the new LAND program will bring the benefits of secure property rights to communal areas, where most land is held at the community level rather than by individuals. Like Ato Abdela, pastoralists in the two neighboring provinces targeted by the LAND program will benefit from clearly demarcated land rights and increased access to markets, removing barriers to economic growth, and an occasional source of conflict, in increasingly drought-prone areas.

Curbing Open Defecation in Liberia to Save Children Under Five

In Liberia, open defection is the most common sanitation practice. This fact, coupled with a lack of access to safe drinking water results in high levels of fecal-oral diseases and related child deaths. The USAID-funded Improved Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (IWASH) program is addressing this problem, conducting behavior change activities in order to convince Liberians to change their sanitation practices and take responsibility for making improvement necessary in their communities to become open defecation-free.

WASH program beneficiary. Photo Credit: Bendu Doman-Nimley/USAID

WASH beneficiary. Photo Credit: Bendu Doman-Nimley/USAID

Since February 2013, Global Communities (IWASH Implementer) has engaged 120 communities in an aggressive campaign to end open defecation. By July more than half were certified by the Government of Liberia (GOL) as Open Defecation-free and an additional 40% are on track to reach this status by August. This has been achieved without providing the communities any material or financial support to dig latrines or build the dish racks and clothes lines required for the designation. All the work is done by community members and all the materials come from the local area. Global Communities and the GOL are co-implementing the program, which is considered “community-led” as all decisions about what actions will improve the community’s sanitation practice are made by the community members.  Through the process of community monitoring, natural leaders emerge, who become a key point-of-contact for monitoring the communities’ progress.

Once the communities’ become open defecation-free, the Natural Leaders are encouraged to form networks to provide mutual support to each other. These networks are also invited to participate in engaging with new communities to change their sanitation practices. The Natural Leaders understand the challenges innate in changing the personal habits of Liberian’s, as well as the work involved in becoming open defecation-free. They are the perfect advocates.

At a recent health fair held to celebrate the launch of A Promise Renewed, IWASH Natural Leaders were present to talk about their experiences with the program. The President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, stopped by the WASH booth and talked with Esther Moye, a Natural Leader from a rural county.  Esther located her village on one of the GIS monitoring maps and described the work that had been done to transform the community’s sanitation practices.  President Johnson-Sirleaf was impressed by the activities and encouraging toward the program’s expansion, “Liberia needs more sanitation development and I am happy to hear people are stepping forward to take responsibility to meet these needs.”

The IWASH program is also training WASH Entrepreneurs to repair hand pumps and manage small businesses supplying WASH related products and services. The entrepreneurs will be sustainable through their own profitable businesses in pump repair as well as supplying soap and WaterGuard (water chlorination) in rural communities. These WASH Entrepreneurs are drawn from Natural Leaders and provided with initial contracts to repair hand pumps in school and health clinics to launch their businesses.

The IWASH program is addressing sustainable change in sanitation practices and safe water supply in Liberia. Through these activities the exposure of children to fecal-oral disease will be reduced and the promise of a healthier life for children under-5 will be renewed.

Learn more about the WASH partnership.

Photo of the Week: Agriculture Productivity Improvement in Bangladesh


Did you know that  granular urea technology,  or popularly know as guti urea, is a cost-effective and environmental-friendly process that increases  vegetable farmers’  yield by 20 percent?

USAID/Bangladesh’s Accelerating Agriculture Productivity Improvement (AAPI) project, will reach 3.5m farmers in Bangladesh with this technique and save the Bangladesh Government US$84 million through improved efficiency in fertilizer input. Photo: USAID’s AAPI project

Learn more about our Mission of the Month: USAID Bangladesh.

Like USAID Bangladesh on Facebook and follow @USAID_BD on Twitter for ongoing updates!

From the Field in South Sudan: Mother of Nine Helps Rural Women Deliver Safely

At age 38, Mary Konyo has nine children, including a set of twins. She has been a traditional birth attendant since 1997, before South Sudan became independent, and has helped 23 women deliver children safely women in the last 16 years. Two years ago, she decided to stop having children so she could focus more on helping other pregnant women in distress.

I was touched by Konyo’s story when I heard it at a public forum in Juba (South Sudan’s capital), and I contacted her to learn more about her work to save the lives of pregnant women in her community.

Mary Konyo (right) testifies on the benefits of using misoprostol to reduce severe bleeding after childbirth.  Photo: Victor Lugala

Mary Konyo (right) testifies on the benefits of using misoprostol to reduce severe bleeding after childbirth. Photo credit: Victor Lugala

Her personal experiences with childbirth have inspired her. “When I delivered my first child, I bled excessively for three days. I was very weak,” Konyo told me.

A majority of rural South Sudanese women deliver at home, mostly without the help of a midwife, and some of them die from complications. Excessive bleeding after childbirth, or postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), is one of the leading causes of maternal death in South Sudan.

In recognition of her community work, Konyo was among a few women nominated from her community to attend a USAID-funded workshop on reducing PPH. Workshop participants gained knowledge and skills to help them talk with their communities about the importance of using misoprostol — a medicine that can prevent severe bleeding — to prevent PPH. They also learned what to do when a woman experiences PPH.

In addition to practical skills, the workshop emphasized the need for community outreach to help people understand the importance of giving birth in a health facility, where it can be easier to address complications. Konyo returned to her community as a home health promoter and started a door-to-door awareness campaign. She advises pregnant women to regularly attend antenatal clinic to help ensure that they have safe deliveries. “I particularly tell them about the dangers of excessive bleeding after birth,” Konyo said.

She is also able to give pregnant women misoprostol to take immediately after giving birth. But, she added, “I always tell women to deliver safely in the clinic.” Aware of rural poverty, Konyo advises pregnant women to save a little money for their transport to the hospital for delivery. In her community, women in labor are often transported to the nearest clinic on motorbike taxis, called boda-bodas.

Konyo told me she also encourages husbands to accompany their wives to the clinic, adding that men are expected to pay the hospital bills when their wives give birth.

She believes misoprostol will help drastically reduce severe bleeding immediately after childbirth in her community, pointing out that women who take misoprostol regain strength on the third day after delivery and can return to their everyday activities more quickly. Konyo says the men whose wives have used misoprostol are also happy: “Now they are asking for a ‘wonder medicine’ that will reduce birth pangs and hasten childbirth.”

Learn more about USAID’s work in South Sudan and follow USAID South Sudan on Facebook and Twitter (@USAIDSouthSudan)!

Video of the Week: Improved Potato Farming Yields Results in Bangladesh

Since 2008, farmers in the village of Bokundia in Bangladesh have increased their potato production by 800% and sales more than $500,000. How did they do it? USAID talks about their stories in this video. Stories of associations — association of business with technology, knowledge and markets.

Learn more about our Mission of the Month: Bangladesh.

Follow @USAID and @USAID_BD on Twitter throughout August and join the conversation with #MissionofMonth.

USAID in the News

The Tanzanian Guardiancarried a front page story on the harvest of the orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP), part of USAID’s support for improved nutrition through Feed the Future. Mission Director Sharon Cromer spoke at the event celebrating the harvest, calling OFSP “an ideal crop” to help vulnerable households fight malnutrition.

Smallholder farmers with their harvest - sweet potatoes. Photo by Fintrac Inc.

US News & World Report published an article about President Barack Obama’s Africa team and its members continued engagement on the continent. Administrator Shah and Earl Gast, assistant administrator for the Africa Bureau, are mentioned in the article.

Devex published an article about Nobel Laureate Muhammed Yunus’s visit to USAID where he signed an agreement with the Agency to promote entrepreneurship through his new venture Yunus Social Business and talked with Agency staff.

In a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, Mirza Jahani, the chief executive of Aga Khan Foundation USA, notes that the American government through USAID “is working with partners, including the Aga Khan Development Network, in Wakhan [Afghanistan] on better governance and services in health and education.” He said “more must be done” but again, “much is already taking place.”

A True Data Revolution

Tony Pipa is Deputy Assistant to the Administrator for the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning

“A true data revolution”: this is what the High Level Panel appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon described as necessary if we are to eradicate extreme poverty as part of the next generation of Millennium Development Goals. The panel’s emphasis was welcome recognition that improving the quality, opening up access, and making better use of data and statistics are fundamental to achieving transformative development results.

A key first step is expanding the accessibility of data about aid investments. On Tuesday, USAID published unprecedented amounts of financial information about how and where we spend our dollars. The data contains USAID’s financial obligations and disbursements by transaction, along with qualitative information that describes the “how”, including award titles and vendor names.

The transactions can be found on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, which is managed by the Department of State, in line with the requirements set forth in the OMB Bulletin 12-01 (PDF). They have also been converted into the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) format, so they are comparable to data reported by other countries and donors.

As Administrator Shah pointed out, the 30 fields and 53,000 records represent several firsts for USAID. Not to mention that the data is coming directly from our corporate financial system of record – in that sense we are exposing the inner workings or “guts” of the Agency’s systems, warts and all.

Yet making reams of data available has limited impact if it is seldom used. The power of the Dashboard lies in its ability to present the data visually in a way that is intuitive and easy for a user who is familiar with point-and-click technology to ask questions and get real-time answers.

That’s also why USAID is collaborating so closely with the other U.S. agencies that deliver foreign assistance, to ensure a consistent application of the IATI standard and a coordinated submission to the IATI registry. Just as IATI’s standard format makes foreign assistance comparable from different countries, a consistent application ensures comparability across US government agencies.

Our ultimate goal is development impact. We are seeking to make the data useful and be used to help partner countries more effectively manage the resources from USAID-funded commitments, and to improve our coordination and harmonization with other donors, both public and private. Usefulness also increases accountability, so that citizens, both in partner countries and here in the United States, can use the information to question and hold their governments to account.

We recognize that this data set isn’t perfect and are committed to refining it. As it is mashed up with other data and analysis is performed, we look forward to learning how we might increase our impact. Whereas money is the currency of our financial capital (and the primary preoccupation of the aid community), data is the currency of information, learning and knowledge – our intellectual capital. As a community, there is still enormous potential in understanding and deploying data and determining how it can be most useful, and we at USAID look forward to pushing ourselves to maximize its impact.

Behind the Scenes: Interview with Valerie Dickson-Horton to discuss her 24 years in Foreign Affairs for USAID

In this edition of our “Behind the Scenes” Interview Blog Series, we chat with Valerie Dickson-Horton, former Senior Foreign Service Mission Director and current Senior Advisor for the Office of Human Resources Afghanistan and Pakistan Division.

Ms. Dickson-Horton reflects on 24 years in Foreign Affairs for USAID, and offers advice to those interested in a Foreign Service career.

Q: What inspired you most about being in the FS?

The hope that USAID provides to the host country nationals for improving the quality of lives.

Q: Why did you decide to join the service?

I had applied to medical school, was working as a recruiter for Peace Corps and USAID was my backup if the medical school option did not pan out. The rest is history. I joined USAID, had a fabulous 24 years and had perhaps only four bad days during my entire career.

Q: What did you like most about your work?

Helping people, seeing the world and learning how important it is to put human upliftment above politics!

Q: What did you like least?

Whenever we would lose sight of how powerful our global standing becomes when we sincerely extend a helping hand to anyone who needs it regardless of who they are.

Q: Where have you lived and do you have  a favorite post?

Botswana, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Swaziland.  Sudan was the most professionally fulfilling and demanding job but I loved working in all of these countries and loved my work.

Q: What advice would you give to a person interested in becoming FS?

Start learning either Spanish, French, Arabic or Portuguese and consider joining the Peace Corps, becoming a UN volunteer or seek work with an international non-profit organization. Working overseas is an eyeopening experience that will serve you well, for it gives you a much deeper appreciation about what the world has to offer and it allows you to grow into someone with a broader understanding of the human race.  Keep exploring life and living!


For more information on the Foreign Service and other careers with USAID

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What’s to Learn from a Nobel Laureate?

Dr. Muhammad Yunus—Nobel laureate, founder of the Grameen Bank, and currently chairman of Yunus Social Business—recently visited USAID to address Agency staff about Lessons in Leadership. After his talk, he met with a small group of USAID leaders for a candid, open-ended conversation.

Dr. Yunus while visiting USAID. Photo Credit: USAID

Dr. Yunus is an inspiring man—he created Grameen Bank in 1974, when, as a professor of economics at the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh, he noticed with dismay the predatory loan-sharking that kept those in the nearby community in debt and poverty. After  walking around the village next to campus, he compiled a list of everyone trapped in this cycle; then, out of his own pocket, he paid off their debts in full—it cost him only $27. The bank that emerged from this small but transformative act became a pioneer in lending to the poor. To date, Grameen has disbursed $13.9 billion in 81,387 villages, to more than 8.4 million people —96 percent of them women. The overall repayment rate is 97 percent.[1]

At USAID, we are working to respond to President Obama’s challenge to end extreme poverty within the next two decades. The world has seen unprecedented progress in the last 30 years, with more than 700 million people rising above $1.25/day. The global extreme poverty rate was cut in half between 1990 and 2010, achieving the first Millennium Development Goal five years ahead of schedule. Still, more than 1.2 billion people are living in extreme poverty today.

But the revolutionary contributions of Grameen Bank and other civil society actors, such as BRAC, have made Bangladesh, in particular, a model for large-scale poverty reduction. Even without the sky-high growth rates of countries like China and India, Bangladesh has made comparable inroads against extreme poverty. Since 1990, for instance, India’s per capita GDP has grown at 4.8 percent per year, compared to only 3.5 percent per year in Bangladesh; yet Bangladesh has cut its extreme poverty rate more quickly than India has—2.3 percent per year versus 2.2 percent per year.

One of Dr. Yunus’s most illuminating insights was that “All human beings are entrepreneurs.” Grameen, for instance, has a program that targets Bangladesh’s poorest, who survive by begging. The Struggling Members Program has a simple proposition: rather than soliciting donations, members can use a small loan to buy merchandise and are offered an option: charity or trade. Grameen doesn’t set deadlines for repayments and allows the borrowers determine how much they need.  Interestingly, none asked for more than $20. Within a couple of years, 100,000 people had joined the program; 25,000 have since stopped begging all together. People, everywhere, are full of creative ideas and ingenuity, Dr. Yunus reminded us —sometimes we just need to figure out how to unlock this potential.

In tandem with a Yunus adage that “Everything starts with a seed,” USAID is working to sow the seeds through major creative initiatives like Feed the Future and Power Africa, by supporting bright new thinkers and entrepreneurs through Development Innovation Ventures and the Grand Challenges for Development, and by reimagining how we finance development and funding small-scale enterprises, such as in the new Pakistan Private Investment Initiative.

But we can do more. Dr. Yunus’s newest venture, Yunus Social Business (YSB), is looking to scale the ‘social business’ model—i.e., companies that are businesses in every respect, except they don’t seek a profit and have solving social problems as their core mission. “There is a business solution to every problem the poor face,” Yunus observed.

Before his talk, USAID and YSB signed a Memorandum of Understanding. “Our collaboration with Yunus Social Business is emblematic of our new model for development,” Administrator Shah said at the signing. (It is ) “…a model that harnesses partnership and innovation to advance sustainable solutions to some of the toughest challenges we face.” No challenge is tougher than ending extreme poverty.

USAID’s investments in health care and education, in protecting human rights and providing humanitarian assistance are essential. Our assistance can also be a spark—by partnering with social businesses, by partnering with the poor themselves.  We as an Agency have the ability to ignite the kind of catalytic, grassroots growth that could help eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetimes.

There is much we all can learn from the intense creativity and compassion of a Dr. Yunus, Nobel laureate.


[1] The accuracy of Grameen’s internal statistics has been questioned by some—e.g., David Roodman, of the Center for Global Development. He finds, for instance, a higher default rate, of 10.9 percent.

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